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Toddlers and the Power of Choice

Children NEED limits in order to feel safe; when they act out through attention seeking or challenging behaviour this is often a result of craving the boundaries and leadership needed to feel secure. 

A child’s job is to consistently test or push the boundaries to check to see which ones are rock solid (generally safety based – holding hands in a parking lot, keeping hands off the stove) and which ones are written in the sand (ex. we wear shoes outside but they can decide on what pair). Without boundaries children will take on too much of the parenting role and this causes them to become overwhelmed; this triggers an anxious response and causes them to question whether they are safe.  

Around the age of two, toddlers begin to explore their own individuality and independence. Parenting isn’t a dictatorship; it is a partnership.

You need to give respect to get it and in order to build a secure, safe, attachment you need to establish clear boundaries.

The power of choice is the most underused parenting strategy out there. If you can give your toddler as many choices throughout the day as possible, when situations arise where there isn’t a choice, your child is going to be more willing to co-operate and comply. 

Examples of creating opportunities for choice:

  • Choosing clothes in the morning

    • Josephine, would you like to wear the green pants or the blue? 

    • Would you like to wear your running shoes or boots? 

    • Which jacket do you think would be best when it’ snowy? 

  • Providing options at mealtimes

    • Michael, would you like cereal or eggs this morning? 

    • How is your tummy feeling? Do you think it would like an apple or banana? 

  • Changing diapers

    • Your diaper looks quite full. Would you like to change it now or in two minutes? 

Giving your little one the opportunity to make decisions and live with the choices they have made is incredibly important. There are going to be strong emotions attached to these boundaries and it is important to hold the space for them, but not to give in to them. Providing your child with empathy and compassion when they are disappointed, have changed their mind, or are upset is not “giving in.” This is being respectful and caring – you are showing your child that you understand that this is hard for them and they are struggling but unfortunately they made that choice so we are going to stick with it. Just because you are empathizing doesn’t mean you are giving in. 

While we strongly advocate for providing choices and involving your child as much as possible, some children can’t handle the decisions. They become paralyzed into inaction with the overwhelming options. You can support them by making the choices for them in scenarios where they will not push back (ex. clothing, shoes, breakfast, etc.) or you can ask, “Would you like to ______ or would you like me to do it?” This gives them the opportunity to give it a try or if they don’t want to they can verbalize that. If they don’t respond, wait 1-2 minutes and then say, “Ok, I’ll choose today.” 

Setting boundaries and seeing them through is hard. Don’t overwhelm yourself and set yourself up to fail by attempting Boundary Bootcamp where you set every boundary and stand your ground. Chances are you’re going to burn out and your child is going to be an emotional disaster. Pick one thing that really bothers you (this gives you the motivation to stand strong!) and then start setting a boundary around that one situation. Once your little one understands the cause and effect his behaviours and actions have and that you will do what you say, all of the other limits that you set just come together and become much easier! 

If you are struggling with boundaries and limits and need more support, reach out for a complimentary discovery call to see if a behavioural support package might be part of your solution! 

XO

Amy

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Why I do what I do…

Over the last 4 (almost 5!) years since I begun sleep coaching I have worked with hundreds of families. People usually contact me when they are at their wits end. They are so very tired it is hard to think straight, and they have heard that I might be able to help them.

Working with tired people every day… can be.. Tiring.

I’m not going to lie.

When people are tired, they are emotional. They are depleted. They have little left to give to their spouse, their partner, and their other kiddos. So, what do you think they have left to give to their sleep coach?

You guessed it – nada. Ha!

They are just so tired, I become the catcher of all the feels. The person they can tell their worries to. The beacon of light shining on them letting them know day after day that it is going to be okay, and they are going to move on from this struggle in their life in some way, shape or form.

It is an honour to be this person. For an empath such as myself I have to remind myself daily that their stress or pain is not my stress or pain, and that their tired is not my tired. Helping people through a critical time in their lives is an honour, and I feel privileged that people let me in at a time that is so difficult for them.

Yesterday I hopped on the phone with a father I have been working with on and off since January of this year. Now you might ask yourself why someone would need to still be talking to their sleep coach 5 months later.. “Aren’t you just supposed to ‘fix it’ so that people can move on in a few weeks time?” Maybe you’re not thinking that.. Maybe you’re not… but let me tell you a little bit about my relationship with this family and how it has evolved over time.

When this mama first contacted me through my website, she was exhausted. Her baby was waking hourly overnight and having very small feeds due to the reflux she was diagnosed with. The family was cosleeping out of sheer necessity, not by choice. And the parents were beginning to wonder if their daughter would ever be able to sleep by herself.

When we did our consultation it was clear they were nervous, and excited. Apprehensive too! Sometimes when things have been so bad, and someone tells you it is going to get better soon, it is pretty hard to believe them. I remember thinking these two are scared to trust me, but somehow they convinced themselves to let me in.

We walked hand in hand, day by day. We made the most gradual changes imaginable… first attaching their crib to their bed as a sidecar, and then having dad also learn how to put their baby to sleep. He had never done it. Not for months anyway… it was a brand new experience for him to rock his baby to sleep, and it was very hard for everyone at first. But I knew it would be okay, I knew their baby would be okay.

We transitioned from co-sleeping all night, to partial crib sleep in the side car. From feeding at every night wake, to feeding at every other night waking.. We added in dreamfeeds, and encouraged baby girl to fall asleep with patting instead of rocking. Everything happened one step at a time as led by baby, and as parents adapted to their new normal. Every day they saw just enough change to keep going.

Now, baby sleep is not linear. Far from it! We had our hiccups along the way. Baby got sick. She went through a weird week of pooping every night and no one could figure out why! Parents had work responsibilities that caused us to pivot and delay, and then baby got sick again. We paused. We regrouped. We relaxed. We picked up where we left off, and we started again.

Yesterday I was catching up with dad (who is now the primary bedtime guy and overnight caregiver for this baby), and it just became so clear to me why this work still has meaning for me nearly 4 years later.

It is because the shift a family can make through a transition from sleepless nights, to sleepier ones is pretty damn amazing to watch!

Dad said, “She is actually sleeping really well… on a good night, she goes to sleep easily.. And then I don’t hear from her again until like 5 am, and then we cosleep from there til morning. It is the best of both worlds, and something that mama was really comfortable with too.”

I asked him if he felt his bond with his daughter had increased as a result of our work together to which he answered, yes.

Sleep work when you are not relying on formal sleep training methods is dynamic. It is interesting. It can be fun and exciting.. And it can be hard. But, I always see people walk out of our time together with a better understanding and appreciation of their partner, and an increased bond with their baby. And that my friends, is the reason why I do what I do.

XO

Lara