Category Archives: toddler sleep strategies

Weaning the Pacifier From An Older Child

Weaning pacifiers can be difficult, no matter the age.  I wrote a popular post a while back on pacifier use and abuse, Prevent Pacifier Addiction With A Focus on Building Self-Calming Without Plastic , but I think that I might need to write another.  Once an older child, over 3, still uses a pacifier, it is a different game to get rid of it.  There are professionals that will tell you that if your child really needs it, she should have it.  They all agree that if it has disrupted tooth formation or contributed to ear infections, those are good reasons to let it go.  But what if her teeth and ears are great?  Should you get rid of it because her younger brother let go of his pacifier at 18 months?

Every child is different in their ability to handle daily stress and develop more mature methods of calming and organizing.  If you haven’t read The Happiest Toddler on the Block, you might want to try Dr. Karp’s terrific strategies for building self-control and handling frustration.  I highly recommend his strategies for bedtime and dealing with aggression and defiance, because those times are when kids (and parents) default to the “paci” to get a child calmed down.

If your child’s speech is delayed, then you have two good reasons to address pacifier use right away, today.  First, pacifier use is a very immature tongue/mouth pattern of movement.  Please don’t encourage the use of something that slows down/prevents them from making gains in therapy.  Second, they can’t talk and suck at the same time.  They are losing opportunities to try to use words to deal with their feelings and thoughts.  OK, I guess third would be that being unable to communicate all the complex thoughts that they have probably makes them even more edgy and whine for that pacifier.  If I had a dollar for every agitated child with a speech delay that became polite, calm, and sweet-as-pie once he could be understood just a little…….

If you haven’t introduced a “lovey”( a toy or other safe object that a child can bring to bed or cuddle with) now would be the time to try it out or try another one.  Older children can enjoy the backstory of having a princess or a superhero with them.  I have also taught Dr. Karp’s  breathing technique to promote calming to older children.  That can be very helpful to them, but they do need to see you use it and they have to practice at calmer times in order to be able to use it in the clinch.  For some parents who love yoga and meditation, this is great!  For others, they will admit that they won’t remember to breathe through someone cutting them off in traffic: they yell.  And so does their child when his TV show is shut off.

Some children will accept the idea that the pacifiers are sent to the little babies, the pacifier fairy, or some other entity.  Others cannot believe this has happened to them.

Dr. Karp’s techniques for teaching toddlers how to handle frustration and communicate their emotions make life in the daytime better, but they might just be more important for bedtime.  Kids and grown-ups are tired, and kids don’t want to leave the fun, especially if it involves a parent that they missed all day long.  Pacifiers can be how a child calms themselves down because they don’t know how to interact and manage emotion.  Totally understandable at 10 months, but if they are 3 or 4, it is time to build some emotional regulation skills.  Teaching these skills is almost impossible to do at 7 pm.  The time to work on those skills is when they are fresh as a daisy.  If this means playtime with the purpose of teaching patience stretching at 7:30 am while waiting for cereal, it is still a better idea than 7:30 pm, when they are grumpy and tired.

I am convinced that the kindest thing to do for a child, one that uses the pacifier because this child has no other effective ways to calm herself, is to teach her better skills.  Mature skills that will last for years.  The gift that keeps on giving!

Why “Go The F**K to Sleep” Resonates With Parents of Special Needs Toddlers

 

I have been asked to teach a short class on sleep and special needs kids this spring, so of course this funny little book came to mind.  Truthfully, when I heard of it, I laughed out loud.  But bedtime struggles are not fun when you are in the middle of a tantrum at 11 pm.  Wrangling with a toddler that alternately cries, whines and yells about bedtime is not a joke.  It is hell.

If you have trouble sleeping, then you might be a little more sympathetic to a toddler that fights bedtime, but probably not any more capable of getting him to sleep. You just want the fighting to end so you can get some sleep too.

I asked some other professionals to give me their opinions and experiences with special needs toddlers and sleep problems.  Their comments always mentioned the same thing:  poor self-calming.  Well, my response is that most toddlers need our help to learn this skill and they need to be calm to learn it.  It isn’t a natural ability any more than speech.  We are wired to speak, walk, and sleep, but kids need modeling, a supportive structure and emotional connections to do all three well.  They really do.

Kids with special needs, including autism, sensory differences, and developmental delays can have a harder time adopting a bedtime routine and communicating their desires.  They often benefit a lot from things like weighted blankets and aromatherapy to signal to their nervous system that they need to downshift and sleep.  White noise and achieving a calm state for sleep can do more than token economies (the kind where you get a star if you get into bed) for special needs kids because they address the biological state of sleep rather than develop a cognitive motivation.  That being said, some older kids can use tokens effectively for motivation.

The most powerful thing I know to build good sleep behaviors in special needs toddlers or kids functioning at the toddler level is patience stretching.  Dr. Karp’s amazing technique for getting kids to wait can be magic at night.  A toddler that can calmly wait for you to return to his crib is one that can let the white noise and the lavender and the weighted blanket lull him back to sleep.  The toddler that is agitated and fearful will be so upset that all the other stuff is window dressing.  Calm kids can learn to self-soothe.  Agitated kids cannot.

Think about it, and try it out.  Please post your comments once you have given it a try!

Get Your Toddler And Preschooler To Sleep Faster When You Use Happiest Toddler Techniques at Bedtime

The Happiest Toddler on the Block has a unique perspective to bedtime sleep training:  it starts right after breakfast.  One of the cornerstones of THTOTB is Patience Stretching.  In my post Stretch Your Toddler’s Patience, Starting Today! I wrote about Dr. Harvey Karp’s fabulous technique, and how parents have to use a little creativity and positivity to get things started.  At first, it’s hard to put on a smile and be agreeable at 3 pm when you have had a day of clingy, whiny toddler demands.  But it pays off quickly,  it really does.  You will no longer dread 3 pm.  Then you need to plan to use it at bedtime.  It is like bringing a show up to Broadway.  This is the big time.  You don’t just put the backdrops in a truck and tell the actors where to stand.  You make a plan.

Here is what you need to do to make the transition from daytime Patience Stretching to bedtime sleep training work:

  • Perfect your daytime performances.  Get your toddler so good at waiting when she is not exhausted, not ill and not totally overwhelmed that you would be willing to go on YouTube for a demo.  Yes, that good.  How To Get Your Toddler To Wait For Anything (Hint: They hear “Wait” as “No”)  That means that your child and you understand the how and why of this method.  It is 10 times harder when you are both tired.  Maybe 20 times harder.
  • Now get this working well in unfamiliar places and/or when she is a little off her game.  Night time is harder than any other situation.  She is aware that she will be without you for hours, and the fun of the day is definitively over.  She has to be able to handle that.  Try improving transitioning skills, because this is the biggest transition she makes each day:  totally away from you and away from interaction to fall asleep.
  • That piece leads to this one:  having a good day as defined by toddler terms is essential for a good night.  Your version of a good day is not exactly hers.  She has a good day if she has had enough physical activity, enough warm exchanges, and enough positive attention.  If it has been a day stuck in a small space without face-to-face warmth and lots of redirection that she perceives as negative then bedtime is when she will make you pay big time.    You know this is accurate, right?  Make every effort to plan in some physical fun, create situations where you both can laugh and hug, and get good at redirection by saying what you want her to do instead of “no!”   See my 2015 post Discipline and Toddlers: What Do You Say if You Don’t Want to Constantly Say “No”?for more details on how to accomplish this.
  • Now you are ready to give this a try.   Use a kind but convincing voice.  Try very hard not to start with “It’s OK, it’s OK”, as your child will cry harder to convince you that it is not OK with them.  Did you read my post on that topic yet? Your response should be brief and a little robotic: “Oh, you are awake.  It is night time, time to sleep”.  Some kids do better if you don’t look them in the eye.  It excites them too much.  It isn’t cruel to avoid eye contact when you know that doing so helps them sleep, and engaging with them will make it harder.  Think about that one for a minute.
  • Go to her at 3 am when she cries out.  Yup, you don’t cry-it-out.  She needs to know you are there for her, but remember the robotic and unengaged plan.  Check for true distress and diaper issues and tell her firmly but warmly that it is time to sleep.  Not a lot of eye contact and absolutely no bright lights.  You could hold her for a few moments if you think it won’t be interpreted as coming out of bed, because you are going to put her down and do Patience Stretching in just a few seconds.  You know… “oh….I have to go tell Daddy something and I will be right back….” and come back after 15 seconds.  You could come back for a sleepy chorus of your bedtime song and then do it again…oh…I just have to go potty… and leave for 45 seconds.  The excuses and her confidence that you return should be familiar from all that daytime stretching and the time gets longer and longer.  You lie her down and then you do return.  You have to.  She might still be awake.
  • But she might not!  She might have dozed off without wailing.  Everybody wins, no tears, no feeling abandoned or feeling like you are abandoning your child.  You are giving her the chance to settle herself.  She already believes you, because you always return it the daytime.  This just gives her the chance to try relaxing into sleep while you are gone.

Good luck!  If this works for you and your child, please comment and share your unique twist that made it a success for you.  Other parents that read this blog are eager to hear your success story!