Do you yell at your kids?

Because hey, full disclosure, I yell at my kids. I lose my patience sometimes. My kids can push me to a point where I snap.

I’m never proud of it though, because I know I’m a better parent when I keep my cool. Yelling can be effective, no doubt, but it always leaves me feeling like I dropped the ball. It’s the polar opposite of that wonderful feeling I get when I manage to resolve a situation through a calm, rational analysis of the problem, followed up by a few suggestions on how to solve it. My child quickly settles down and starts considering the potential solutions I’ve offered, and before you know it, the situation is completely under control.

Aren’t those moments just the Isn’t that just the of parenting?

There’s a lot to be said for keeping calm around our children, and it goes well beyond making us feel like we’re good parents.

A 2014 study in Psychological Science, conducted jointly between researchers from the University of California, San Francisco, and New York University, separated mothers and their infants for a brief period of time, then exposed the mothers to some mild negative stressors. Upon being reunited with their babies, the infants embodied the same negative stress their mothers had experienced. It’s not known exactly how those emotions were transferred, but even without being exposed to the stressor itself, the infants sensed that their mother was stressed and emulated those emotions.

Another study from the University of California, Riverside, showed that parents who remained calm while helping their kids undertake a frustrating laboratory challenge helped their kids to stay calm and focused as well.

So what does that mean in layman’s terms? It means that whether you’re stressed or calm, you’re probably passing those feelings onto your little one. Your emotions are, quite literally, contagious.

Now, stress is a part of a parent’s life. There’s no avoiding it. Unless we’re blessed with some kind of superpower, we’re going to go off on our kids once in a while. I’m not suggesting you should beat yourself up in those moments, only that we should strive to minimize them. We should always be aspiring towards those hole-in-one moments.

If you’re reading this, chances are you’re either in the midst of teaching your little one to sleep through the night, or you’re thinking about getting started. If that’s the case, it’s a good bet you’re already sleep-deprived yourself, and when we’re not getting enough sleep, we’re short-tempered, easily agitated, and more likely to raise our voices and give in to feelings of frustration. In short, we’re likely to be a little bit stressed out, and as we’ve seen, that stress permeates our kids, which stresses them out, which cranks up cortisol production, and there you have it. We’ve barely gotten started and we’re already throwing up obstacles.

I’m not saying it’s easy, but before you even start the process of teaching your baby to fall asleep independently, I recommend you get yourself into a headspace where you commit to yourself that, no matter how tough things get, you’re going to try your absolute hardest to stay calm. Practice some deep breathing exercises, meditate, do a little yoga, and anything else you can think of to put you into a calm, tolerant, accepting state of mind.

If you’re working with a partner, I suggest you do all of this together and discuss ahead of time who’s taking what shift so there’s no arguing during the night. And remember, if things go as expected, most babies start showing huge improvement by around night three, so relief is just on the other side of that hill.

And when the dust settles and your little one is sleeping through the night, and you managed to get through the process without giving in to feelings of frustration and guilt, you’re not just going to feel like you hit a hole-in-one. You’re going to feel like you just won the World Parenting Championship. You’ll feel like the undisputed heavyweight champion of motherhood.

Sleep-filled nights are right around the corner, mama! So be patient, be calm, and it’ll all be behind you soon.

Solving thumb sucking in a few easy steps!

It’s happened. Your child has discovered that sucking her thumb is even better than her favourite stuffed cat and Winnie the Pooh blanket when it comes to comfort. He sucks his thumb while falling asleep, while watching TV, when he’s scared, when he’s upset. And maybe up until now it hasn’t been an issue, as she was only using it for a few minutes at a time to soothe herself, but now you’re thinking it’s time to try to cut this habit out.

While it’s perfectly reasonable to want your child to stop, it might be good to know that some of the perceived dangers of thumb sucking might not be based on fact. Here are some common misconceptions:

The myths

1. My kid will still be sucking his thumb when he’s 12!

Not likely. Statistics show that less than 9% of children who suck their thumbs still continue over the age of 5, with the vast majority breaking the habit between the ages of 2 and 4. And of those kids still sucking their thumbs at 5, most will stop as they start to identify with their peer groups and don’t want to be the only one in kindergarten with their thumb in their mouth at storytime.

2. It will ruin her teeth

This can be true, but only after the kids get their permanent teeth, which will start to happen between 6 and 8. In older kids, chronic thumb sucking can start to change the shape of the oral cavity. But luckily, the vast majority of kids will have stopped on their own by then anyway.

3. He’s using it as a crutch

While it’s true that young children who discover their thumbs do use it for comfort, this doesn’t necessarily mean they won’t be able to learn coping mechanisms for dealing with stress or self-soothing later in life.

4. A pacifier is better

Lots of parents tell me they would rather their child use a soother, because at least they can take the soother away. But in my experience lots of parents say this and then don’t actually take it away! If the soother is their child’s sleep prop, and they use it for comfort, then it becomes just as difficult to take away from the child. Lots of parents let soother-use linger on way longer than they planned to. I had one client who confessed that she still let her 5-year-old sleep with his soother because of this very reason.

So with these common fears out of the way, there really is no right or wrong, only a personal preference of the parent’s. Just like some mothers use bottles and others breastfeed, or some parents use time-outs and others don’t, there are many different ways of doing things. If you’ve decided that thumb sucking needs to go, here are some ways to help your child give it up for good.

TIPSThese tips are designed for kids 3 years and up.

The key to solving thumb sucking is getting to the heart of why your child sucks her thumb. Every child is different, and some might only use their thumb when they’re trying to sleep, others only when they’re upset, and others at every opportunity! In each case it has become a habit and as we all know, habits are hard to break.  One really effective tool is the reward system. Offering a benefit to NOT sucking their thumbs is sometimes all the encouragement kids need. But first it’s important to find out why and when your child turns to her thumb.

Step 1. For the first week, keep a pen and paper handy, and write down every single time you see your child’s thumb in her mouth. At the end of the week, go through your list, and see if there are any consistencies. Does she always suck her thumb around 4 p.m. while watching her favourite show? Does he suck his thumb around the other toddlers at the playgroup because he’s nervous or shy?

Step 2. Identify what the payoff is for your child. For example, if you notice that every time she hurts herself she sticks her thumb in, then a conclusion would be that her thumb helps her deal with pain. If you notice that the thumb goes in whenever she’s watching TV, then the thumb is being used when she’s idle.

Step 3. Remind and distract: Now that you know what he’s using it for, you can offer him something in exchange for the thumb. For example, if she’s about to watch her favourite show, offer her a bowl of grapes to eat while the show is on. If he sucks his thumb when he gets hurt and he just tripped on the stairs, you can rush over and offer him a long hug followed by a quick distraction like a game or favourite toy.

Step 4. A reward chart for a day completed with no sucking can be helpful. You can offer your child a treat or small toy at the end of the day if she’s successful. I also find that the more immediate the reward, the better the outcome. If your child is old enough, suggest that she come tell you whenever she feels like sucking her thumb and doesn’t, so you can offer up a reward. It doesn’t have to be a big treat, just one M&M or gummy bear for each time she resists the urge.

Nighttime thumb suckers:Bedtime tends to be a very popular time for thumb sucking, so you will need to find some other alternative that can be just as comforting. Tying a ribbon around the thumb, or a light pair of gloves can work as a reminder so when your child brings his thumb to his mouth he gets an instant reminder about what the goals are. You can also buy your child a new sleep toy that has texture that she can rub her thumb against instead of sucking it.

Remember that bad habits are hard to break and it takes time and encouragement. I don’t find that punishment or nagging work well when trying to discourage a habit.

Children are notorious for power struggles, and you don’t want to turn it into a battle of wills.

If the child is old enough, you can sit her down and tell her about a habit you tried hard to break (drinking coffee or nail biting, for instance) and make it clear why you would like her to stop this behavior. If you can think of a way to make it about him rather than you, you’ll have better success. So for example, if you’re worried about his teeth, you could say how great it would be if he had the best smile at soccer pictures next week. This will help internalize the process.

Once your child sees that there are other things she can do to self-soothe, and has been reminded enough times to take her thumb out of her mouth, she’ll stop sucking her thumb before you know it!

So, perhaps that’s a bit of a misleading title.

I’m not suggesting that you can remove yourself from your child's bedtime routine altogether. Even if you could somehow say to your child, “Alright. It’s almost bedtime. Go have a bath, brush your teeth, get into your PJs, read yourself a story and tuck yourself in. Mummy will be out here watching The Bachelor with a glass of wine if you need me.”

Even if we could pull that off, I don’t know a single mother that would actually enjoy removing themselves from the routine. (Well, maybe once a week.)

Truth be told, I love putting my kids to bed. Watching them play in the bath, getting them dressed in their warm, fuzzy pajamas, cuddling and reading stories, I wouldn’t trade that for all the wine and trash TV in the world.

But the issue that I see with most parents whose babies won’t sleep through the night takes place after their little one gets into bed.

Specifically, the problem stems from a parent getting in bed with their child in order to get them to fall asleep, and here’s why…

When you crawl into bed with your little one, they will almost always want to cuddle up to you in some manner. Even if it’s just the slightest touch, they rely on the sensation of feeling you next to them in order to soothe themselves to sleep.

The problem with this arrangement is that babies, like their adult counterparts, don’t just fall asleep and stay asleep for eight or ten hours. We all sleep in cycles, which transition from a stage of light sleep to one of deep sleep, and back again.

When adults wake from one of these cycles, we typically don’t even remember it happening the next day, because we’re barely awake for a minute or two before we fall back to sleep. We can do that easily because we’re good at it. We know how to get back to sleep on our own.

But if baby is accustomed to falling asleep next to a parent, with the reassuring ability to reach out and touch that parent, then what are they supposed to do when they wake up after a sleep cycle and that parent is nowhere to be found?

Well, as I’m sure every parent knows, when a baby wants their parents, they cry.

They cry until a parent shows up and gets back into that familiar spot, which baby recognizes as a cue to go to sleep.

So that’s the reason why you’ll so often hear parents utter some twist on the old line, “My baby absolutely won’t go to sleep without me next to her.” It’s not because they need the reassurance that they’re safe, or that your presence is necessarily calming to them, it’s just part of their routine that they follow to get to sleep.

So what’s the solution?

Well, you could co-sleep, so your baby can reach out and touch you every time she wakes up, but if you’re reading this, I’m guessing you’ve already given that a go, and found it’s not the utopian solution you had hoped for.

A couple of late-night kicks in the face, or a perpetually writhing baby with her fingers in your eye can cause a quick change in plans for a lot of parents who thought co-sleeping would solve their nighttime woes.

Or, and this suggestion comes with a much higher recommendation, you can let them learn some independent sleep skills which they can call on anytime they wake up, in order to get back to sleep all on their own.

I know that might sound like a tall order for a baby, but I’m not suggesting anything too challenging, and you’ll be surprised at how quickly they adapt to new strategies for getting to sleep. Stroking a lovey, chewing on a blanket, or even just playing with their own fingers and toes can be effective little methods for making the transition into sleep, and the best part is, they can be done anytime baby wakes up, whatever time of the day or night.

What can I say? These past few weeks have been...

I mean, wow. Right?

Just wow.

If you’re in the same boat as most parents in the world, you’ve had to accommodate the fact that your kids were suddenly and unexpectedly given an extra four months of school holidays. And to top it all off, they’re unable to leave the house.

Now listen, I love my kids to death. Every parent I know loves their kids more than anything in the world, but that doesn’t mean that having them at home all day, every day, for weeks and months at a time, is easy.

So I think we can all agree that these are extraordinary times, and as such, they require some extraordinary measures to keep everyone sane and halfway functional. For some of us, that probably means some big adjustments to the usual routine.

This whole situation is, obviously, beyond crazy and we’ve got to do what we’ve got to do here, I get that, but I just wanted to drop in here and give you some tips to keep your children feeling secure and rested, and to help you keep your sanity while you’re at it.

● Stick to the script

Have you ever wondered why babies can engage in the same boring little pastime for hours on end? Why a game of peek-a-boo can make them squeal with delight as heartily on the hundredth time as it does on the first? It’s because, at least in part, their expectations are being met. They watch you put your hands over your face, then think to themselves, “Oh hey! I know what happens next! She’s going to move her hands away, and her face is going to be right there!” And sure enough, the hands drop, Mama gives her the familiar “Peek-a-boo!” and baby thinks to herself, “Oh, I knew it! I knew that was going to happen!”

Routines also give kids a sense of security. Knowing what’s on the schedule provides them with a road map for their day, and that knowledge makes them confident and puts their minds at ease, so even though we may need to make some serious concessions, there’s a lot to be said for keeping things predictable and consistent wherever possible.

● Let’s just embrace screen time

In my case, and in the case of nearly every other parent I know, we’ve slightly upped screen time by about three thousand percent. None of us are thrilled about it, and we’d all like to be the Instagram-influencer parents who are using this time to teach our kids to make sourdough bread and macrame bespoke hoodies for their iguanas, but as we all know, those people aren’t restricted by the typical laws of space and time, and their kids are androids who have been programmed to smile and comply through whatever asinine Pinterest project their parents have dreamed up for them. For those of us in the real world, extra screen time for the kids might just be the difference between a peaceful afternoon and a mutual meltdown.

Just one caveat; screens emit a lot of blue light which can interfere with the body’s natural circadian rhythm, so go ahead and let your kids indulge in extra screen time, but turn them off two hours before bedtime. (The screens, not your kids.)

● Keep ringing the dinner bell

When it comes to mealtimes, again, try to stay as consistent as possible. Few things affect our bodies’ sense of timing like when we eat, so allowing meal and snack times to fluctuate too much can upend your little one’s schedule. Sugary snacks will likely leave them with too much energy come bedtime and the occasional upset tummy, so keep an eye on how much junk food they’re getting into.

● Embrace your inner architect

With everyone being housebound, your kids are likely going to have a ton of excess energy. With no playground to frolic in and no friends to chase around, you’re going to need to get creative to help them tire themselves out. Getting outside is a good idea. Sunlight will help maintain the circadian rhythm and a bike ride or even a brisk walk can help reduce feelings of confinement and keep you and your kids from going stir crazy. Building a temporary indoor play area out of furniture and cushions can be a great project to keep your kids occupied and provide them with some stuff to climb on too.

● Early to bed, early to rise...

Now, since many of us are no longer under any obligation to get up for work and school, we might get to thinking that this is a good opportunity for everybody to catch up on some sleep by turning off the morning alarms. I’m tempted to do so myself, to be honest, but sticking to the usual bedtimes and wake up times is really important. Predictability and structure are, again, sources of comfort for our kids, so even though there’s no morning bell, it’s still a good idea to keep things on schedule. Besides, things are eventually going to go back to normal, and trying to get them back onto their usual schedule is going to be a challenge. You’re better off just sticking to the tried and true.

● Deep breath in, deep breath out

For older kids, some deep breathing exercises during their bedtime routine can help to settle them down at the end of the day. I’m not suggesting they start meditation classes or anything, but deep breathing games can actually be a lot of fun! Check out Coping Skills for Kids for a ton of great ideas.

● Don’t panic

Outside of the sleep realm, there are a couple of other tips I’d like to offer you. As you undoubtedly know, kids are perceptive little creatures, and they probably know that there’s something serious happening at the moment. They might not bring it up too much, but there’s likely something pinging around in the back of their heads that has them a little bit on edge. This can be amplified if they see that their parents are concerned and on edge as well, so try to keep the atmosphere cheery and light. I know it’s not easy given the circumstances, but stressed out kids aren’t going to improve the situation. If they have questions, of course you should be honest and forthcoming, but your attitude towards things will work wonders in keeping their minds at ease.

● Focus on the good stuff

Last but not least, try not to watch the news coverage with the kids around. They’re always listening and hearing terms like, “death toll,” and “fatal disease” is going to increase their stress levels. It’s important to stay informed, but do so after they’ve gone to bed.

I look forward to getting back to a time when we can discuss less serious things with each other again, and look back at this time as one where we all came together (even while we’re so far apart) and made the best of a really bad situation. Until then, wash your hands, stay at home, and make the best of this quarantine. Who knows. We may end up remembering this time with some affinity for the opportunity it’s given us to reconnect with our kids.

I mean, not likely, but it’s possible.

When I was expecting my first child, I was determined to know everything there was to know about having a baby, raising a child, and everything that had anything at all to do with parenting.

What I wasn’t prepared for was the sheer amount of information out there, and how conflicted the experts were with each other’s points of view. Even among medical professionals, the number of times I must have read one person say that one thing was absolutely essential, just to have it denounced as objectively wrong or harmful by another, was absolutely staggering.

As most parents do though, I took that information, analyzed it, filtered everything through a combination of common sense and personal beliefs, and came up with a strategy I was comfortable with. But one thing I was never sure about, mainly because nobody seemed to have a clear answer, was whether I could sleep train while I was breastfeeding.

The basic argument against the idea, so far as I understood it, was that breast milk gets digested faster than formula, and therefore babies who are breastfed need to wake up several times a night in order to feed. Otherwise, they’ll feel hungry throughout the night, be unable to sleep, and potentially suffer from malnutrition.

Now, I know that there are several schools of thought on this matter, and whichever one you subscribe to, you’re probably convinced that you’re right. And you might be, assuming of course that you agree with me.

I’m kidding, of course. Like most things in parenting, there’s not so much of a “right and wrong,” as opposed to “right for your child.” But there are a few facts that you should know if you’re breastfeeding and trying to decide whether or not to sleep train your child. After all, what’s the point of sleep training if your baby’s nutrition needs prevent them from sleeping through the night?

“Sleeping through the night”

So here’s an interesting fact. Ready for it?

Nobody actually sleeps all the way through the night.

You might think you do, or that you did before you had kids, or that your partner does, but I assure you, unless you’re heavily sedated, you wake up at least a few times during the night, every night, and you always have.

When we sleep, we go through what are called “sleep cycles,” and these cycles go from light sleep to deep sleep and back again, typically about four or five times a night. When we get to the end of a cycle and enter into that really light stage of sleep, we often wake up. People who think they sleep straight through the night typically don’t remember these little rousings, but they experience them nonetheless.

Babies’ sleep cycles are shorter than adult ones, so they wake up more often in the night. Babies who are said to sleep through the night are still waking up, but they manage to get themselves back to sleep on their own without any help from Mom and Dad.

So when we talk about sleeping through the night, in terms of babies anyways, what we’re really just saying that they’re able to get to sleep on their own, or as we call it in the baby sleep industry, they have “independent sleep skills.”

So it doesn’t matter if baby’s breastfed or formula fed - they’re going to wake up at night, several times, for the rest of their lives, just like everyone else. If they have the skill to put themselves back into sleep, they will be able to do so easily and quickly often without you even being aware that they even woke at all.

Breastmilk gets digested faster than formula

Now, as for the idea that breast milk digests faster than formula, that’s actually true, but not to the degree that a lot of people describe. Newborns can go about 2 1/2 - 3 hours between feeds if they’re breastfeeding. If they’re eating formula, that number is closer to 4 hours. So it’s not like formula is some kind of magical elixir that’s going to keep your little one full and satiated for 10 or 11 hours. Their stomachs are small and they’re going to digest liquid food quickly, whether it comes form a bottle or a boob. What does that mean for parents of newborns in regards to their newborn babies sleeping 11 - 12 hours through the night? Well, simply put, forget it. I mean, it happens. Some babies are such sleep aficionados that they’ll go down for the night regardless of hunger, but they’re few and far between. Chances are, you’re going to have to get up at least once a night to feed your little one until they’re at least about 3 or 4 months old.

Now, that doesn’t mean that you should put your baby’s sleep on a back burner until then. Quite the opposite, in fact. Teaching your baby to fall asleep independently is something you can’t start too early. I just want you to understand that if they’re under 6 months old, you might not get a full night’s sleep just yet, but it doesn’t hinge on whether they’re breastfed or formula fed. Both are going to have similar results when it comes to keeping baby feeling full. After the six month mark, or thereabouts anyways, your baby should be able to start sleeping through the night without a feed, and that includes babies who are breastfed. (This is the part where the debate heats up a little.)

Let’s say you breastfeed on demand, which is a very popular approach and one that I fully support if it works for you, your baby, and your schedule. If baby’s waking up five times a night for a feed, the principle of feeding on demand would require you to get up and feed baby five times a night, right? Technically, yes. But if baby’s six months of age, gaining weight at a normal rate, and able to eat as many calories as they need during the day, then the chances are that baby is, in fact, not waking in the night for food. The most common reason for waking at night past the six month mark is because feeding is part of their strategy for falling asleep.

This is something else that we adults have in common with our babies. We all have strategies for getting to sleep. As grown ups, we establish our own little ritual for bedtime. We might get a glass of water and put it on the nightstand, brush our teeth, get into a specific position, or read a book for a little while, but in the end, it’s a strategy that helps to signal our brains and bodies that it’s time for sleep. Baby sleep strategies are less sophisticated, but they still serve the same purpose. They help baby get into a familiar, comfortable place where their system recognizes what it’s supposed to do, and they nod off. So if feeding is part of that strategy, then it doesn’t matter to them if there’s actual food coming their way. It’s the sucking motion, the feel of mom next to them, the familiarity of the situation, that helps them to get to sleep, and they can get very dependent on it. Obviously, every baby is different, and some may actually still be getting hungry enough during the night to need a feed.

Determining whether your baby is waking up from hunger

With that in mind, there are a few indicators that can help let you know if those nighttime wake ups are the result of hunger or a lack of independent sleep skills:

- Does baby only take a small amount when they feed in the night? • Do they fall asleep within five minutes of starting their feed?
- Does baby eventually go back to sleep if they don’t get fed?
- Do they only sleep for 45 minutes to an hour after a nighttime feed? If you answered yes to most or all of those, then your little one probably falls into the “feeding as a sleep strategy” camp, and could benefit significantly from learning a few sleep skills. It doesn’t mean that you can’t breast feed on demand, just that you’ll have to reassess when exactly baby’s demanding a feed and when they’re looking for help getting to sleep.

You can breastfeed and sleep train!

So to answer the question posed at the start of this post, are sleep training and breastfeeding mutually exclusive, the answer in my mind is a straight-up no. Breastfeeding is an absolutely wonderful experience for both mother and baby, and I support it 100%. Having a baby who sleeps through the night is maybe not quite as magical, but it sure comes close, and there’s absolutely no reason why you can’t have both together. And, as always, if you need a little help guiding you through the occasionally tricky process of teaching your baby to sleep through the night, I’ve got you covered.