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.
At around 7-10 months your baby will most likely be all 4’s crawling and the stage is important for learning. Between 9-18 months they start to pull to stand and take their first steps. The first thing you need to do is to childproof your home environment to prevent these inquisitive babies keeping out of trouble. Babies by nature are curious and saying NO means absolutely NOTHING! Impulse control is something all babies and toddlers do not have until past 3 years. As the parent, you have to protect your baby.
When it comes to sleep, even the bedroom needs childproofing. Prepare your cot for these changes by moving the mattress down to the lowest level. The last thing you want is a jumper and escapee in the middle of the night. My youngest jumper out of a cot was 9 months old! Eek.
Childproof your home
Also, think about safety in the home before starting to become more mobile.
Babies are extremely egocentric with no understanding of the world other than their own current point of view. During this stage the baby’s understanding is, objects exist and events occur in the world independently of their own actions (‘the object concept’, or ‘object permanence’).
Object permanence means knowing an object still exists, even if it is hidden out of sight. Requiring the ability (on the baby’s part) to form a mental representation of the object.
For example, placing a toy under a blanket, the baby who has achieved object permanence knows it is still there and can actively look for it. At the beginning of this stage the baby is behaving as if the toy has simply disappeared. The attainment of object permanence is signalling the transition to the next stage of development (preoperational).
The 6 Stages of Object Permanence & Separation Anxiety
Babies at 6-8 months can often cry for no particular reason and it can be troubling for a parent. It’s important to be aware, as a parent, you don’t need to fix all their emotional crying. It’s a stress release for the baby and is cathartic. This can be quite a challenging concept for a parent to wrap their head around.
Aletha Solther, an eminent Psychologist, advises parents to (once all needs are met) accept babies may cry for a time while being held, rocked and/or verbally reassured. The crying can then become productive by building trust. Whilst allowing babies and little ones to process big emotions in the only way they are capable.
Suppressing emotions is counter productive and can actually be harmful, research has found. It’s refusing to allow the baby to have a voice and be heard. Once this happens it risks becoming a control pattern. It is actually quite harmful and the baby absorbs their stress. For example a crying baby is put on the breast or a dummy placed in their mouth it is saying to the baby your emotions are not valid.
Never Allow Babies To Cry Alone
As Aletha Solter says, “One of the roles of parents is to listen and empathize with babies and children. You cannot always “fix” everything for your baby, but you can help by being there, holding, listening, and letting her know you love her”. The key thing to remember is we NEVER ALLOW BABIES TO CRY ALONE. Allow your baby to cry in your arms as long as the baby needs to (after all immediate needs have been met). After the baby is allowed to “catch up” on the crying they need to do, they will probably become much less demanding and fussy.
The 4-month sleep regression derails babies, starting off a spiral of sleep deprivation. I’m taking you right back to my Health Visitor training in England. Parents are taught at 2-8 weeks postnatal, how to help their baby self-settle. It’s a gentle no-frills approach with very few sleep problems. Babies are put down awake in the cot, un-swaddled and tucked in with cotton sheets and blankets.
Babies are never patted, rocked or fed to sleep … ever. Parents are taught settling using a hands-on technique until the baby fell asleep.
What is it about the 4-month wonder week that makes sleep come undone?
It’s the World of Events at 4-months…which are patterns and sequences, a real aha moment.
Looking at the practice of other baby sleep practitioners. Both private and health service sleep school.
A lot of babies ‘fail’ sleep school and other sleep consultants.
What are parents being taught?
It’s the usual suspects – patting, rocking, holding, feeding and swaddling babies to sleep after 4 months. Patting to sleep is a big sleep crutch. It’s rhythmic and leaves an imprint on the baby falling halfway down the hierarchy of settling. Unless patted, baby can’t get back to sleep once they wake from a sleep cycle. Toddlers are also asking to be patted, saying to mum, “Pat mummy. Pat, pat mummy’.” 7-month old babies are getting hold of mum’s hand, placing it on their tummy and patting.
What is true self-settling?
Why is it the 4-month wonder week making sleep come undone?
At 12 weeks (3 months) the wonder week effects, “… your baby’s ability to perceive the way things change around him.” Such as a voice shifting from one pitch to another, a cat slinking across the floor, and the light in a room becoming dimmer as the sun dips behind the clouds. Your baby’s world is becoming a more organized place. He is discovering the constant, flowing changes around him”.
At 19 weeks (4 months) babies move to theWorld of Events, which are patterns and sequences. “After the last leap forward, your baby was able to perceive smooth transitions in sound, movement, light, taste, smell, and texture. But all of these transitions had to be simple. As soon as they became more complicated, he was no longer able to follow them.” (Hetty Van de Rijt PhD., & Frans Plooj, Ph.D. 2014). This is the pat, rock, and feed to sleep.
‘The Psychology of Babies’ was published and I went straight to the chapter on sleep. And lo and behold, there were my UK baby sleep methods and not a mention of a pat anywhere. Babies had hands-free and un-swaddled. Hallelujah for Dr. Lynne Murray, the voice of reason and evidence-based practice.
If your baby’s sleep was predictable until now, it may all fall apart. However, there are many things you can do to help retrieve a good night’s sleep. Continuing to work on building consistent sleep routines and cues. Helping baby learn certain events mean sleep is coming. You may want to work on identifying the sleep associations your baby has and teaching self-settling.
What can you do now to avoid the 4-month sleep regression?
Stop patting, rocking, holding and feeding to sleep at 3 months
Practice putting baby to sleep awake, in the cot, at 2-3 months
If using a dummy avoid using it for all settling and avoid using in the night
Once you hit 4 months and sleep regression a whole different approach and sleep training is needed.
I help families all over the world via Skype and phone if you desperately need help managing your baby’s sleep regression. Once your baby can self-settle the rest of those wonder weeks should go unnoticed and be quite seamless. I’ve not had a baby who can self-settle under 4-months come undone later.
And if you can stay patient that baby sleep book I’ve been writing is finally finished and is now at my editor’s! YAY!! Also remember you can ask me anything during the weekly Nurture Parenting Facebook live broadcasts, usually on Tuesdays. Here’s the link to the FB page: https://www.facebook.com/NurtureParenting.BabySleepGuru
Scroll down for some more reading and helpful videos below
This blog idea came from a bedtime visit of baby whispering to 8 month Tilly who had got stuck in sitting in her cot.
A breech baby born by caesarean, Tilly had progressed along beautifully and was now pulling to stand. Tilly has a strong personality and is not a baby who likes being shown what to do! Just like many of the babies I see for help with sleep.
Sleep training and stuck in sitting
The sleep training was progressing very well … until the final bit. Sitting down in the cot from standing, she tried … and tried … and tried to get herself comfy and move onto her front. But she couldn’t. She was stuck in sitting and couldn’t get to sleep. She repeatedly woke herself up and was getting very cross. I suggested to her mum to gently move her legs out from under her. Tilly was not very impressed with our attempts to help her. No, she wanted to do it all by herself! Does this sound familiar? It was becoming very apparent that Tilly hadn’t had much floor time on her front at all. Because she’d been a breech baby she preferred to sit. So that’s what her parents did. And she sat and sat and was sitting all day long. Except for being in the sling for her day naps but again she was sitting. And when she wasn’t sitting or in the sling she was in bed co-sleeping with her mama. So her parents had no idea about this developmental problem that Tilly had developed.
Avoid putting baby into sitting during floor play
Once you put a baby into sitting position on the floor they just don’t want to do tummy time. So what you need to do is avoid putting them into sitting when you do floor time. Always put your baby into laying down either on their back or their tummy, just NOT SITTING. They may whinge and whine and moan but you don’t give in. You are doing them a big favour, they just don’t realise it. Remember that not everything we like is good for us.
When I came home from my visit I started researching this developmental problem and it was HUGE. So many babies are getting stuck in a sitting position in the middle of the night. It is a very normal developmental issue and will go away by itself. The danger is when you intervene and start trying to manage it you will cause a new sleep association. And that’s when trouble starts.
There is a very well known sleep book written by ‘her who shall remain nameless’, initials TH. Recommending laying them down in the cot 40 times if you need to. Now the problem with that is, it ends up in a situation like the Jack in the box and by the 40th occasion you’ve got a very angry child! So I say DON’T LAY THEM BACK DOWN AGAIN EVER.
What should you do instead
In the short term practice Parental Magic Presence™ and allow the baby to come down themselves. The issue is if we always correct them ourselves by laying them down no 1 we have a very angry baby by the 40th occasion of laying down and no 2 we are creating learned helplessness so our baby never learns to do it themselves.
And during the day what needs to happen is a lot more tummy time and floor time during the day rather than sitting. Most of these babies do not have great core muscles so they sit to reach objects and end up bottom shuffling.
Baby needs to spend a week practicing this skill prior to learning how to get himself off to sleep in the prone position without help. The mother needs to do it repeatedly during playtime when the baby is happy and as a distraction, she needs to use enticing toys or things he’s not usually allowed to play with like the TV remote control or a box of tissues for example. The baby will hate it at first because the unstable feeling may frighten him but the toy will hopefully distract him like a kitten! The mother in this YouTube video does it extremely well and it’s obvious her baby is well practised.
Have a look at this YouTube video this has some great exercises on how to teach baby to navigate moving from sitting to prone and avoid getting stuck. YAY!
Screen time is part of modern-day unescapable reality. Parents are well aware of the detrimental effects of screen time and the impact on young developing minds. With the brains of under 2’s most at risk of mobile electronic devices. Once developing minds are exposed to these devices their brain wiring is permanently altered. A number of troubling studies connect delayed cognitive development in kids with extended exposure to electronic devices.
Critical early years 0-3
The critical early years period of 0-3 years becomes the permanent foundation upon which all later brain function is built. To develop normally a young brain needs stimuli from outside sources, not electronic devices. These devices provide no positive essential stimuli and so are no benefit and will actually stunt development. It is the ability to process multiple actions simultaneously that young brains do not need.
Electronic devices make children’s cognition and brain lazy as the device does the thinking for them. They dull the frontal lobe and this is the part of the brain that decodes emotion, facial expressions, communication and empathy. Babies doing a finger swipe at books and magazines are not as cute and clever as you may think. They are looking for instant gratification and it is a sinister effect of dopamine addiction. Not too dissimilar to drug and alcohol addiction. I’m sure this sent a huge shiver down your spine.
However as with anything forbidden it becomes attractive. So instead of no screen time, allow limited screen time once a child is over two. Think an hour, max, of playing with tablets and iPhones each day. Help develop coordination, hone reaction time, and even sharpen language skills.
Fine motor skills involve small muscles which control the hand, fingers and thumb. These skills allow a child to complete important essential skills e.g. writing, self-feeding and dressing themselves.
5 ways to achieve awesome fine motor skills in the under 5’s
Introduce pencils and drawing early. An 18-month-old should be exposed to and encouraged to hold and draw with a chubby crayon. At 18 months they can grasp it in their hand and scribble. By 3 years old a refined pencil grasp has been achieved. Chalkboards and painting help make fine motor skills fun. Try and draw or paint with your child every day.
Clapping hands by 7-8 months and tactile nursery rhyme like “Incy wincey spider”, “Round and round the garden”, “This little piggy …” etc. Watch my video with one of my favourites, “The Barramundi song” on Youtube here.
Cutting and pasting into a scrapbook. Use plastic scissors and an old catalogue or magazine. See Shapeeze in Nurture Parenting online store https://shapeeze.com.au
Duplo for 18 months to under 3’s and Lego in over 3’s encourage creative and cognitive play. Also building with bricks, small 1 inch ones are best – a 3-year-old should be able to build a tower of 10 and an 18-month-old a tower of 3. Make it more fun by counting the tower of blocks and naming the colours.
By 2-3 years a child will be able to: Fold paper in half, draw straight lines and circles, imitate you drawing a cross, turn single pages in a book, snip the edges of paper with scissors (by 30 months), hold crayons using the thumb and fingers, use one hand more often than the other for most activities.