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Young Mom: "Toddler boy won't stay in bed! And I have a baby... HELP!"

(5 minute read)

I remember that same time period with our two oldest. We were so happy to see any interaction where big sister was not wanting to destroy and replace the baby! Haha.

"In the same way you plant a seed to end up with apples, not a sapling; you have a baby to end up with a quality adult, not a child." -somebody smart once said

A few thoughts before the advice part. Routine is huge at this age of development. What's tough about your situation is that baby takes priority over routine and schedule and he has become aware of that. He's learning from baby sister that if he cries and wails he'll get your attention, which he wants. You want to stop that train asap unless you want to raise him to be a whiner or need constant coddling. Whiners usually become adults that complain. The reality is that he will never constantly be the center of attention again. Ever. That is reserved for babies. The longer you treat him as such by submitting to his will the harder the reality that he is not the center of the universe will be for him when it hits him. Done correctly, this transition can be smooth and healthy. For some, that transition doesn't happen until they first go to school, for others, it's when they move out. For some, it never happens! I've counseled young adults who live in a constant state of disappointment because their expectations of how much attention their desires should garner from others are never met.

You need to speak a language he understands and that is not reason. By his very nature at this stage, he is selfish and unreasonable. That said, I'm sure some will think my advice is unreasonable. But think about it, what is a 'horse whisperer'? Someone who can communicate with horses in their own language somehow, right? Well, communicating with a toddler is like communicating with an unreasonable dictator. If you don't bring a strong hand to the conversation, you will end up their servant! (that was supposed to be funny- but it's true).

Parents often overestimate the cognitive and emotional capacity of their young children and to be real, real love is sometimes tough. By tough, I don't mean tough on the beloved, but tough to administer as the lover.

OK, ADVICE PART- FINALLY You need to establish a routine and consistent rewards/punishments for his nap & bedtime behavior (don't worry he can't tell time so it doesn't matter when you do it. Also, you can skip days and let him stay up instead of nap so he crashes out early giving you and husband more time together.) Usually, this means he is a mess the last couple hours before he passes out but it's usually worth the extra time you get without him in the evening.

1) Do some activity that is 'pre-nap/bedtime'. This can be as short as saying, "nap/bed time in 5-10 minutes" to as elaborate as playing your favorite show tunes for him and getting him in a yoga position and finding your centers or whatever, whatever you want. All that matters is that it's something you're willing to do every time until you get this routine established. I'm a big fan of announcing 'nap/bedtime!' and then getting it done. The '5-10 minutes' part is just training them on starting to understand time and setting an expectation. Bedtime can be easier than nap in that it involves more routine activities like jammies, brush teeth, prayers, kisses good night, etc.

2) Explain clearly that you are putting him in HIS bed (same bed every time) to sleep so he can grow big and strong like Daddy and he is to stay in bed until you come get him, he wakes up, or morning arrives. Tell him he will be disobeying (that's a bad thing) you if he comes out of bed before that. Tell him that when naptime is over he will get a treat. We used a mini marshmallow. Low in calories, high in fun. The reward is only with naptime, not bedtime. Feel free to give him a bottle, book, blanket, pillow, stuffed animal, toy or whatever with which he can cozy up to and/or occupy his mind. Just remember that this is to be repeated so the more complicated you make the routine, the more work you have to do in the future. We limited stuff to a specific pillow, blanket or stuffed animal. And yes, this thing kinda replaces you, so feel free to feel the sadness of letting your baby 'grow up' begin.

3) Singing to him, storying telling, etc. is encouraged. We tend to slowly have singing end earlier and earlier so that long before they are 2 years old, they are wide awake when we walk out of the room and say 'night night'.

4) When he comes out of bed prematurely, no matter what the story is (gotta pee, thirsty, it's dark, read me another story, sing me another song, monster under the bed, etc. etc.) or emotions displayed, crack him on the back of his upper thigh with a small little spatula. THIS IS HARD cause the stuff they come up with is beyond cute because you are being sold a story by a salesman who is a mini version of you and the person you love most, your spouse. Do not listen to his line of baloney. Do not reason. A matter of fact, the less you talk the better. Simply say, 'You disobeyed mommy' and/or 'mommy said to stay in bed' and then crack him. Just hard enough that it stings a little. This, I guarantee you will get his attention. Why? Cause you are speaking his language and it requires no translation. I do think upon laying them back in bed it is good to end on a positive with, 'I love you' or 'Night night', etc. Exception: I do think you need to address the monster under the bed/closet/outside window without a spank- but only once for each location the monster resides. Our creative children exhausted about 10 different spots before they finally giggled, which is a toddler's form of admitting their ruse. Man, do I have some great memories looking for monsters. I bring a flashlight in or flip on the lights and have the child look with me at the respected monster's domain to prove the monster is not there. We know as adults that the monster (fear) is in their mind but that is a lesson for much later in their development.

5) Repeat the punishment until he stops coming out. The first time is by far the hardest. If he's like most children, he will look at you with 'shock and awe' (sorry for the political undertones but that term is better used here than it was ever used by a politician or military leader) as if you must be the most terrible person alive! Over a very short period of time, usually one or two days/nights, he will stay in bed.

TIPS: Do NOT tell him beforehand or ever that he will get cracked if he disobeys. That is a threat and not good at this age. What you want him to teach himself through the experience you provide or allow (That is good parenting in a nutshell) is that disobeying mommy or daddy results in a negative consequence and that obedience results in a positive outcome. I've done this with all of our children up to this point and since we are about to move our 2-year-old out of his crib I'm sure it will be the same story. We have experienced the full spectrum of experiences from questioning our tactics and feeling like we're beating the crap out of our child who resisted for almost two weeks (and who upon the first crack looked up and said, 'that didn't hurt') and thinking someone is surely going to call CPS on us to punishing the one-time offender who figured it out and never came out of bed again! I must end this by sharing that we never had a child, upon being given clear instructions the first time... stay in bed! We are a rebellious sort, aren't we?! Haven't read his book but love this quote I found while googling 'toddler' by author Burton L. White reflecting on the toddler's thought processes:

"If I want it, it's mine. If I give it to you and change my mind later, it's mine. If I can take it away from you, it's mine. If I had it a little while ago, it's mine. If it's mine it will never belong to anyone else, no matter what. If we are building something together, all the pieces are mine. If it looks like mine, it's mine."

Go be a better parent!

-James