When little people are overwhelmed by big emotions,
it’s our job to share their calm,
not join their chaos.
~ L.R. Knost
Category: Toddler Years
I’m not sure if spring is here, or if it’s just a nice little teaser before winter dumps on us again. But, after playing outside all day Saturday, it was tough to be in the house again on Sunday, while it rained. Being cooped up all winter long is tough on kids. Being cooped up on a rainy day, after getting a little taste of warm weather and sunshine, is just down-right mean. Still, there are ways to enjoy a rainy day. Below is a list of our favorites. 😉
It drives parents mad.
You are trying to make supper – listen to the news….have a little glass of wine…..throw the veggies in the skillet….listen to them sizzle….smell the aromas….mmm…..
And you have a toddler clinging to your leg, screaming and crying, making every step nearly impossible. (Or, in my case, you have a screaming toddler clinging to each leg…)
Or you sneak out of the living room because you can’t hold it any longer. You really gotta go. You are in the bathroom, using the facility, having an actual moment to yourself to finish a thought (heaven!) and then he comes in screaming and wailing because he lost sight of you.
Toddler clinginess is, unfortunately, normal. If your toddler is showing signs of clinginess – wandering through the house looking for you every time you leave the room, or crying when you drop her off at daycare – congratulations! Your child’s emotional development is right on track. In these most stressful of times, it is helpful to remember that you want your child to be a little bit clingy. You don’t want your child to show absolutely no fear and go toddling off on his own without a second thought to the dangers that might be. A (small) dose of clinginess definitely serves a purpose.
Ugh, fine, you say. But why? Why does my sweet little sugar cry and beg me to pick him up every single time we walk anywhere? He knows how to walk. He loves to walk. Why can’t he walk from the car to Grandma’s house?
Your child was literally a part of you while he was growing in your womb. After birth, babies are still very attached to their mothers. As your baby grows and develops and learns to do things on his own, he slowly discovers that he is not just an extension of his mama….he is not another one of your arms or legs, and you are not just an extension of him. He is learning that he is a separate being from you. Independent.
That can be exhilarating for him. Pure bliss as he learns to run, jump, climb and just be. He absolutely loves it.
But it can also be incredibly scary for him. It’s a big wide world, and he just ran away from his security (you) with pure joy and abandonment. What does he do after he realizes what he just did? Run back to you screaming and crying, begging you to pick him up. So you kiss away his tears, love him up a bit, and reassure him that what he just did was amazing.
As toddlers and preschoolers grow and explore, their emotional development goes in to overdrive. Their brain is growing and developing as well, taking in more, grasping more, understanding more, imagining more. Things they never even noticed before are suddenly scary, such as strangers. When your toddler was younger, she may not have noticed the difference in a stranger’s face and someone she knew, so she didn’t cry when Auntie, whom she just met for the very first time, picked her up. Now she cries when Grandma, who she just saw two weeks ago, wants to hold her. Or, things she never used to be afraid of are suddenly scary. Big dogs. Cute little kitties. Funny rubbery, spikey balls. Enclosed spaces, such as garages, barns or high school gymnasiums. Loud noises. Four wheelers, snowmobiles, dirt bikes. Her brain is so very busy sorting all of this out. What’s safe, what’s not, what’s scary. What’s fun, what’s not. It’s exhausting for both of you.
During this time, your child will run to you for security any time he is overwhelmed, over stimulated, scared, unsure of himself, or just down right tired. So, he will run to you a lot. And cling to you. And it will always be at the most inopportune time.
So what can we do, as parents and care givers? Take a deep breath, especially if you feel yourself becoming frustrated. Remember that your baby is there for love and reassurance. Hug him, kiss him, pick him up. Talk to him, tell him he is fine. Show him you are happy to see him.
If you are doing something that can be put aside, put it aside and give your child some attention. Engage him in play. Show him that he is important to you, that his needs and feelings are real. Validate what he is going through, don’t belittle it and shame him. Don’t yell or speak harshly. Remember that he is doing exactly what he should be at this age – this clinginess serves a purpose.
The art of distraction is absolutely amazing. If you can’t sit and play with him right now, draw his attention to something else and help him to forget that he was worried in the first place. Engage him in something engrossing, something he doesn’t normally get to play with, such as coloring or play dough, or the pots and pans in the cupboard, so that you can return to what you were doing. If you can hold him while you work, then do that, and let him see what you are so busy with in the first place. Chances are, he will get bored and wander away on his own.
There are some cases when clinginess is a bit extreme. It’s good to note the difference between normal clinginess and something more going on. Your child may be excessively clingy if the clinginess lasts, day in and day out, for quite some time. Note if there are any other behavioral patterns that changed when the clinginess became excessive. Did her sleeping patterns change? Eating patterns? Did she used to play by herself and now she doesn’t? Does she cry when she goes to daycare? Does she have any unexplained injuries or bruises? What about exposure to media? Is she watching inappropriate television shows? Listening to inappropriate music? There might be something more going on than normal childhood development. If you suspect something is not right, talk to your doctor.
If you have had a recent move, went back to work, had an addition to your family, a family loss, or any other such life changing event, these situations can also cause excessive clinginess. This is normal. This is how your toddler or preschooler works through the situation. She is feeling insecure, and rightfully so, so she clings to the most comforting, secure, consistent thing in her life – her mom. Be patient with her during this new situation. Reassure her, love her, comfort her, and above all, always make it painfully obvious that you value her and her needs.
Remember, clinginess in toddlers and preschoolers is absolutely normal. It is a necessary stage that they will go through, and it will pass quickly. It is good to keep this in mind during the most stressful moments. And it doesn’t last. It goes so fast. One moment your son will never let you put him down and the next he wants you to drop him off down the block and walk the rest of the way to school, because he doesn’t want to be seen with you. So enjoy these moments now. They definitely don’t last.
(Photo from mommyshorts.com)
I tried posting this on my Face Book page, but it really didn’t work. I wonder if the post was too long? So I apologize, this post will be too short on Making Mommas. It probably really belongs on Face Book. But I think it is a good tip, and worth posting, regardless. 🙂
So, A nifty little tip regarding your kids’ toys: Rotate them!!
My kids have a lot of toys. The twins have inherited a lot of their older brothers’ toys – some of them are dang near 17 years old now! And, they continue to get their own, new toys as well. So what is a mom to do with all of these toys?
Well, we naturally purged them when we moved. We cleaned out all of the toys, and got rid of a lot. Trashed them. I didn’t have time to bring them anywhere or to put on a garage sale. We don’t miss them.
But for those we kept, I rotate them. I have some of them stashed under the stairs, to pull out occasionally when we need some new inspiration. I have a closet and toy box downstairs full of toys. I have a basket in the living room upstairs, full of toys. And the twins have a basket in their bedroom full of toys. The three year old has only a select few in his bedroom simply because he shares a bedroom with his 11-year-old brother, who really doesn’t appreciate having that many toys hanging around.
I often will bring some selected toys from the toy box downstairs to the basket in the living room upstairs. I then will move some of the toys in the basket in the living room in to the basket in the twins’ bedroom. And then I will move some of those toys out of the bedroom and back down to the toy box. I do this for big items as well, such as the kitchen and the Lego table. It’s amazing what a new setting, i.e., new room in the house, can do to an old toy!
How do I know when it’s time to rotate? When I get tired of cleaning up the same toys again and again! I was sick and tired of cleaning up the Duplex Blocks for the umpteenth time today. So rotate we did! It’s also a good time to rotate when you need something to capture your kids’ interest for a bit longer than usual. Some “new” toys can do the trick. Maybe rotate when you need to get some Christmas preparation finished up! 😉
And with Christmas around the corner, it’s a good time to go through all of the toys as well. Clean them out! Tuck them away, chuck them away, or haul them away. Give them to the Salvation Army or The Boys’ Ranch, or bring them to a second-hand store.
(photo from accesscal.org)
- Routine, Routine, Routine – set a bedtime routine and stick with it. Consistency is key. This is so crucial. A child’s head can be wired to get sleepy by this routine. Once the routine starts, his brain signals to his body that it is bedtime. And sleepiness commences.
- Set a bedtime – this may sound elementary, my dear Watson, but you have no idea how many parents just let their kids crash whenever. A bedtime is so important. Again, their little bodies can be wired to fall asleep at a certain time, if that is what they are used to. Good bedtimes for the little tykes are between seven and 8:30. As they get older you can stretch it out to nine or ten. But even my teenage boys try to be in bed by 10:30.
- Hold the sugary drinks and snacks after six o’clock – Seriously. No kid needs pop or sugar after six. It honestly does keep them up.
- Give them a warm, calm bath – it does set the tone for settling down for bed, and can make a child sleepy. Not to mention, the cleanliness and quality time together are great too!
- Have a light, healthy snack – kids sleep better on a full tummy.
- Dim the household lights – it sends a signal to the brain that things are calming down now.
- Turn off the TV – or any other media device. It is good to do this an hour or so before bed. There is a lot of research on the effects that “screen time” has on little brains. Do not let your child fall asleep to a movie. (I am so, so guilty of this one!)
- Read a book – or two, or three.
- Play some soft music/sing a song – music also sets the tone and can signal to the brain that it is bedtime. Plus, it drowns out any outside noise from the rest of the house.
- Say bedtime prayers – if you are a praying family, it is just a good habit to get in to. Plus, if it is part of the bedtime routine, it signals to the child’s brain that it is time to get sleepy….
- Have a little quiet, snuggle time – everyone likes to fill loved and valued. There is no better way to end the day than with snuggles, kisses and hugs from those who love you.
- Put your child to bed awake – it is so important that he learns to fall asleep on his own. For more information on this, read “Sleep….it’s Overrated”.
At least, that’s what I tell myself. It helps me get through. See, I haven’t slept good in, oh, three years.
Since my three-year-old was born. He is a very strange beast indeed.
My kids all slept through the night quite normally. With my 17 year old, well, you know, I was a new mom. I was going to do everything “right” and “by the book”. Literally. There was an author popular at the time, Dr. Richard Ferber, who wrote on the “Ferber Method” of sleep training an infant. I knew of this not because I was an avid researcher, but because I loved the TV show, Mad About You. Coincidentally, Helen Hunt’s character was pregnant at about the same time I was. Her character was going to use “Ferberization” to teach her little baby to sleep through the night. She sat outside her door all night bawling just as hard as the baby did in the show.
“The Ferber Method” goes something like this: You do whatever routine you want to set up for your baby before bedtime, but you put your baby to sleep awake. The whole point is that Baby is supposed to learn to calm himself down and put himself to sleep. Then you set the timer. Baby is going to cry. You let him. After five minutes, you go in and calm him down, reassure him. Rub his back. Talk, sing, whatever works. But YOU DO NOT PICK HIM UP. After he’s calm you set the timer for six minutes, and let him cry again. You do not go in until the timer beeps. And you keep doing this, over and over again, inching the timer up each time, until he falls asleep.
I did this with my oldest. And it sucked. It went against every instinct in my little momma bones. If my baby was crying, I needed to comfort him. Plain and simple. Still, I stuck it out, and sat right outside his door, and cried right along with him, just like Helen Hunt’s character in Mad About You. I don’t remember how old he was when I started this, probably around six months. I’m not sure. He was whatever age the book said he should be, that I am sure about. 😉 He was also my best sleeper.
With my fourteen year old I decided to rock him to sleep. Ferber was out, mommy was in. Same with my eleven year old. I never had any troubles with them sleeping through the night either. They slept through the night by the time they were a year old. The only trouble I did have was my now-fourteen-year-old often asked me to come lay with him. Sometimes I would, and sometimes I told him I would after I did the dishes. Then, I would take a very, very long time to do the dishes. By the time I got back in there, most of the time, he would be asleep.
ON A SIDE NOTE: If you tell your child something, you need to follow through. I would never lie to him. I wouldn’t tell him “after the dishes” and then never go lay with him after the dishes. Why? Because trust is crucial to discipline. If you consistently tell him “after the dishes” but don’t go lay with him after the dishes are done, he is going to catch on. And eventually, when you tell him “after the dishes” he is going to know you don’t mean it, and will cry and fuss and throw a temper tantrum. That will be counter-productive; it will teach exactly the opposite of what you are trying to teach. Always follow through with whatever threat or promise you give your child. (So choose your threats and promises wisely!)
But my three year old was a different beast entirely.
From day one he was a HORRID sleeper. My husband always said the baby was the one who had post-partum depression; it was like he wanted to climb right back in the womb! He would not let me put him down, day or night. I spent every night on the rocking chair with him in my arms. That is how we slept when he was an infant. If I laid him down, he screamed.
As he got older, it got a little better. He learned how to sleep in a crib. He had to at daycare, so it was a little easier for me at home too. We still spent a lot of nights out on the chair. I still was out with Ferber and in with Mommy, so I rocked him to sleep. I didn’t mind. I was exhausted, but I didn’t mind. He was my last baby. His older brothers grew up WAY TOO FAST. I knew this stage would be over and gone before a blink of my eye.
And then we were pacing the floors at night. And rocking for three, four hours. I worked a full time job. I had to get up in the morning. I was operating on three, four, five hours of sleep every night. He was older now, around eight or nine months. He was, of course, teething. Life was miserable. There was one day, when I had only two hours of sleep, that I did call in to work and go in a couple of hours late. Just so I could sleep a little longer. I’m not even really sure how I functioned at work.
Those closest to me told me over and over that I had to let him cry himself to sleep. So I tried it. For maybe four or five days. He literally sounded like someone was skinning him alive. I am not exaggerating that description one bit. Not at all. That is, no joke, what he sounded like. I could not handle it. We went back to rocking and pacing.
When he grew in to his big boy bed, nothing changed. He still needed us. He still cried like we were peeling his skin off if we weren’t there. So we laid on the floor by his bed, holding his hand, until he fell asleep. I was hugely pregnant with the twins at this point. It didn’t take long before I could no longer do it. I eventually had to refuse. It was at that time that I was no longer working. I was home for nap time with him.
Because I couldn’t lay on the floor by his bed, he did learn to fall asleep on his own. He did it, every single day, during nap time. But at night, he still cried for Daddy, and Daddy gave in. (Don’t judge – he was exhausted too!) At this point, he also started climbing in our bed in the middle of the night. We’d bring him back to his, and lay on the floor by his bed until he fell asleep again. I’d often wake up and have to go in and wake up a snoozing Daddy so he could come back to our bed. Sometimes we were so exhausted that we just let him sleep with us.
He is a wild and crazy sleeper. He screams and hollers and has nightmares while he sleeps. He kicks and punches. When he was a baby, he didn’t even close his eyes all the way while sleeping. That used to freak my boys out. I was used to it – my mom does some pretty freaky things with her eyes too, so it didn’t bother me. 😉 But the boys joked that he was possessed. And I have to admit, for a time, I watched him for night terrors, which, along with horrible sleep patterns, is a sign of Bipolar Disorder (which runs in my family).
But he is normal. Just a crazy, awful sleeper. And there is no doubt we should have used the Ferber method with him from day one. I know that now, looking back. But hindsight is 20-20. After we moved, his sleep patterns got worse. So we bought a king sized bed and he crawls in with us in the middle of the night. Most often, aside from the nights of kicking and screaming, I don’t even know he is there until morning. It’s not the “right” way to do things, but it is survival.
And survival is good, because we also have twins who do not sleep through the night! After the normal feedings required for infants, they still weren’t sleeping through the night. Baby A was the worst. He was up for three, four hours at a time, screaming, crying, wanting to play. If Baby B got up too, it was miserable. I was again at my wits end. This time, my husband joined the insanity. And two tired, crabby parents and two screaming, crying babies is not a good combination.
When they were 11 months old I had had enough. I was not going through this again, like I was with my three year old. I posted an SOS for help on Facebook. And a friend of mine hooked me up with a momma of twin boys, just a couple of years older than mine. Everyone was telling me to separate them and let them cry themselves to sleep. I did not want to separate them. I wanted them in the same bedroom. This other momma of twins was so amazing.
She supported me and coached me through Facebook Messenger. And she told me not to separate them. She assured me that they would learn to sleep through each other’s noises. And she told me to let them cry themselves back to sleep. So here we are, back at square one, 17 years later! Welcome back, Dr. Ferber!
But it worked. They go to bed beautifully now. They sleep through each other’s screamings. (Because they do still have some nights when they have to cry themselves to sleep). And they are starting to sleep the whole night. If they wake up, they can often calm themselves down and go back to bed. If they can’t, we can get them back to sleep easily, after a bottle. (Soon we do have to take the bottle away though – yikes!)
Now that I’m catching a little more shut-eye than I am used to though, I am finding myself feeling more tired than I usually do! My poor body….it’s so messed up! 🙂