Living with a toddler can feel like living in a dictatorship run by a miniature human. He wants what he wants when he wants it. When he doesn’t get it, he makes his displeasure known.
In Pamela Druckerman’s fabulous book Bringing Up Bebe, she talks about a French expression that means, “It’s me who decides.”
So any time I am feeling held captive by my toddler, I remember, it’s me who decides. Because if I don’t decide, or if I’m wishy-washy about certain boundaries, things get chaotic very quickly. So I’m determined to try to better use the power of my own choices to create calm.
Here’s how this shows up for me.
We started being really strict about Elijah’s bedtime routine when he was just a few months old. Sleeping arrangements are controversial today, here’s what worked for us.
We basically used the Ferber (cry it out) method…to the horror of Elijah’s grandparents. We endured a lot of crying, but the result is that we can now put him in his crib at 7:30 pm every night, and he falls asleep by himself and sleeps until 6 or 7 am.
This means that Simeon and I have a few hours to ourselves every night. We watch TV, spend time together, or spend time by ourselves. This was a pipe dream for many, many months – I remember sobbing to my mom one day when Elijah was still waking up two or three times a night that I was homesick for a night alone with Simeon watching TV – but we decided that Elijah falling asleep and staying asleep by himself was a priority, and we made decisions accordingly.
If bedtime isn’t happening the way you would like, ask yourself: is this a phase? (i.e., are you transitioning to a toddler bed, is he going though a sleep regression, etc.). If it’s not, ask yourself, What am I doing to contribute to this pattern? How can I decide to act differently to change this?
Elijah is going through a phase where he’s testing us with food. He’ll eat a small container of figs for a snack one day, then refuse to eat a single fig the next day. He’ll ask for a banana, then smush it with his fingers instead of eating it. When we eat dinner, he eats all his meat, then points and says “more, more” to the meat on our plates. Sometimes, he refuses to eat any dinner at all.
Our rule about meals is that he can either eat the meal he’s been given, or he can have a serving of fruit (an orange, a container of applesauce, some strawberries). I don’t want to reinforce the habit that he can refuse what’s for dinner and then get his own special dinner. Usually, if he’s really refusing to eat, it’s just because he’s not that hungry. So he’s offered one or two different fruits, he eats that, and then he’s done.
(I promise we don’t starve him. He’s never gone to bed hungry!)
It helps me to remember that even though, with Elijah’s nap schedule, I feel like we’ll never be able to go out to lunch again, we can actually do whatever we want – we just need to deal with the consequences of our choices. So if we do go out to lunch, he may have a meltdown because it’s too close to nap time. Or he may fall asleep on the way home and then not take a real nap. It’s me who decides. (Well, us: the adults.)
Sometimes it’s worth it to push the nap to do a fun family outing. In the summer we drove out to the Bronx Zoo for the day. He got really cranky after lunch because it was nap time; we put him in the stroller with a binky, he cried for a few minutes, and then he fell asleep. The whole day was totally worth the routine disruption.
More and more, I’m discovering the cost of not being consistent with discipline.
I love the idea, also from Bringing Up Bebe, of being very strict with a few things and very permissive about everything else. For example, in our house there’s very little that Elijah can’t play with. We have a few cabinets locked – the one under the sink, which has detergents and other chemicals, and the cabinet where keep our food processor and other appliances that he shouldn’t play with. Otherwise, he’s allowed to empty out drawers with bowls and dish towels and pots. He’s allowed to climb through the coffee table. He’s allowed to push kitchen chairs around the living room. He’s allowed to run in circles around the house.
He is not allowed to touch the trash can; the lid gets dirty, no matter how hard we try to keep it clean, and generally it’s just unsanitary. If he touches the trash can, he gets a warning: “If you touch the trash can again, you’re going in time out.” If he touches it again, he goes in the play pen for one minute, by the clock.
It is the hardest thing in the world for me to put him in the play pen for a minute. His little face crumples up, and when I leave the room he wails like his heart is breaking.
So sometimes, I don’t do it. But that’s not helping either of us. It just makes it harder for me to do it next time; and it confuses him. Because last time he went in time out, he didn’t touch the trash can for several weeks. Sometimes he forgets and just needs to be reminded that that’s the one thing he’s not allowed to do. (That, and bash his metal dump truck into my bare feet repeatedly.)
Where does it help you to remember, It’s me who decides?
November 20, 2017