Sunday, 29 September 2013

Tiny temper : why two year olds get a bad rap

We’ve all heard the popular phrase coined in the 1950’s “ the terrible two’s”.  Many toddlers start to test their boundaries following their first birthday and this can last well past the age of three in some cases.  This is a totally normal part of your toddler’s development.  It’s how you respond to their frustrations that can mean the difference between calm and chaos.  

 Every age is special and every child is unique.  Some children have more spirited personalities than their playground pals.  There are challenges as you go through each but by taking a more relaxed but consistent approach, moving away from the Stepford-style perfect family model, you will be doing yourself and your family a big favour in the process.  There is no such thing as the perfect family but with a little resolve and a few rules, you can take it all in your stride without setting the neighbours tongues wagging!  Let’s look at the first three years of a child’s development to gain a bit of perspective.

During your baby’s first year, you will face the challenges that all new parents do when welcoming a new little person into the family.  There will be sleepless nights, endless chores, nights out become coffee mornings and there seems to be more laundry than you’re able to keep on top of.  That said, you will also enjoy hours of cuddles, excitement as you watch your little bundle of joy surprise you each day with just how special they are.  You may even be thinking about how lovely it would be to have another baby.

Year two starts approaching and all of a sudden, that idea has drifted off to some far recess of your mind!! Another baby? Err...  Your baby’s favourite word “no” has somehow brought the household to it's knees and distraction isn’t the easy little fix-all that it used to be.  You may still be facing issues relating to naps and sleep, food your baby once enjoyed is now thrown back at you with a look of utter revulsion and overall behaviour seems to be far worse than it was six months ago.  What happened?

It is very easy to fall into the trap of always focusing on the negative, you may feel like you are constantly snapping at your little one, the tantrums and defiant behaviour are draining you more and more as each day passes.  For this reason, it is so important to focus on finding a way to acknowledge the positives and to enjoy the good bits.  Two year old's are undeniably adorable but sometimes their mischievous behaviour can overshadow this stage of development.  

It can be a good idea to start considering planned activities for each day.  It may seem obvious but I hear so many parents saying that one day just seems to roll right into the next and there seems to be no time to do anything.  You run around like a headless chicken attempting to complete one household chore after the next, but never quite getting there thanks to the constant disruptions, needs and wants of your precious little angel.

Taking 5 minutes out to sit down in the evenings after your child is in bed, planning some activities that can be done safely and independently while you get on with a few household tasks, and also, planning some fun and interactive activities that you and your child can do together can be the difference between feeling in control and feeling like you're running out of steam.  The mix of encouraging independent play and supporting that with regular joint activities will help to build your child’s confidence and promote a less ‘needy’ more ‘can do’ attitude.  

There Internet is full of useful resources, simply typing in ‘toddler activities’ or similar search terms will throw up a host of inspiring blogs, websites, parenting hubs and forums where you can get lots of ideas for fun and unique activities that are age appropriate and fun for everyone.  Plan the day so that you can have time to do a few things yourself while your child does an independent activity and then follow that with a joint activity that you can both share in together.  

You will soon find that your little one is less frustrated and more able to communicate his or her needs more as time goes on.  Try not to reprimand or use the word ‘no’ too much.  You are your child’s role model, the behaviour you exhibit is what they will learn to mirror.  Distraction is always the best approach to head off a tantrum when you see it brewing.

Don’t feed into a full blown tantrum if you’re not able to head it off before the eruption!  As long as it is safe to do so, tell your child that you will leave them to it and that when they’re calm and have had enough of being upset, then you’ll sit down with them and play a nice game or do a fun activity.  It is a pointless exercise attempting to discipline your child during a tantrum as that can also be seen as ‘getting your attention’ even if it’s not the ideal attention they were hoping for.

In time, this will reinforce the positive through praise for good behaviour and avert the negative behaviour by using distraction or ignoring the unwanted behaviour if it is appropriate to do so.  

Your two year old is trying desperately to communicate with you.  They are also fully mobile and as such, everything is an adventure.  They will want to climb up onto, crawl underneath and generally go everywhere their little limbs will allow them to and beyond!  Setting boundaries is becoming a necessity at this stage and your little one is very likely to protest against them, they dislike hearing the word ‘no’ as much as you do!  Your two year old doesn’t yet poses the skills needed to communicate all of his or her needs and wants verbally and so they resort to their ‘default’ mode which is to cry and shout and scream until they have your undivided attention.

Unwanted behaviour seems to peak in the run up to age three and then as their vocabulary grows almost daily, you can use it as a tool for teaching your child about acceptable behaviour and the reason you need their co-operation.  Fortunately, after this stage, life seems to get much more manageable on the communication front and if handled well, any tantrum like behaviour can be stopped in its tracks before it’s too late.  

As with any behaviour modification or when implementing change, it takes time to teach your child to communicate and behave in a way that is acceptable at home and anywhere else.  Your commitment and consistent approach is the key to ensuring that you are on the right track.  Your child will soon learn that no means no and any attempts at tantrums are just not worth the effort in the long run.  Consequence is powerful if used correctly, it should be about teaching your child about what is acceptable rather than punishing him or her in the moment when you’re angry or upset.

From age three onwards, many children are starting to attend nursery or playgroups.  By helping your child to communicate without the need for a meltdown, you are also going to be equipping your child with the necessary social skills required to fit in well with other children and to respond appropriately to the nursery staff caring for your child.  Tantrums and unwanted behaviour are a very normal part of growing up, it’s how you as the parent or caregiver deal with the unwanted behaviour that really means the difference between chaos and a more content family life.  

Happy parenting!

Monday, 2 September 2013

Starting school: top tips for sleep routines

If like me, you're having a hard time believing that summer is nearly over and the start of the school year is upon us, then it's important to ensure that your child is getting a good night's sleep.  You need to do whatever is necessary to address the issue so that they are alert and they have the energy required to focus and achieve their potential in the classroom.

It's no surprise that during the summer holidays, with longer daylight hours and a more relaxed schedule, children often slip out of the more structured bedtime routine that is in place for the rest of the year and later bedtimes sneak in undetected.  Before you know it, the start of the school year is here and your little angels start struggling to go to bed earlier again and they're like lead bullets in their beds when the morning comes as they've not had enough sleep by the time they are due to get up.  Problem!

So, how do you get them back on track with the minimum amount of stress for all concerned?

It is never too late to start implementing a gradual return to an earlier bedtime, for many, schools have started back already or are starting next week, leaving little time for a plan of action before they go back but better late than never.  The excitement of the new school year is also an issue that means children are more active at night, knowing that the new school year will be a mix of anxiety and excitement, the prospect of meeting new friends and seeing the old familiar faces from nursery or the previous school year will no doubt be a hot topic at bedtime.  It won't be painless to get things back on track, but with a structured plan, you will remove some of the hard work and you'll be on the right path in no time at all.

Ideally, two weeks prior to the start of the new term, but at worst, this can be started tonight so that they're on track as soon as possible.  Gradually start to move bedtime back to the more appropriate time (depending on age and the time you need to get up for school) ideally between 7 and 8pm.  Reduce the time by 10 to 15 minutes every three to four nights, allowing your child the opportunity to adjust slowly. A good indicator about timings is how your child responds to being woken in the mornings, if they've had enough sleep they will wake on their own or will be easy to wake, young children who are very grumpy and reluctant to wake will need an earlier bedtime.

It is so important to have some form of bedtime routine, this includes the same bedtime every night with the same basic run of events.  You could start the routine with a warm drink (this should be given downstairs or in the living room, not in the bedroom) followed by a bath, pyjamas, story or some time for them to read or sit quietly with you discussing the day or having a calm run through of the events taking place tomorrow so that your child has no anxieties or fears about the day ahead.  Your child shouldn't need an alarm clock if they're getting enough sleep at night.

Involving your child in their bedtime routine and all that relates to getting up for school the following day, can be a really good way of encouraging your child to take an active role in all the responsibilities associated with going to school.

Reward charts are a very effective way of getting your child involved and teaching them that they are responsible for various parts of their day.  This can include brushing their teeth in the evenings and mornings, getting bathed and into pyjamas and ready for bed at the chosen time.  If you would like a customised reward chart, please contact me and I would be happy to do a custom design for you along with the strategy to apply so that it is an effective tool for getting your child on track for bedtime and getting off to school. 

Routines act as a list of cues that prepare your child for what is coming next. Children need boundaries and a sense of purpose.  When they know what is expected of them and what the consequences are, they know that by not following the cues, a certain outcome will take place.  This can mean that a reward they are working towards at the end of the week such as pocket money, is at risk of being taken away.  Equally, when your child learns the value of the reward and how good it feels to achieve what is expected, they quickly learn that it is far more fun and enjoyable to stick their little star in the jar or sticker on the chart than to argue and protest!  

The upshot is, that once the concept is accepted, your child will go to be on time and will be a far more capable learner during the school day.  If your child has serious issues relating to sleep, please do get in touch as I can build a package of support around your child's needs, a family focused approach, taking everyone into account so that the plan can be implemented, quickly and without too much impact on the rest of the family.

If your child struggles to get to sleep at night, it is worth stepping back and evaluating the picture as a whole.  Too much stimulation right before bed can mean that your child is far too excited to nod off right away.  Limit pre-bed TV, nothing at least half an hour before bed.  If your spouse returns home from work close to bedtime, it is important that they atmosphere is kept calm, inovle your other half in the process so that your have time together as a family each evening, where possible.  Sugary and caffeinated drinks are another concern.  

Most importantly, ensure that the bedtime routine is the same each night as far as possible.  There will of course be times where things are beyond your control but for the majority of the time, teach your child that the routine is a cue for bedtime and that no delay tactics are going to change the process.  By thinking of all the 'what if's' before your child goes to bed, you will minimise any excuses!  Ensure that your little one has eaten, had a drink, brushed teeth, been to the loo and has a beaker of water next to their bed for late night sips if required.  I always suggest putting the beaker next to your child's bed when you go to bed so that they don't drink it all before they fall asleep and then need a loo run before they've even nodded off in the first place.

I recommend black out blinds from birth as a dark room is the most effective external form of sleep promotion.  Darkness promotes the release of the sleep hormone melatonin so it is important, particularly during the summer months, that young children have the benefit of a dark room to fall asleep in.  This helps to remove an external factor that could be hindering your child's ability to fall sleep. 

If you’re still struggling to get your child into a routine and asleep at the appropriate time, please do get in touch.  Blog readers are entitled to a 25% discount on fees until the end of September.  Just quote BLOG913

Happy parenting!