Toddlers are designed to push boundaries and it comes naturally to these cute little mini dictators. The danger as their parent is you forget to maintain your boundary or limit setting. Until the toddler’s boundary becomes the new status quo. Then you are in for a whole heap of trouble and pain. I liken the toddler to a mini dictator or CEO, they want to be an adult before they’re a child. And they will do everything in their power to get exactly what it is they think they need.
In order to follow rules and understand limits, children need to develop self-control.
Self-control and self-regulation are complex skills beginning to emerge in the early months. They become increasingly consistently apparent between four and five years old. Self-regulation takes many years to fully develop — and adults may struggle with this skill from time to time! Limit setting starts at 0-12 months not when you hit testing times with a 3 year old!
Developing Self-Control 0-12 months
Babies naturally act on their thoughts and feelings over which they have no conscious control. They are unable to reflect on or think about their behavior. And they can’t stop themselves from acting on their impulses.
The baby needs your help to develop some self-control and will gradually learn about and gain some self-control across the first year. One of the most important factors in developing self-control is the ability to soothe and calm when upset. Initially this skill is provided by their caregiver by cuddling, rocking, talking calmly, feeding and putting a dummy in their mouth. The parent attempts to understand the baby’s facial expressions, non-verbal body language communication and cries to help in meeting her daily needs. The sense of being loved and understood gives babies a foundation of safety and security and is essential for coping with feelings in a positive healthy way.
What You Can Do Now To Help Your Baby Gain Self-Control
Stay calm – demonstrating you can manage your emotions is essential in being able to teach your baby the same skills. This helps her feel safe and then she knows you are avaialble to help her (not dealing with your own emotions and calming down). Modelling self-control is an essential part of helping her work out how to calm herself.
Provide basic tools – teach your baby basic calm techniques, at 8 months plus help her find her comforter or pacifier to help calm herself. Once you give it to her you are creating learned helplessness and she will not attempt to help herself longterm.
Demonstrate self-help techniques – show your baby how to calm himself, provide a teething rusk or teething aid such as Sophie the Giraffe to help him whilst he is teething. Show him acceptable ways of helping himself rather than chastising him for ways you don’t want him to use e.g. biting your finger.
Daily Routines Help Develop Security and Self-Control
Routines are events which happen at the same time each day and usually in a particular order. They acat as a cue to help the baby know what is likely to happen next. They create security and decrease cortisol and help a baby navigate change and challenging situations.
How you can help
Determine if there are any particular times of day your baby has a meltdown. Is there a common denominator e.g. around mealtimes or nap times? Organise trips at the baby’s ‘best’ time of day.
Use baby massage, reading and soothing lullabies to help calm your baby from activity time to a restful nap.
Does your baby have a very definite strong personality and temperament and are they resistant to change? Working out your baby’s ‘type’ can help you manage them much better.
A baby’s temperament can have an impact on a care- giver’s ability to meet the baby’s needs. Temperament refers to a person’s characteristics or traits that are biologically based and consistent over time. It influences how we respond to people and our surroundings.
Temperament characteristics shape how easily babies and toddlers are able to manage their feelings and impulses, especially traits e.g.
Intensity to particular situations
Children who have a more negative mood, are intense reactors and/or who are not very flexible or adaptable may have a more difficult time developing self-control.
They tend to get upset more easily and will probably need more help from you the parent to calm down. This doesn’t mean their temperament is somehow “wrong” or “bad.” But because their reactions are so strong, it may take more time to learn how to manage intense feelings and responses.
Help your baby learn to self-soothe and calm herself, the more in control she feels the happier she will be. This is a skill which has to be taught and it won’t just happen by chance. Allow your baby to have a voice, to be allowed to cry and express herself. The key thing is you help her with her emotions and avoid letting her cry alone. This is why teaching babies self-soothing skills early is the key to good emotional health as a child and an adult.
Observe your baby and try to understand her feeding and hunger cues. Study her verbal and non-verbal communication, what is she trying to tell you? Once babies feel heard and understood they become much calmer.
In a future blog I’m following on from this with helping the 12-36 month old manage their emotions and limit setting.
I just had to share this amazing case study of a family with a 14 month old toddler, Christian who was waking many times at night. Mum was so exhausted she’d lost her confidence and was co-sleeping and breastfeeding to sleep. Mum kept telling herself that his sleep would improve. Unfortunately it rarely if ever does unless you do something about it. Here is their story.
Kirste, Alan & Christian
When we first welcomed our beautiful boy Christian into the world, we naively thought that when you put a baby down to sleep, they simply just slept. We also thought that as he got older, his sleeps would become longer. Although I had read a little bit about babies’ sleep cycles, as first-time parents, we were definitely in the dark in relation to sleep.
In the first 6 months of Christian’s life, I probably took the term “demand feeding” literally and this was impacted further as we were living in an apartment at the time, so whenever he woke at night, I would feed him back to sleep.
Short day naps
As the months rolled on, I kept telling myself that his sleep would improve when we moved him to solids or when we moved him into a cot or into his own room or out of the apartment and into our house. However, with these transitions, the frequent night wakings and short naps throughout the day continued.
By the time Christian was 12 months old, we had been to a residential sleep program, had a sleep nurse visit our home, conducted an overnight sleep study in hospital and purchased countless toys, CD’s and booklets from the internet.
Waking 6-8 times at night
At 14 months of age, the night wakings had escalated and were as many as 6-8 times each night and I was so exhausted that I had started to bring him into our bed to co-sleep and breastfeed.
I had lost a lot of confidence in this aspect of my parenting and I really didn’t know how I was going to turn this around, but a chance catch-up with friends, resulted in a referral to Karen. They had brought Karen into their home some years before when their son was 2 years old as they were experiencing similar problems. Upon contacting Karen, the decision to bring her into our home was further reinforced by a recommendation from Lisa, Nurture Parenting’s Client Relationship Manager who had also utilised Karen’s expertise. I was convinced even further when I sent through a list of questions and Karen took the time to phone me personally and to answer every question in detail.
Learning skills and self-soothing
Karen is an angel and we will be forever grateful to her for teaching all of us the skills to ensure Christian sleeps through the night and has longer day naps. This is a key point – you will learn skills and your child will learn how to settle. This is especially important because when your child is sick and you divert from the sleep training methods, then you need to be able to get things back on track when your child is well again.
Karen’s philosophy blended perfectly with ours in that we did not want any form of controlled crying and we wanted to maintain the bond and trust we had built with our Son and to improve his sleep in the kindest and most respectful way. Karen did just that – she is firm but very kind.
Karen stayed for one night at our house and our world changed on the second night when Christian slept for 10.5 hours straight, without waking. Christian continued to sleep through every night. Even when we came across fevers and ear infections, and I diverted slightly from the sleep training methods, I was able to get him back on track within a week of him being well again.
Karen has also provided advice to us on weaning from the breast and toddler behaviour when she didn’t have to, but she kindly took the time to do so. She has an abundance of knowledge, insight and expertise in sleep but also in all areas that relate to babies and toddlers. She is highly qualified and experienced and she is honestly the only person I would recommend. If you are hesitating or thinking about using Karen, stop thinking and call her as it will be the best investment you will ever make and she will change your lives for the better.
I hear the phrase ‘my baby has a sleep regression’ mentioned a lot and I’m going to explore this little hot potato. Breastfeeding your baby to sleep after 4-months of age is the most likely culprit. As a midwife, I totally support breastfeeding. The thing I have a big issue with is when mums are told by other midwives and nurses, ‘Feed your baby to sleep, it won’t do any harm’. In the short term, under 4-months of age, this is true, it won’t. However, long-term past 4-months this is not the truth.
A typical scenario I get asked
“We have a nearly 6 months old who perfectly self-settles for her day naps, including the 7 pm one. Although she usually wakes at least twice before midnight. When for whatever reason she’s not able to resettle without the boob. And then again somewhere around 4ish. She’s on solids, three times a day. Lunch and dinner before her breast milk feed. She wakes in the morning at 630am. Day naps are from 9 to 10am and afternoon nap from 1 to 3pm. Do you have any tips?”
It’s only taken me 30 years of being a midwife to work out the culprit…and I’m taking a detailed look at breastfeeding and nutritive vs. non-nutritive sucking.
My baby could be hungry
Breasts don’t have a volume measure on the outside like a feeding bottle does. A mother’s natural instinct is to breastfeed her baby until satiated and fill their baby full of as much milk as they can. It wouldn’t be natural to do half a breastfeed, would it? And once the little gremlin at the back of your brain starts saying, ‘but what if my baby is hungry?’ ‘have they had enough to drink?’ and ‘they could still be hungry’, your brain and logic start to doubt itself. And this is how the whole feeding to sleep thing starts. You think I’ll just top up my baby, maybe they need a little more…oh they’re still not looking sleepy…maybe they haven’t had enough? Then you read a parenting book or something online saying...feed your baby until they’re milk-drunk or drowsy. You also read…put your baby down to sleep drowsy but awake. So I can see how logic would lead you to feed your baby to sleep. As baby’s get older, usually past 6 weeks it’s really hard to feed till milk drunk or drowsy anyway, this is more of a newborn behaviour. After 6 weeks most babies are really wide awake after a feed.
Put your baby to sleep FULLY-AWAKE
I’d like the books to say instead..put your baby to sleep fully AWAKE. There is no drowsy but awake. A baby is either drowsy or awake, they cannot be both.
Avoiding baby sleep regressions
Drowsy but awake means you are feeding your baby to sleep which is as far away from self-soothing as you can get. Then the 4-month sleep regression is literally tapping you on the shoulder. I’m here to prevent months of sleepless nights for you.
Newborn baby and breastfeeding
In those heady newborn days where you wander through in a haze of night and day and twilight sleep, you can feed to sleep to your heart’s content. Frequent breastfeeding increases supply, especially in those early weeks. The first 6 weeks of breastfeeding are governed by hormonal influences, then supply and demand take over.
When your baby breastfeeds you will notice they do several long sucks that drain the breast and involve the jaw muscles at the side of their face near their ear. We know this sucking as nutritive sucking and active milk transfer occurs. A let-down reflex may or may not be felt after these active nutritive sucks whilst the baby takes a slight break. In this time they are waiting for the pituitary gland to use its feedback mechanism to produce more milk. There may be 10 or more active nutritive sucking episodes whilst the baby is draining the breast of its milk supply. Here is a lovely video demonstrating exactly this activity.
Towards the end of a breastfeed, the baby starts to move to non-nutritive sucking. They have drained the breast of milk and start to comfort suck on the nipple and areola. Non-nutritive sucking doesn’t achieve milk transfer, it is purely a comfort suck and looks like soft fluttery movements of the lips. You will notice the suck is gentle and the jaw is hardly engaged at all. A baby has more touch receptors on their face and neck than anywhere else on their body so non-nutritive sucking is a pleasurable feeling for the baby. Non-nutritive sucking aids digestion and eliminates gas and discomfort. For young babies, under 3 months this can be a useful side-effect of this type of sucking. Once a baby gets to 3 months plus they develop hand awareness and are able to put their hand, fingers and thumb into their mouth. Once we prevent this natural reflex occurring by leaving the baby on the breast at the end of a nutritive feed and moving into non-nutritive; rather than allowing them to self-soothe in the cot, we interfere with the baby’s ability to calm themselves.
I’m not saying you should avoid non-nutritive sucking/nursing completely. It’s OK now and again as long as your baby is going down for a nap fully awake the majority of the time. This is allowing your baby to learn how to calm themselves. Extended breastfeeding with non-nutritive sucking can lead to overtired babies. Some babies would suckle at the breast forever if you let them!
Parents of children with eczema were once advised their children should ‘avoid wearing wool at all costs’, for fear the rough and prickly fibre may irritate their skin and exacerbate the itch further. However, according to the Murdoch Children’s Research Institute (MCRI), there is now new evidence wearing superfine Merino wool may actually be good for eczema.
What is eczema?
Eczema is an inflammatory skin condition which dries up the skin. It causes redness, itching, and skin cracking which sometimes leads to bacterial infection. It is often related to allergies and can be worsened by temperature changes, particularly heat.
More than 25% of all children are born with some degree of eczema. If you have eczema or are a parent of a child suffering from eczema, you will understand how painful it is to watch your child endure the discomfort of a flare-up.
Many People think of wool as being itchy…or is it?
For years, dermatologists and doctors have recommended eczema sufferers avoid wearing wool for fear the wool might exacerbate need to itch further. But herein lies the problem.
The problem with this advice is it fails to distinguish between different types of wool fibres, of which there are many. Some wool fibres can indeed be coarse and hard, leaving an itchy feel against the skin.
However, superfine Merino wool is different.
What is superfine Merino wool?
Wool fibres come in a range of different diameters (thicknesses). The thicker the wool, the itchier it feels against the skin.
Merino wool is different to regular wool because it comes from the Merino sheep, selectively bred and highly regarded for producing the softest wool available.
Superfine Merino wool is even softer. In technical terms, superfine Merino wool has a low micron count (18.5 microns or less) and is lightweight (170-150gsm). Therefore, superfine Merino wool will feel like the softest of the softest wool on your skin. It is this miracle wool which has been used in the study to effectively debunk the myth.
In 2016, 40 children under the age of 3 who suffered from eczema were invited to participate in a study conducted by the Murdoch Children’s Research Institute (MCRI). Half of the children wore 100% superfine Merino wool for 6 weeks before changing over to cotton, with the remaining half starting with cotton before switching over to superfine Merino wool.
The researchers found that when children switched to superfine Merino wool after wearing cotton they showed a significant decrease in eczema severity, whereas, for the children who started wearing Superfine Merino wool and then switched to cotton, their eczema actually worsened.
“We found that wearing superfine Merino wool led to an overall greater improvement in eczema when compared with wearing outfits made of cotton,” said Associate Professor John Su.
Prior to this, studies performed in the 1950’s used coarser and heavier wool garments. This resulted in cases of itching and discomfort for eczema sufferers and has been a major reason leading health professionals and dermatologists to advise sufferers to avoid wool altogether.
However, we now know that is not the case and the difference lies in the quality of wool. For eczema sufferers, regular wool that is coarse may cause itching and irritation. Superfine Merino wool, however, is not only comfortable to wear but also beneficial to alleviating eczema symptoms.
Why is superfine Merino wool sleepwear superior to cotton for eczema?
For eczema sufferers, symptoms can be greatly exacerbated by heat and sweat. The type of fibre worn against the skin can play a large part in increasing or reducing symptoms.
Superfine Merino wool has the unique ability to transfer and wick moisture and heat away from the body as it sweats, helping to keep the surface of the skin dry and less irritated.
Cotton, on the other hand, readily absorbs and holds moisture. This means sweat is absorbed and will sit longer on the surface of the skin, increasing the risk of irritation.
Superfine Merino wool is also unique because it contains lanolin, which gives it natural and powerful antibacterial and antimicrobial properties. This helps to keep the skin clean and avoid infections.
Superfine Merino wool, suitable for eczema sufferers
Given the research results by the MCRI, we now know superfine Merino wool can help alleviate the symptoms of eczema. If you have a child with eczema, choosing to clothe made from superfine Merino wool to be worn against their skin will help reduce irritation and ultimately be more comfortable to wear.
Hello Night Kids use 18.5micron superfine Merino wool for all their Pyjama sets.
Choice, the independent, unbiased Australian consumer reviewer, has done a recent very thorough assessment of the safety or otherwise of portable travel cots and it’s been concerningly enlightening.
Many parents go away on holidays and rely on travel cots to keep their baby or toddler safe and sleeping well. Hotels and holiday stays can be a bit hit and miss with the availability of cots. And the last thing you’d want as a parent is to turn up for your long-awaited vacation and discover there is no baby cot for you to use and the only option is to put your baby into your bed. Especially if you’ve worked especially hard on getting your little one sleeping well at night.
CHOICE reviews on Portable Travel Cots
I subscribe to CHOICE and I feel a need to do a public service and point you in the direction of their review and recommendations on portable travel cots for babies and toddlers.
“The majority of cots have multiple safety failures which mean we can’t recommend them”. The only ones they recommend had scored 60 or higher in their safety test which means they passed the test of avoiding suffocation or head entrapment.
CHOICE safety tests
CHOICE tested for safety performance including;
small objects which could become loose and pose a choking hazard
Sharp corners, edges and points
Breathable zones: portable cots must have breathable zones (i.e. mesh rather than solid material or non-breathable fabric) on all four sides and at sleeping level. This is to prevent suffocation if an infant happens to roll to the side. Some small or narrow strips of non-breathable areas are OK, such as at the corners.
Sufficient depth: this is a strict condition to prevent a child falling from the cot
Horizontal and vertical strength: we test if the cot’s frame is sufficiently sturdy
Stability: the cot mustn’t tip or tilt too easily
Wheels: any castors or wheels must have brakes and must not roll too easily, so the cot can’t be pushed out of place too easily
Entrapment hazards between any moving components
Head, limb and finger entrapments in openings
Strangulation hazards from straps or other components
The mattress must be firm and level enough to provide a safe sleeping surface (as per the Australian test method for mattresses AS/NZS 8811.1).
We also score the portable cots for their ease of use, including:
Unpacking and setting up the cot, including any supplied accessories
Folding it and packing it away (into the carry bag, where provided)
The quality of the supplied instructions.
Test criteria explained
The overall score is made up of:
Ease of use (30%).
Performance and ease of use scores are based on the factors listed above in How we test. For performance, we score as follows:
100% – no failures
80% – only very minor failures
60-65% – at least one minor failure
40% or less – at least one major safety failure.
We only recommend models which score 80% or over, meaning that they pass all our safety tests, but may have some very minor failures such as with information labels.
For some tests (as in this one on portable travel cots), no models score high enough to be recommended. In this case, look for the models that score at least 60% as they’ve passed the key safety tests and have only minor safety failures. Read our buying guide for more information on choosing the safest portable cot.
Steelcraft the travel cot of CHOICE
The only two cots that scored over 60 were two Steelcraft models. See attached info in this screenshot.
Here are my other top tips for holidays and travel to help you.
Just after the clock ticked over, on the first of January our little baby Lucy came into the world. She was a beautiful and determined little spirit, our first baby. We were enamoured by her and spent our early weeks in a sleep-deprived happy baby love bubble.
Like most new parents, we had heard the stories of those sleep-deprived early weeks. “Oh, it’s so hard! You just walk around in a daze. It’s a major achievement if you manage a shower each day”. And so it was. We happily muddled our way through revelling in the minutia of our baby’s development in the way that only parents can.
Sleep Deprivation wears you down
However, the sleep deprivation does wear you down. Those of you with challenging babies know this. This wearing down was a slow process: Lucy initially woke every two hours for a feed. Tom and I told ourselves that “it all gets better after week six”. And so we kept trudging along. I tried to bear the brunt of the wakeups, as Tom had to go to work each day.
Week six came and went and Lucy still woke up a lot. I mean A. Lot. In fact, it seemed she was getting worse as she was waking up during the night, and then she slept less and less during the day. Her periods of sleep during the day were traded in for crying. Looots of crying. I was visiting the Early Childhood Centre constantly for help, aware of the risk of postnatal depression in new mums. I developed a kind of RSI in my elbows from pushing the pram back and forth.
People kept promising
People kept promising things got better after certain milestones however these milestones came and went and Lucy still cried and cried and didn’t sleep. Six weeks, two months, three months, four months. Crying crying crying. They started to investigate medical reasons. We were sent off to sleep school and we were told she was very unsettled. I recall one particularly harrowing day at the sleep school trying to put Lucy to sleep with her screaming for two and a half hours and begging the nurses “could we just stop” because I was so exhausted and I needed to eat and have some water.
Another thing we noticed was that we were getting diminishing returns for the effort we were spending getting her to sleep. We would get a tidbit of advice from one of the many professionals we visited, like “you should just use a dummy”, or “sing her to sleep”. These tricks would work for a little while, but their effectiveness would eventually wear off, and then she would want all that, and more!
I became frustrated with the advice from others whose babies apparently slept badly (i.e. waking every two hours). To us, two hours sounded like bliss! Lucy was waking every sleep cycle and had to be fed back to sleep because nothing else worked. She slept on top of me while I went through the nightly torture of lying in a dark room trying not to move.
I also began to wonder why no one told you how awful parenting was: People told me “this will pass” but I have to say, that advice is only helpful when it is delivered after the storm has passed. It doesn’t help you when you’re losing the plot from sleep deprivation. I was a soppy neurotic sleep-deprived version of my former self.
I won’t bore you with all the details but you will have to trust me when I tell you we tried every possible thing a parent might try to get baby Lucy to sleep. I googled and googled and googled all day long. I felt like a broken person.
Exhausting all avenues
After exhausting all avenues, when Lucy was almost five months old we decided to get a sleep consultant. I had heard about Karen, but to be honest, we weren’t well off and baulked at the cost. And would it really work?
Karen’s help was honestly a turning point for us.
Karen came into our home and was so confident that she would get Lucy to sleep. I was sceptical, and I told her so. I had heard this confidence before from others. However, Tom and I were mobilised to do anything to get a few hours of zzzzz.
After meeting Lucy and comprehensively understanding her situation and personality, Karen set about suggesting numerous changes to Lucy’s routine, diet and our parenting approach. Karen stayed the night with us (we were too exhausted to do it alone by this stage).
That first night
That first night after starting the sleep training she slept from about 7.30pm to 2 am.
I was honestly shocked and kept waking up thinking “is she ok?”. She had never. Ever. Slept that long in one stretch.
It took some work and self-discipline to reformulate what we were doing but to be honest, it really wasn’t so hard. Nothing was as hard as what Tom and I had been suffering through.
Things improved for two weeks but then Lucy developed a cold. We were back to where we started. I was depressed that we had put in so much effort and were back at square one. But the difference was: this time we had Karen to call on. I could call her to ask her how to get back on track. Karen checked in regularly and offered additional suggestions and advice. And we worked our way back to Lucy’s blissful sleep. She woke three times a night, and absolute achievement compared to where we were.
Since then, Lucy has slowly but steadily improved. Three wakings at night, then two. Now one. Occasionally she gifts us with sleeping from 7 pm to 5 am. Her catnaps are slowly disappearing. She is able to self-settle.
Pleasure in parenting
I finally began to take pleasure in parenting, as did Tom. I understood now that parenting wasn’t something to be endured, and I could see why people enjoyed it. And Lucy’s personality changed from being a demanding, grumpy little thing into this peaceful baby with a lovely temperament.
Karen described to us during her visit that we would be giving Lucy a gift in teaching her to sleep. This was true, though it was of course also a gift for us. There were the immediate benefits to our sleep and sanity, however, there was something longer term that we carried with us about how to parent our child.
Tom and I have had many insights about what happened with Lucy in those first five months now. At the time we really needed someone to come and pull us out of the trenches that we were stuck in every day.
If you can relate to this story, I would really encourage you to call Karen. Your sanity is worth every penny.
Thanks, Karen <3
This is the Happy Ever After Picture of Lucy, Rachel and Tom