Wondering how to get your toddler to stop waking up at night? Trying to persuade a 6-year-old to pick up after himself? Marguerite Kelly, who writes the weekly Family Almanac advice column in Local Living, was here to take questions about parenting. Here are some of the questions she answered.
Q: Over the last few months my soon to be 2-year-old has developed a habit of waking up at various points in the night and incessantly calling out for Mom or Dad. We would respond by going in, picking her up to soothe her cries (but not actual crying) and make sure she wasn’t sick/hurt/etc., and putting her back in bed. When this happened last night (twice), we did not go in to her. The first time either she stopped calling out or I fell back asleep. The second time, we got up for the day. Which approach will best serve us by allowing my toddler to get herself back to sleep and not keep us up at all hours of the night? And, is it common for sleep issues to present themselves this late? Sometimes these episodes coincide with disruptions in her routine (being on vacation or not eating dinner) but many times I have no idea what may be the cause. Any insight or ideas you may have are greatly appreciated.
A: Putting oneself to sleep is one of the first steps of independence and it is often tested at various times, particularly in the early years.
Always go to your child within five minutes when she cries but on your terms, not on hers. Be quick, lay her down, speak very little, tell her you and her dad are right there and leave the room. And each time you go back, talk less and leave more quickly. Your child doesn’t need to be rewarded with attention because she cries; she just needs to know you’re still around.
My son loses things!
Q: My son, almost 6 and about to finish kindergarten, is an energetic, extremely talkative, excited, and creative kid who is always concocting one project or another — making “prizes” for his friends, “inventing” things out of cardboard and foil from the recycling bin, and even writing an instruction manual for how to make a smoothie. Day after day, he also makes a terrible mess around the house and often loses things at school. Since he has been small, I’ve been trying to teach him to put his things away — and he usually will, if I stay with him, and on top of him. But the minute I look away, he’ll revert to one of his ‘projects’ or start looking at a book. (Admittedly, this is a lot like I was as a child. I’ve gotten better as an adult, but it is still a struggle to stay organized.) By now, I wanted him to do some of this cleaning up on his own without constant nagging from me. On the bright side, if he spills something, he will grab a towel and wipe it up. It’s putting away his things that is the problem. Unfortunately, my husband (who can’t stand the sight of clutter) will usually clean up these messes by dumping things into baskets so they’re out of sight rather than work with our son on cleanup — because it’s easier and more efficient (in the short term, that is). What are reasonable expectations around neatness for a 5- or 6-year-old, and what are some strategies I can use so he can start learning to put away his things as he goes along? I’d really appreciate any tips you can offer.
A: A child can’t learn how to clean up the messes he makes unless you teach him, bit by bit, but start with your own messes or with the projects he makes with you and then break each clean-up job into small segments so it won’t seem so overwhelming to him — or to you.
Q: My son’s close friend, also age 11, has always refused our sleepover invitations and always does so sadly with his head downcast. Due to a comment his father once made to my husband about their continual washing of sheets and blankets every day, I suspect this is due to bedwetting. This boy is bright and comes from a similar two-parent working family with two siblings. He excels in school and has many friends. His mother has never mentioned this issue, and I don’t bring it up as we are not close although a group of us meets for dinner once a month. I hate to see their son miss out on sleepovers the other children are enjoying. Is bedwetting a physical or mental problem and is there a cure? Shouldn’t he be over this by now?
A: Most doctors believe that it’s definitely a physical problem and that it is almost always outgrown. About 40 percent of the time bedwetting reflects a sensitivity to milk, which makes the detrusor muscle in the bladder swell; prevents the sphincter muscle from closing completely; and if it’s an allergy, it makes the child sleep so deeply he doesn’t know that he has to go until it’s too late.
Usually at around age 12 the pelvic cavity expands, which relieves the pressure on the bladder and the problem goes away. In the meantime, it’s nothing to be ashamed of, so ask the parents why their son looks embarrassed when he says he can’t spend the night and say, “Is he a bedwetter?” If he is, the parents will be relieved to talk about it, and if it’s something else, they’ll probably talk about that, again with relief. The more we talk about our problems, the easier it is to live with them.
Q: Several times a day my 3-year-old daughter lets out a blood-curdling shriek that could shatter glass, “just because she feels like it.” I know in other circumstances you would say this was a way to get attention that is best ignored, but that’s impossible. When she did this in a fast food restaurant last week, two patrons dropped their trays! We don’t dare take her to a movie or even to church. She goes to playschool three mornings a week and they have said she can’t continue unless this stops. However, they have no idea how to make this happen. We’ve tried bribery, withholding privileges (tough with a 3-year-old) but nothing works. Even though we’re both strongly opposed to spanking, my exasperated husband said a swat on the rear might be helpful. Her pediatrician checked her over and physically she’s fine. She gets plenty of love and attention from us and her siblings, ages 10 and 8. We’re hoping this is just a phase that will soon die down, but is there anything we can do in the meantime?
A: I think it’s a phase too, but an unpleasant one to be sure. If you’re going out with her to a restaurant or any place where there will be people around, take her outside and tell her to get rid of any screams in her belly before she goes inside. And if she screams when she’s in the room, don’t say anything, just pick her up and go sit in the car, still without saying anything. The more you reward bad behavior, the more bad behavior you’re going to get for a child will do whatever it takes to get attention, even if you’re fussing at her.