Bedtime Routines

When I first started researching bedtime routines (I was probably halfway along in my first pregnancy) I found some pretty interesting information. I knew that my husband and I wanted to include reading (at least twenty minutes a night), bathing (who doesn’t want to wash and pamper a little newborn?), and cuddling up with a little tune (I was very excited for this part!).

So, I checked out the information at hand. What I learned through googling, reading Alberta Health Care books, and talking with friends and family, albeit informational, nowhere near provided me for the little Grizzly Bear I was about to bring home. The rest of my three years of parental insight came from plain, old, on-the-job, firsthand experience – something every parent should remember.

What I did learn through research provided me with two tidbits of information that were extremely helpful; don’t start any routine that you don’t want to continue doing until you have a teenager and don’t bathe your baby too often.

The first one made sense right away. I certainly didn’t want to complete an hour-long ritual for bedtime or deal with a tantrum every night I’m unable to complete the routine. The second one made sense to me, as I’d studied microbiology in college. It didn’t make sense to my husband, so I explained: the societal mentality on cleanliness eradicates necessary microbes from our bodies, leaving room for pathogens.

Simply put, if I wash my son every day, the little microbes that are on his skin, the good microbes that I introduced to him by birthing him, breastfeeding him, and kissing him, would be continually under attack from the bath time wash cloth, leaving them unable to battle for space against new, potentially harmful microbes. So, we limited baths to twice a week, one bath with soap, the other with water, and occasional ones whenever he was actually dirty. This also worked with our busy lifestyle, especially when we introduced our little Polar Bear into the mix, making life just that much busier.

On-the-job training, with no manager, supervisor, or foreman available for questioning, was a bit different. Obviously, we let our baby be a baby, we fed him when he woke, cuddled him continuously, and read to him occasionally.

When our baby became a toddler (one year, yay!) we were so excited to start doing the actual bedtime routine and have him SLEEP THROUGH THE
NIGHT. We did as we intended from the beginning, we read to him for twenty minutes, cuddled him while singing a short lullaby, and then plopped him in his crib with a few soft toys.

We didn’t do anything we didn’t want to do every night for the foreseeable future. We didn’t cuddle him until he fell asleep, we didn’t wait outside his room to listen to his snoring, and we didn’t give in to his demands (unless he cried for more than 20 minutes as directed by pediatricians). As Grizzly Bear
grew older and started climbing out of his crib, we moved him to a toddler bed.

He was afforded more toys and books to help him fall asleep. We learned quickly that only board books survived his curiosity and that skinny ones could be shoved under the door, making for interesting clean up in the morning. As he grew older still, his demands became more coherent and adorable than
the pitched crying we used to hear.

“Mommy, my teeth are still dirty, I need to brush them.”
“Mommy, I was crying because I wanted a drink.”
“Mommy, I just wanted to go with you to get a slurpilee.”
“Mommy, there’s a poop in there. And my feet are stinky.”
“Sweetie, Mommy has to sleep too you know.”

These demands were harder to ignore because we knew what favorite toy he was asking for, we knew which favorite cup he wanted to drink water from, we knew which book made him the happiest, etc. However, we also knew that he knew we would only come back once to do whatever task he needed, so he’d better pick a long and arduous one.

Bedtime routines, psychological warfare, whatever you want to call it, it’s a very precious time, especially for those parents that work or only see their kids for short periods of time. Even though I’m tired at the end of the day, I like reading my son his favorite book for the eighth time. But not the ninth, because Mommy needs to sleep too.

Conflict Resolution

After all the hoopla of the Christmas holidays, both of my boys zeroed in on a favourite toy – an airplane that you can build with a toy drill and screwdriver. Listening to them argue over it (little Polar Bear can’t talk yet but makes his feelings well known) isn’t my favourite activity, but it does allow me to reflect on conflict resolutions between children (and myself).

Interestingly, teachers of elementary schools (you can also find variations on Pinterest) use a conflict resolution tool called the Wheel of Choices (see my mini toddler/preschooler one below). Primarily, I’m an avoidance conflict resolver. I tend to walk away to cool down and walk it off. This non-confrontational attitude helps me but it doesn’t seem to be my sons’ first choices.

Grizzly Bear, my older son, never steals toys from his brother but he does guard them. If his little bro arrives on the scene of a very good play session, Grizzly Bear tends to put toys under his arms and hoards them until he can’t actually use his hands for play. Or, if his little bro has a toy that Grizzly Bear wants, he won’t grab for the toy but he will stand in front of his brother like a football player and refuse to let him move from the spot he is currently occupying. If his little bro won’t give up the toy after this ploy, Grizzly Bear will come talk to me about it, using the “Talk” strategy listed on the wheel.

Polar Bear, my younger son, takes a more physical approach. Not able (or willing) to use words yet, he has more of a tendency to lean towards physically demanding he get his way. He does not hoard toys and will, more often than not, share toys willingly. He loves to watch others use a toy first to discover its secrets before taking a turn. However, if there is a favourite toy at stake that is not currently being shared equally, he will grab at or push others in his fury to have the toy. Once a parent intervenes, he is quite happy to share the toy again (as long as the turns are equal in length). Polar Bear uses the “Share” strategy.

Neither of my boys are old enough to use the Wheel of Choices on their own but I use it to help them. Here’s two reasons why:

  1. I want them to see that there are different strategies to resolving conflicts than the ones they have used in the past. I know from experience that my avoidance strategy has not worked for every situation. By seeing me use the tool, this role modeling reflects positively on them and they will be more willing to try new strategies.
  2. I want them to be comfortable choosing their own conflict resolution strategies. As they grow, they may tend to use this tool on their own when I’m not around or use it by memory if they are out of the house. As little as they are, they have constant adult supervision and are prone to seek adult intervention immediately. As they grow and have less supervision, I want them to make the right choices. Being an adept problem-solver is a gigantic skill in later life.

My Mini Wheel of Choices – 4 Strategies for Preschoolers

  1. Numbers – This is another way of saying take deep breaths or calm down. No one likes hearing “calm down,” least of all an emotional preschooler, but they do love numbers! Have your child count to five (or higher if needed). Count along with them and set the pace of counting to a slow, heavy-breathing rhythm. It’s also a crafty mom-way to teach your children to count.
  2. Walk – use this avoidance technique to remove a child from the situation. Give them a chance to think about things silently or have the needed moment to explain their frustrations to you, a caring adult. Also, taking them outside is a great stress reducer and decreases bullying (read about the Chester Elementary School’s Outdoor Play and Learning pilot project in Today’s Parent here).
  3. Talk – try to have the children explain the situation to you in front of one another. I know that this could lead to more arguing in a he said-she said way but I found it also helps children see the other’s point of view. Let the conversation develop and never cut it short (this is tough when you’re entertaining company or are in a hurry, I know). Continue the conversation as long as necessary to reach a resolution.
  4. Share – I practice a “Mommy shares with you, so you share with him” rule. I always try to role model good behaviour and tend to say share more often than any other word, even when it’s not the topic of conversation. Instead of saying “would you like some ____,” try to say “would you like me to share some ____.” This emphasizes that sharing is just a natural part of the world in which we live (and it also helps when you need to get your phone/keys back from your toddler).

As my kids age, they will notice that more and more options will be added to their strategy repertoire. Starting little like this will allow them to be comfortable with these basic options before moving on to other, more complex problem-solving strategies. I encourage you to make your own pin-wheel of choices. Please feel free to use these strategies (and invite ideas from your own family)!

It’s Potty Time

Today I wanted to touch base on a long and tedious battle between the toilet and my son.

My husband and I started potty training our oldest son, our Grizzly Bear, at two years of age. At the time, my second child was well on his way to being welcomed into the family and before then, we thought we’d try to make things easier on ourselves by potty training our first born. He was a smart lad and willing to learn new skills, this was going to be easy.

We started out with the old fashioned portable potty. Sat him on it and tried to keep him there with books, toys, food, and even the television. Each strategy worked well for a little while and then psychological warfare would have to be kicked up a notch as our Grizzly Bear would grow tired of sticker rewards and saying bye bye to his pee as it swirled around in the flushing toilet.

Fast forward eight months. You read that right; eight months………
By this time, we’d pulled out all the stops including following expensive and temper tantrum inducing advice from family, friends, and internet strangers (like myself).

My sister told me she purchased special underwear for her child, dawning his favourite movie character. When he pooped his pants, she made him throw the undies in the trash. He hasn’t had an accident since. He was three when he successfully potty trained. I tried this tactic with our Grizzly Bear at 2.5 years and the only thing accomplished was the purchasing of very expensive soon-to-be garbage. No success there. My Mom secretly fed Grizzly Bear Smarties for every successful potty pee/poop. This only resulted in my son having extra sweets as he still only used the potty half the time and even expected a candy after going in his pants. Grizzly Bear has a slight addiction to Smarties now.

Internet sensations indicated scheduling potty breaks and determining your child’s poop schedule through what I can only assume is psychic reasoning. It is true that my son is a regular pooper and predicting his bodily functions wasn’t too difficult. That is until he got a cold or slept funny the night before or was fed prune juice at his dayhome.

In the end, my husband suggested one last tactic that we hadn’t heard anywhere before. We were a bit desperate to try anything at this point as it was hard to keep up diapering two children. However, let me start out by saying that this experiment did not work and should not be tried ever again in the history of potty training.

We decided to put Grizzly Bear’s potty in his room with him at bedtime and let him sleep in the half nude. We figured he would either go in the potty if he needed or fall asleep without pants. No big deal right?? Big deal it turns out. I hear him 10 minutes later saying he went in his potty. I enter his room with excitement and joy only to stop short with wide eyes and a speechless expression.

He did pee in the potty (hooray!) but then, in his infinite wisdom, he picked up his potty in an effort to bring it to the big potty and dump it, only to spill it all over the hardwood and attempt to clean it with his bare hands. That’s right, he was covered in wee. I ran for a cloth and began soaking up the mess as my adoring toddler comes up behind me to offer encouragement. I cringe as the smell rolls over me, my toddler stroking my hair, saying “that’s a good girl, mommy.”

Although none of the “tactics” we used worked for our Grizzly Bear, he did eventually potty train at 2 years and 10 months. He did not potty train as a result of our hard work or ingenious potty plotting, but simply as a result of being ready and willing. After reading this, I’m sure you’ll agree that my husband and I are no experts on toddlers and the wonder that is the toilet.

We simply reflect upon the last year and agree that every child is indeed different and each learn on a different time schedule. We had some good laughs and are even looking forward to our next potty trainer, our Polar Bear!