Toddler 411 Book Excerpt
Dr. Ari Brown shares the top 10 mistakes parents make with toddler sleep routines. Read the excerpt below.
Reprinted with permission from TODDLER 411: Clear Answers and Smart Advice for Your Toddler by Denise Fields and Dr. Ari Brown, M.D. (Windsor Peak Press, $12.95). Available in bookstores nationwide or at www.toddler411.com.
The Top Ten Mistakes Parents Make With Toddler Sleep Routines
Lack of routine! Kids are creatures of habit. If your child's schedule is erratic, his sleep will also be erratic.
Naps are sacred. If toddlers skip naps, or take them on the run (in the car or stroller), they are more tired and punchy at night when they need to wind down.
Sleep crutches. If your child still relies on something like a pacifier, a bottle, or a parent to fall asleep, he will expect that sleep crutch when he stirs at the end of each sleep cycle ... every 90 minutes!
Trained night feeding. Your toddler does not need to eat at 3 am. Unlike newborns that need nighttime feedings, your toddler can make it all the way to breakfast without a midnight snack. Don't let him snow you into feeding him. He's not really hungry ... he's just been trained by a parent to expect food in the middle of a night!
Lack of self-soothing skills. Your toddler is perfectly capable of falling asleep on his own (and has been since he was six months old). Cut the umbilical cord and give him a chance to figure it out.
Late to bed. Here's a classic blunder for working parents: you feel guilty about not seeing your toddler all day ... so you keep him up at night. Bad idea-you aren't doing your child any favors. Let your toddler get the sleep he needs.
Inconsistent messages. Bedtime is 8pm every night-except when your toddler wants to watch a movie. Or, when grandma comes over. Again, this is a mistake, sending inconsistent messages about what is acceptable. And your toddler will quickly realize what she can get away with to change that bedtime.
Resetting normal. Teething, illness, and travel are just a few of the situations that conspire to ruin perfectly good sleep patterns. Remind your child what his normal sleep routine was, otherwise he will accept the new disrupted pattern as normal.
Unnecessary interventions. Both kids and adults have partial wakenings between one sleep cycle and the next. Your child may talk or cry out. That is not your cue to rescue him. If you intervene every time your child makes a peep, he will rely on you to get him back to sleep (See Mistake #3).
Guilt. It's a fact of life: your child will push your parental guilt buttons. Parents fear that their child will hate them if they ... don't let them stay up ... don't give them a pacifier ... don't let them have a late-night snack, and so on. But, remember this bottom line: if your child is getting good sleep, he will be happy to see you in the morning-and you will be happier to see him. Lose the guilt.
Q. We still use a bottle to get our toddler to sleep. Is that okay? We also have middle of the night feedings.
Let's put this in bold italics-your child's ability to sleep is independent of how full his belly is! Sleep and full tummy have not been related since your child was about four months old (or maybe six months old if you had a preemie). Don't get suckered into this one. Although it is a sweet, loving experience to hold your toddler and feed him a bottle like you did when he was a baby, he's not a baby anymore!
If that isn't a good enough argument, here is a health related one: he has teeth now. If you must give your toddler a bottle before bedtime, you need to be brushing his teeth afterwards. Otherwise, the milk sugar will get left on his teeth overnight and might lead to cavities.
You can still do the loving, cuddly stuff before bedtime ... just take the bottle out of the equation. And, if you miss having a baby in the house, you can always have another one.
If you feed your toddler in the middle of the night, he is a trained night feeder. It's kind of like working the night shift. If you eat lunch at 3 am, your body is used to being hungry at that hour. If you stop eating at that hour, your body adjusts and eats more during the day. Adjust your toddler's hunger clock and stop offering food at night. If you feel strongly about offering your child a drink when he wakes up in the middle of the night, give him water. That way, there is no cavity risk.
As a side note, my husband thought someone should create a water bottle to hang on our son's crib (like in a gerbil's cage) so he could get his own water in the middle of the night. If you see this at your local baby store someday, you'll know who has the patent.
We'll talk more about kicking the bottle habit in the nutrition section of this book, but the Cliff's Notes version is here: Stop offering a bottle at one year of age. Your toddler is capable of drinking from a cup or a cup with a straw. And, he doesn't need constant access to a baby bottle at night to suck on to fall back asleep. You don't need to suck to fall back to sleep-and neither does your child.
Understanding why your toddler does not want to go to bed.
At the end of a busy day, you would think your child would be thrilled to crawl under the covers and get a little shut-eye. Nope. While there are a few kids who listen to their body cues, many don't want to go to sleep. Why? While toddlers are in their room, they envision the adults having fun elsewhere. Think about what you do once you put your child in bed:
You turn on the TV to watch the news (boring). Your child thinks: They are watching The Wiggles without me!
You pack your lunch to take to work the next day (boring). Your child thinks: They are eating ice cream sundaes without me!
You get undressed and ready for bed (boring). Your child thinks: They are getting ready for a party without me!
You get the picture. If your child hears you "partying" in your living areas, while he is in solitary confinement, it's no wonder that he will come up with a million reasons to avoid sleeping. He has no idea how boring it is to be a grown-up.
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