Learning to sleep “by all self,” timeouts, potties, etc.
I’m going to stop apologizing for not updating this blog very often anymore, seeing as how I am only updating every few months, if that. I guess that’s the new normal…. for now, anyway.
And if you’re not interested in reading about the daily minutiae of being a parent of a toddler, you can probably just skip reading the rest of this post! Sorry, my two loyal readers, parenting pretty much consumes my life at this point.
Our toddler is officially two and a half years old. WOW. This has been both the longest and shortest 2-1/2 years of my life. At a very basic level, I’m pleased that I have managed to keep another human being alive, safe, and as happy as relatively possible, for that long. At a higher level, I’m very proud of how well we have seemed to do in the genetic lottery. Sure, he’s got these food allergy issues and he’s very strong-willed and stubborn. But he also seems to be seriously intelligent and can be very very sweet when he wants to.
He is now pretty much talking in full sentences. We long ago stopped keeping track of how many words he can say because he can say nearly anything that he wants to now. I’d say his vocabulary is 500+ words.
He knows all his letters and their phonic sounds, and can count to twenty (and beyond, with a bit of prompting). He can draw a few of the letter shapes with crayon or chalk. He knows the words to most of the songs we sing to him, and can sing along fairly well, and sometimes in tune. One of his favorites is Seven Days of the Week (I Never Go to Work) by They Might Be Giants – he can sing the whole thing.
He loves drawing, and his favorite thing to draw is “happy faces.” They look sorta like this (see my interpretation at right).
Unfortunately, he hasn’t yet outgrown his tendency to hit (or scratch) when he gets angry. I guess it’s normal for a 2 year old to be unable to control himself, but we keep trying, over and over again. He gets time outs when he hits or scratches, or for serious infractions of obedience. He definitely does not like the time outs (only 2 minutes long at this point), and we try to explain to him in simple language that we don’t hit (or scratch, or that he needs to listen to mommy and daddy and do what we say), that hitting hurts, and that it’s OK to be mad but not OK to hit. So far, none of this seems to be having an effect since he’ll hit us again the next time he gets angry, but I just hope that on some level he’s getting it. We’ve tried offering him alternatives to hitting, such as breathing deeply or using words to tell us that he’s mad, but he either can’t or won’t go that route.
One book I read said that for time outs to be effective, we need to show that we are sad that he made the choice (to hit, or whatever got him into timeout in the first place), and we are sad that he is having to pay the consequences for his choice. This is kind of hard to do when you as a parent are royally pissed off at just having been clocked across the face by a flailing 2 year old. Another book said that the best technique is to show no emotion at all, to just set the little offender in timeout and basically ignore them.
Jamie is constantly saying things like “Daddy be happy.” and “Mommy be sad.” — he wants to control our emotions by just ordering us to be happy or to be sad. He likes having control over his environment and the people around him. When he’s in timeout, he knows that he has upset us, and so through his crying he is pleading with us “Mommy be happy, mommy be happy, mommy be happy.”
We have started telling him that he cannot make us be sad or happy just by demanding it, but he can control his own behaviour, and that his behaviour influences mommy and daddy’s happiness. It’s a fine line and a hard concept for someone his age, I know.
And while I understand the idea behind appearing sad that he’s made a poor choice, part of me thinks he needs to understand that his actions can cause other people to be angry, and that anger can be directed at him, and that it’s something that he doesn’t like and should change his actions so he can avoid it happening in the future. I’m not talking about corporal punishment — we are firmly against spanking or hitting our child for any reason. But like this morning he smacked me as I was trying to get him dressed, and I had a tough time controlling my anger. I didn’t yell but I put him in timeout and I definitely raised my voice more than I normally do, telling him that I was angry with him for hitting me.
Maybe not the best choice, but then again – shouldn’t he know that his actions can make Mommy angry?
At any rate, I’m pretty sure I’m not doing timeouts right. I let him know I’m unhappy, I ask him why he is in timeout (he usually tells me correctly what he did to get there), I explain that we don’t hit, because hitting hurts, and I sit there with him the whole time – usually. I think maybe I need to just have a sad look on my face, set him in timeout without telling him what he did wrong (’cause he knows), and leave the room for the 2 minutes. Then after it’s over, no rehashing of anything, no demanding an apology or a kiss or hug — just go on about our day like nothing happened.
It’s worth a try, I guess.
In health news, he’s been off his steroid inhaler since some time early this spring. His new gastroenterologist (whom we really like — Dr. Michael Russo at Children’s Medical Center in Plano) felt he didn’t need to be on it anymore. It seems that he was right, although it’s kind of hard to tell these days. Jamie has days where his eczema flares up for reasons we can’t figure out, and he also has days where he’s super cranky for no discernible reason. Could be that he just doesn’t feel well, or that he’s managed to ingest something that he’s sensitive to. I’m not sure the inhaler was really helping too much with that aspect of things, anyway.
He’s been sleeping through the night most nights (this means about 8:30 p.m. to 6:30 a.m., with some variation day to day) since late August of last year. And this has been beyond awesome. However, we have always stayed in his room with him until he falls asleep, a process that can take anywhere from 30 minutes on a good night to an hour and a half on a bad night (and the same thing with nap time). Since I usually do bedtime duty (maybe 6 out of 7 nights), this presented two big challenges to me, personally:
- By the time I was done putting Jamie to bed, it would be generally close to 9 p.m. I try to go to bed around 10:30 or 11, so I only had a very short window of time to cook dinner, eat dinner, clean up from dinner, do my chores around the house, plan meals, make lists, complete any freelance work that needed to be done, spend some quality time with my husband, spend a bit of time watching TV/reading/having fun/talking/winding down, and anything else that I wished to do that evening. (Caveat to my dear husband: this is not meant to make it sound like you don’t do the cooking or chores. You do. It’s hard for both of us to fit everything in to that short time frame.)
- Sitting in that quiet darkened room for an hour signaled my body to shut down, that it was time for me to go to bed too. So after I was done with Jamie for the evening, I had pretty much no energy or motivation to do anything. This meant that if I was going to complete any of the aforementioned evening tasks, it would take a monumental force of will, which I usually just didn’t have. So consequently, I would pretty much scrounge for something to eat and sit on the couch exhausted, thinking about everything that I SHOULD be doing but wasn’t, until bed time.
So a while back, we realized that we needed to start the long, gradual process of teaching him how to fall asleep on his own. It began with us lying beside his bed, holding his widdle hand, until he fell asleep – this was pretty much our baseline routine for a long time. Then we moved to us sitting in the rocking chair while he stayed in bed. Then we moved to sitting beside his door. And a couple of weeks ago, we decided to try The Next Big Step, sitting OUTSIDE his door while he fell asleep.
I planned to make this an extremely gradual process, taking place over the course of at least a month. I though I’d begin with opening his door a crack while I sat beside it, waiting for him to fall asleep. Over the course of the month, I would widen the crack in the door until it was mostly open. Then I would gradually move from inside the room, to sitting in the doorway, to sitting outside in the hallway. And if all that went OK, I would very gradually close his door until it was shut.
The very first night I tried this, I opened the door just about two inches and plopped myself down into my usual spot, lying by the door in the dark. And what should happen next? Neko, the big fat striped kitty, nosed her way in through the crack and slipped past me, collar tags jangling in the quiet room. Of course Jamieson popped right up from bed and said, “Mama! Neko in Jamie’s room!” I sighed and thought, GREAT. Thanks, cat, for interrupting and waking him back up. But then something occurred to me. I could USE this situation to my advantage. So I scooped up Neko, walked over to Jamie’s bed, and said, “OK, baby, say goodnight to Neko. I need to take her out of your room now.” He said nighty night to the kitty, and I opened his door all the way and set her down outside. Then I said to him, “Jamie, I’m going to sit here in your doorway and make sure she doesn’t come back in, OK?” He said, “OK.” So… I sat down outside his doorway with the door about halfway open, and prevented Neko from re-entering until Jamie fell asleep about 45 minutes later.
I should clarify that he loves his kitties to death, and he is not afraid of them. He just feels, apparently, that they don’t belong in his room at night.
The next night, I allowed Neko to come in shortly after he’d crawled into bed. I told him again, “Uh-oh, here’s Neko. I’ll take her out and sit by your door to make sure she doesn’t come back inside.” It took about 40 minutes for him to fall asleep that night.
Yes, I threw the cat under the bus and used her as an excuse. Sometimes you just have to grasp at any available opportunity…
And so it went, night after night. Now it’s been about two weeks, and as soon as we are done snuggling and singing songs, I tell him goodnight, give him a kiss, and go sit outside the doorway, with the door open about four inches. No drama, no fanfare, it’s just the routine.
(Usually when I tell him goodnight, he asks me to “lay by Jamie bed for few minutes,” which I’m more than happy to do. I lay there, hold his hand, and about ten minutes later I kiss him goodnight and go.)
He actually can’t see if I’m there or not when the door is only open a few inches. Sometimes I’ll quietly head downstairs before he’s asleep. I’m pretty sure that he knows I’m not there anymore, but I haven’t brought it up yet. Not sure if I should or not.
And Doc has been doing the same thing at nap time (although I think that he generally hangs out in the hallway outside the bedroom until he’s sure Jamie is asleep, which is definitely a good idea at naptime. Naptime is a whole different animal than bedtime).
SO… the point of this long detailed story is that I feel, physically, MILES better than I did when I was lying in the dark waiting for him to fall asleep. I don’t stress anymore about how long it’s taking him to go to sleep, watching the minutes tick by and my free evening time evaporate before my eyes. My body doesn’t think that it’s MY bedtime, too. I have energy and a positive attitude and can accomplish basic household chores before bedtime.
And I am also happy that he’s learning to fall asleep by himself (or “by all self,” as he says). It’s an important skill to learn, but a tough one. Doc thinks (and I agree for the most part) that it’s been tougher on him than he’s letting on, and it may be why he’s been a bit crabbier than usual for the past few days. He lets things build up and then it comes out in a fury of hitting or scratching or just general “unexplained” anger and crabbiness.
We’ll just need to keep an eye on his moods and attitudes, and perhaps think about adjusting the routine a bit and see if it has a positive effect.
For my last bit of update (for those of you who are still reading and have not fallen asleep), we’re attempting to slowly introduce potty training. He was pretty interested for a while around the beginning of the year, but he resists trying more than he accepts it these days. And we definitely don’t want to be pushy about it or turn it into any sort of conflict or battle (because we will LOSE). We’ve been trying to make it a bit more routine, just to get him used to it, by setting him on the potty first thing in the morning and also before he goes to bed, when we go to the bathroom to brush teeth. No fanfare, no drama, no asking him if he wants to — just unfasten the diaper and set him down without a fuss, like it is a completely normal routine thing to do. He was a bit resistant to it at first, but we keep trying over and over and so now he’ll generally sit down without complaint and he’ll actually go about 75% of the time. And he is SO PROUD of himself when he does manage to go. I think it’s just going to take a long long time with him — like most things. All three of us fare better in the end if we pay attention to his signals and take things slowly, on his schedule.