Why do they hate the very things we crave? Food and sleep. I’d give anything for a nice, warm meal and a long night’s sleep. My child, however, sees no benefit in slowing down to eat and finds that sleep interrupts her very important plans to take over the world. It’s no wonder we’re wandering the grocery store aisles in yoga pants and a t-shirt from college with hair that hasn’t been combed for a day (maybe 2?). We’re exhausted. A friend posted on Facebook yesterday how tired she is and the problems she’s having with her 2 year old eating and sleeping. I am by no means an expert. None of us are. (I firmly believe annyone who says they are is a liar.) But I do know about 3 things – food, sleep and strong wills. I know because I’ve been in a 24/7 battle with one or all of them for the past 4 years, 9 months and 20 days.
While I can’t fix it for you, I can tell you what helped and encourage you to keep going. Here’s my overly simplified input…
(that’s not overly short. sorry!)
It seems to have nothing to do with food or sleep, but bear with me:
Think of a kid’s mind like large yard. An open space sounds freeing at first, but with no perimeter, it’s more scary than good. Your job is to be the fence – to let her know that it’s safe to run and play and be free – within that space. That fence provides security only if it’s strong. So she goes about trying to figure out what’s allowed, what’s safe and most importantly, who she can trust. That means she has to try every inch of that fence to make sure she can feel safe in the yard. She will push every slat when it comes to food. She will poke every hole when it comes to bedtime. The best thing you can do is establish as early as possible that you built the fence, you are there to keep her safe and it’s strong enough for her to trust. If she finds that the fence is sturdy in one area (maybe you’re very strict about bedtime) but she gets away with more another time (when you’re watching tv), she thinks that you aren’t strong enough to trust all the time, so she needs to be in control.
I know it sounds A) like psycho babble or B) hard to do consistently. And you’re right. It’s hard. But there’s more going on than food or bedtime. If you don’t believe that, ask a runaway who never felt safe at home what would be different if someone had given them something to trust.
So here’s my fence-keeping advice:
1. You matter – What you say, how you say it, what you do… This is more a mom thing than a kid thing. Eventually, the kid will grow out of whatever specific phase she is in. The issue is what your relationship will look like. Will she have learned to obey? Will she have learned to trust you? Or will she have figured out exactly how much it takes to wear you down before she gets her way? Because if she will wear you down about going to bed…imagine high school.
2. Consistency is key – You have to say the same thing every time and DO the same thing every time. If the answer is no on Tuesday, the answer is no on Friday. If the answer is no when we are playing, the answer is no when I’m on the phone. If the answer is no at home, the answer is no at church.
Every. Fence. Slat.
3. Enforce consequences – If you aren’t willing to turn the car around, don’t say you will. If you aren’t really able to leave the restaurant in the middle of the meal, don’t make that the consequence. Explain what the expectation is (eat your dinner), the reward for doing so (dessert) and the consequence if not (lose a favorite toy). And when she eats, you better be waiting with ice cream! If she doesn’t, you better be willing to take away the toy no matter how much it cost or how bad she whines or how hard you just worked to put it together.
Every. Fence. Slat.
4. Make sure you win – If you said she has to eat 4 green beans, she has to eat them. Don’t say she has to eat 4 more and then make the consequence going to bed. If she goes to bed as punishment, she didn’t eat them. And in her mind, she won. Make the hurdles small at first to ensure you win. She has to take one more bite, only 2 green beans – just structure it, so you create a habit of “what mom says is what happens.” I’m not trying to be mean or funny. You are in a battle for who that kid will be when she grows up. You can win and help her be a contributing member of society or you can let her win and watch her life spin sadly out of control.
It feels like green beans aren’t that big of a deal. But every fence slat is. So if green beans is the issue at hand, green beans are a big deal.
5. Speak softly – If she learns that you’ll ask nicely 6 times before you raise your voice and yell, how many times do you think she’ll ask? If you count to 3, why would she obey on #1, she knows she has more time. On the other hand, if you ask nicely once, give a warning and then enforce the consequence, she’ll learn to obey on your time frame instead of hers.
6. Take a Time Out – You. If you are about to yell, go step outside. If you are angry, take a minute before you respond. If you can’t be in control of you, you are showing her that you can’t be strong enough for her either. And she’s found not only a weak spot in the fence about the issue at hand, but your weak spot in general – which she will gladly attempt to enflame at next opportunity.
7. Pick your battles – Don’t try to tackle everything at once. If you haven’t built a strong fence up to now, it’s ok. You have time. But take it a step at a time. If she ate her lunch but wants to wear something crazy to the grocery store, let it go. If she picked up the toys but not perfectly, consider it good. If she’s in her room but not in her bed, let it ride, Mom. One thing at a time. Brynna sometimes talks to herself for an hour before going to sleep. We’ll tackle quiet later, for today, she’s in there!
Practically in regards to food and sleep:
1. The nap/rest/bedtime battle is so different for every kid. Maybe you have one that will nap 3 hours but then struggles at bedtime. While that 3 hours is awesome in the afternoon, it’s torture at night. So, maybe shorten the nap. If you have a kid, like mine, who decides at the ripe age of 2 that naps are not for her, create a rest time that works for her. For some, that means reading on their bed for the same amount of time as a nap. For some (mine), it means choosing 3 toys and quiet play in her room. (If I don’t force her to stop, she never stops. But if I force it too much, it’s more than she can do and I’ve entered into a battle I can’t win. Been there. Done that. No thanks.) Whatever changes you make, start small. Try a new nap routine and see if it affects bedtime. Or make the bedtime routine more strict and see how it works first. Don’t change everything at once – that’s hard on everyone.
2. While it is true that a kid won’t let himself starve, he still needs food. And you still need sanity. If your doctor thinks its appropriate, maybe a supplement will help her get more calories and ease your mind. If the doc thinks she’s perfectly healthy, choose your battles. Let her have a choice if she likes to feel a part of the decision. Make the portions smaller if finishing is the issue. I’ve used a timer when dinner dragged on for hours. When time was up, so was dinner and nothing else to eat that night. (Side note: Nothing else to eat means you, too. Don’t tell her no dessert and then make yourself a snack and give in to letting her taste a bite of yours.) The point is that you make the goal achievable to establish a routine.
3. The Ok to Wake Clock saved my life. You set bedtime and wake time, so it gives the child a visual cue. This helps especially when it’s light out at bedtime. For whatever reason, she doesn’t believe me, but if the clock is yellow, it must be true. It glows yellow all night long (both a nightlight and reminder) and then turns green when it’s time to get up. I have no idea what time Brynna wakes up, but I hear her feet hit the floor at exactly 7:30 am when the clock turns green.
4. Rewards are just as important as consequences as long as they don’t become bribes. When you’re “paying” for her to go to bed, you are no longer winning. Sticker charts have worked for us, but for short seasons. If it becomes every week without change, she loses interest. The same thing won’t always work, but often being allowed something “new” is reward. If she usually can’t have books in bed, allow it for good behavior. Letting a special toy/friend sleep with her can sometimes work. The more good behavior you reward, the fewer bad behaviors there are that need consequences.
5. Consequences are necessary. Life is full of them. And the key is to make them as insignificant as you can. Sometimes simply their preferences can be used as consequences. Brynna doesn’t like the door closed, so the rule is that if she yells once we’ve put her to bed, we close the door. If yours sleep with a closed door but keep opening it, sit outside the door with consequence ready. Is that fun? No. But neither is the alternative. I’ve taken away books before bed, a toy she wanted to sleep with, etc. Kids are little; little things matter. The point is to start small. If you start with a spanking, you don’t have much further to go. If you start with a closed door, removing toys from the room, etc, you are actually speaking more on their level of understanding. They want the toy, you took the toy, you’ll give the toy back if they behave…easy logic to follow. (If it’s consistent!!) The other major this is that they must be immediate. Tomorrow feels like 3 weeks to a 2 year old. A consequence of what they can do the next day bears no meaning to them. Immediate and tangible are the way their minds work, so consequences must follow suit.
I think the hardest part of being a mom and the part least understood is that you’re tired! Tired like you’ve never felt before. Dear Lord! So tired! But I can tell you this. If you’re that tired, you’re doing it right. If it hurts, you’re making progress. I once kicked a trainer for telling me that the burn I felt in my arms was good because it meant my form was correct. Don’t kick me. But it’s true. Yes, you need a nap, but more than that, you need to know you’re doing something. You need to know that the hours and tears and pain are worth it. You need to see a glimmer of hope, a light at the end of the toddler tunnel. This is me, holding a flashlight, cheering you on. You ARE doing something. It IS worth it. I know that doesn’t make the circles under your eyes less dark, but I hope it helps your heart.
You are not working in vain. You are not tired for no reason. You are a mom. A good one. You are the best mom your kid could ever have because God entrusted her to you.
Keep going. You can do it.
If you want more info, leave a comment. Let’s chat. Or if you have a question or different suggestion, tell us. The only thing that makes being a mom any harder is trying to do it alone. Please share! What have you done that worked? What tips can you share? What routine are you struggling with at this stage?