Toddler Behavioral Challenges: Tantrums & Sleep
I’ve written a good deal about our little toddler’s quirks in previous posts about teething, toddler sleep trouble, traveling with a toddler (comprehensive packing list), quick tips for toddler travel, running errands with a toddler, surviving pregnancy and toddlerhood simultaneously, tantrums, toddler naps, and toddler obsessions. And I’ve amassed the best advice from my fellow mamas. Thank you for all your feedback! Now to ask for MORE feedback 🙂
1) Full fledged tantrums.
They’ve arrived. He’s 18 months old and can tantrum with the best of them. Anything from a routine diaper change, to preventing life threatening maneuvers, to dinner time, to wanting to see the moon at 9 am with his Baba (an impossibility on multiple levels). If you are in a similar situation, take a breath. You’re not alone! (Nota bene, self: I’m not alone!)
A few things seem to work at setting appropriate boundaries while respecting that he is a human being too. What works for you?
a) Tone of voice.
We try to be consistent in our tone of voice when it is really a “no” situation. This voice should be lower, sterner, and not emotionally charged. At a girlfriend’s excellent suggestion, I break it down to “SuperBoy mad, SuperBoy wants X, but Mama said not now. SuperBoy listens, J respects Mama” instead of lengthy loquacious appeasement treaties.
Appeasing does not work in the long run. I realized this when SuperBoy had to have 2 pacifiers, a toy, and a book to achieve a peaceful diaper change. Two too much! Avoiding the occasion of tantruming is always a good idea, but some things cannot be avoided! I.e., diaper changes!
c) Eye contact.
Insist on eye contact when reviewing why something is not going to happen/is going to happen/cannot happen. It may take a little bit, but I settle for anything that looks like he might have looked into my eyes, forehead, nose, or sinus cavity. He knows when I ask him to please look at mama’s eyes, I won’t let it go until he does. I only insist on this when I think it’s feasible. Fewer battles = happier family.
d) Explain the order of events.
If necessary, explanations of order of operations seems to help. For instance, I acknowledge he wants to play with his giraffe, or his Dada, but first we’re going to eat our rice, then we get to leave the high chair and perform desired tasks. He seems to get the idea of a little bit later in time.
e) Work on “the look.”
My mom has a great evil eye. One glare from her and we would freeze in our tracks as kids. Again, like the eye contact principle, only pull this out if you’re going to follow through with a timeout or some sort of actual repercussion if the undesired behavior continues.
f) Pick your battles and move on quickly.
Without using distraction instead of instruction, do move on after you’ve made your point. We do a lot of toe counting during diaper changes. The thrill of it seems to prevent a continued meltdown after he’s been temporarily subdued by one of the above communication styles. Or we talk about Baby Jesus’ birthday. Or that his cousin V is coming on an airplane for Christmas (complete with sound effects and arm movements which he will now do on his own if you talk about her).
He can wriggle out of one of his arm straps on his high chair. It’s a 5-point harness so I’m not too concerned about his safety, but I did realize I can’t make him keep it in. So I just don’t correct him on it or acknowledge he’s doing something that bothers me. My lack of reaction seems to have taken the wind out of his sails, as it were. If you can’t beat them, ignore them?
2) New sleep issues for our 18 month old.
The thing I most commonly google in the middle of the night these days is “toddler sleep trouble 18 months old.” SuperBoy has begun a weird cycle of interrupted sleep seemingly unrelated to health, teething, hunger, fear, or a wet diaper. He just awakens after 5 hours or so, wants to be given a pacifier and laid back down, and then wants you (exhausted, crabby pregnant parent) to sit in the room not even in his line of vision, periodically make noises to indicate your presence, and do so until he falls back asleep. Then he will reawaken within the hour or two and require a repeat of aforementioned behavior.
We are not cry-it-out people. A little wallop here or there before passing out is okay. Minutes upon half hours of screaming, not so much. But my husband works at a very mind-challenging job with long hours, and I’m still sick and pregnant at about 23 (or is it 24?) weeks. This makes for a conundrum.
Why has SuperBoy begun this new need for parental soothing at night, instead of his naturally gifted self-soothing? That is a question for the ages. The real question is, how long can we sustain multi-nocturnal awakenings? My mom has been staying in town with us recently and helping out, so that may prolong our endurance levels. But honestly, I’m a bit at a loss of what to do.
We tried co-sleeping again the other night. Complete disaster. He was uncomfortable, changed positions frequently, and clearly did not like his lack of space, and we were awake. All. Night. Long. Considering he hasn’t truly co-slept since 4 months old, it wasn’t a surprise it wouldn’t work well.
We’re trying new bedtime rituals of longer massage, more songs sung, along with more time hugging and rocking while walking (again, though, the more pregnant I get, the heavier his 28 pounds feels around my burgeoning belly). I’m trying to carry him more during the day and have more physical touch too.
Any suggestions or has anyone else encountered something similar? Maybe it’s an 18-month-old stage that will pass.
No one said parenting, especially night parenting, would be easy. And poor little SuperBoy will be contending with a sibling with night needs come April. I hope he’s back to happy sleepy time by then!