Parenting Tips: Talking To Children About Tragedies

 12/14/2012 Unfortunate update: It's time to talk about this again. My heart is broken, as is yours. Feel free to connect with me here or on Twitter to ask about how you can approach this in your family. ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ The Colorado shooting has come and gone -- and now the Connecticut school shootings, and we're left trying to explain things to The Littles. One well-meaning mom criticized me on Twitter for even suggesting we talk to young children about violence. "Why even bring it up?" she wondered. Her life is much more insular than many of ours -- I have a 2 year old. But I also have a 6 year old. And a 9 year old. And an 11 year old. And those kids have completely different levels of awareness and understanding of these situations -- and they talk. In front of The Littles. So parents like us need talking points for those tricky situations. So here are my thoughts about how to navigate these unavoidable conversations. Let's be ready, because unfortunately, it won't be the last time. I was also quoted in Newsweek/The Daily Beast about the issue. I hope I made the point that parents taking their young children to movie theaters aren't the problem. Untreated mental illness and widespread availability of guns ARE. Aloha,

Dr. Heather The BabyShrink Mom of Four, Parenting Expert

Parenting Tips: Maintaining Work/Life Balance with Young Children

It's a fact of life: Whether you work at home or out of the home, part time or full time, life with young kids is always a juggling act.

Achieving balance is really only aspirational -- never truly possible. But living in Hawaii has shown me that surfing is an apt metaphor for what we all aspire to -- a sense of freedom and control in the face of powerful life forces.

I'm especially proud of this post I wrote for my fab partners over at The Learning Care Group: Check it out, and let me know what YOUR tips are for staying sane when trying to stay on top of it all.

Aloha,

 

Dr. Heather The BabyShrink

Tammy Pescatelli: TV Star, Comedienne, and "Good-Enough" Mom Extraordinaire

 

I've been doing some serious writing now for several months, so it was refreshing to have a fun conversation with Tammy Pescatelli recently. She's mom to a preschooler, star (and producer) of her own TV show, and hardworking stand-up comedienne. With credits like Leno, Carson Daly, and Last Comic Standing to her name, plus winner of Comedy Central's Standup Showdown, she's a force to be reckoned with in entertainment.

But I was more interested in her approach to motherhood. She's a hard-working lady in a family that values family -- so much, in fact, that they're full of advice. We're talking enmeshed Italian family here. (As a member of an enmeshed Jewish family, I feel I can say it -- Jewish, Italian -- same thing.)  And like many of us, Tammy is an older mother has had enough life experience to have more confidence in her decisions and in her parenting. She tells me that being in the public eye has reinforced the notion that you can't make everybody happy all the time.

For instance, Tammy revealed to me that she didn't breastfeed her son. Despite her valid (and personal) reasons, she was judged and criticized for it. Long-time BabyShrink readers know this is a pet peeve of mine. So many moms suffer rude (at best) commentary from others who feel somehow justified in crossing over this very personal boundary -- involving our babies and our bodies. And Tammy's story is actually worse than most I've heard -- she received a phone call from a "lactivist" organization, saying that they had "heard" she wasn't breastfeeding her child, and could they send a lactating mother right over as a wet-nurse? SERIOUSLY!

But Tammy has strength and confidence in her convictions. She's focused on her son and her family -- and she knows that balaning their needs with the needs of her demanding career may be difficult -- but ultimately worth it. She's nurtured her internal voice of what's best -- her "Mother's Intuition" -- plus she does her research and consults with experts. And she doesn't apologize or get depressed when others criticize her -- she laughs about it. And she's as pleasant, funny, happy, confident, and centered as she seems on TV.

After all, if we've lost our sense of humor in this kooky journey of parenting, we're in trouble. So thanks for the reminder, Tammy, and good luck with your new show! I can't wait to watch the first episode, this Tuesday, January 25 on WeTV, at 10 pm Eastern.

Aloha,

Dr. Heather The BabyShrink

Parenting Tips: Talking To Preschoolers About Tragedies

The news was on, and our preschooler came into the room. Before we could turn off the TV, he saw a good stretch of footage he shouldn't have: Shootings. A deranged killer. Sobbing parents. A child murdered. "Why is that lady crying, mommy?"

Every ounce of our parenting instinct wants to wish this moment away -- to press "DELETE" on our little ones being exposed to such horrors. Erase! Rewind! Pretend like it didn't happen! They're so innocent. How to explain such a terrible, grown-up reality? Can't they stay in their little world of princesses and unicorns awhile longer?

Adding to the complexity of the situation was the presence of his 7-year-old brother and 9-year-old sister. What explanation to give them all? Our daughter jumped right in -- she had been discussing it at school. "A man who was sick in his head went to the store and shot a politician plus a whole bunch of other people!" 7-year old: "What's a politician? Like a donkey or an elephant?" 4-year-old: "Sick in his head? I was sick in my head last week! Remember mom? You took my temperature!" 9-year old: "He killed a girl my age!" 4-year-old: "Don't die, OK?"

Graduate school lists of "how to talk to kids" at various ages started swimming through my head. But how to answer the 9-year-old with her more realistic questions and fears, while not confusing the preschooler? How to explain to the 7-year-old that death for people was much more serious than finding the dead fish in his classroom aquarium that morning? How to reassure the 4-year-old that he was safe -- and so were we? And how NOT to infect them with my own fears and reactions?

I jumped into psychological triage mode. Job #1: Make sure to minimize the fear here. Explain and reassure. Job # 2: Respond to their questions -- at their level. Job #3: Fall back on our routine. Demonstrate that things haven't changed at home. Job # 4: Allow them to support each other, even as you try to correct the misinformation they may have. Siblings can be great resources for each other, giving reassurance in a way that we just can't.

If there's something big going on, and you need to stay tuned to the TV to follow anything for safety reasons, keep in mind who's watching. Mute the sound when you can, and turn it off when possible. Little kids confuse "replays" with reality, and may think things are happening over and over again.

Here are more preschooler-specific tips for talking about tragedies:

  • Don't assume -- anything. Your preschooler may completely tune out the situation. If that's the case, it's normal -- and OK.
  • Think in "fairies and pirates" language when answering questions. Your preschooler simply can't understand the world of objective reality. To him, magical thinking applies.
  • Keep it simple, and always follow up with reassurances. "Sometimes bad things happen, but Mommy and Daddy always protect you. We're all going to live for a long time, until we're very old."
  • Keep an eye out for questions coming up in different ways -- like play. We've had a lot more "shooting" games going on around here these days (despite the fact that we don't allow toy guns in the house). It gives me the chance to butt in and ask more about the games, and how they're handling things.

If your kids are having a tough time adjusting to a tragedy, make sure to ask for help sooner -- rather than later. It' far easier to help a child adjust when the trauma is new. After awhile it gets more and more difficult. Ask her doctor, teacher, or a clergyperson for a referral to someone who works with young children. Here is a nice summary by Dr. Joel Dvoskin, posted on the American Psychological Association's website:

Q. What should parents tell their children about this incident – especially since one of the dead was a 9-year-old child?

Dr. Dvoskin: Don't be afraid to talk to your kids about these events. The most important thing after any trauma is to maximize real and perceived safety for the child.... Letting kids know that they are safe is likely to help and not likely to make things worse.

Don't flood kids with too much information. The best way to decide how much information is appropriate is by the questions children ask you. Answer their questions honestly and directly, but remember that they are kids, so keep it simple (depending upon their age).

Parents should not lie to their children when talking about this tragedy. To the extent that children are unable to trust their caregivers, it is very difficult for them to feel safe.

Don't "pathologize" normal human responses to frightening events. If your children are frightened or upset, it doesn't mean there is anything wrong with them. However, if problems such as misbehavior, sleeplessness or other signs of depression or anxiety become especially severe or extreme, then seek professional help.

Limit kids' continued exposure to television coverage of the event. Depending upon their age and developmental status, they might not be able to tell if it's one event being repeated or many events. This is especially true of younger kids. Parents might even want to limit their own television watching.

Pay attention to your own fears and anger. It is unlikely that you will successfully hide your feelings from your children, who usually pay keen attention to what you say and do. Take care of yourself, and if your own feelings or behavior become extreme and problematic, don't be afraid to seek help for yourself as well.

If it is necessary to refer the child to a mental health professional, as always, step one is screening and assessment. Assess the child as a child, in totality, and in developmental context. Kids who have exaggerated reactions to what they see on TV may be kids who aren't strangers to trauma. The real question is why this event traumatized this child.... Community trauma can bring to the fore issues that were already there.

I've also included a couple of additional links below for more information. In the meantime -- stay safe.

Aloha,

Dr. Heather The BabyShrink

Here is a nice guide from my colleagues at the American Psychological Association

And a helpful PDF that was written in response to 9/11 -- still very relevant to any tragedy -- that breaks down parents' responses by age range

Parenting Tips: More Thinking Points

 

One of the reasons I produce BabyShrink is that I've had to learn the hard way with my own 4 kids -- what works, what doesn't -- and why. Those of you who know me know that my doctorate in Psychology, and a license to practice in two states, didn't get me much closer to answers. Doing a ton of research -- practical and applied -- has gotten me to this point. Why should YOU have to go through all that effort to reinvent the parenting wheel? Believe me, people -- it CAN be easier -- and a lot more fun. Keep these things in mind as you confront the seventy bazillion or so parenting challenges you face each day:

TEMPERAMENT makes a big difference. Your child's inborn nature: whether he's irritable, easy, shy, or bold (among other things), will shape the way he deals with your guidance -- especially when he's young. Pay close attention and figure out his temperament -- it will help you decide what's best for him. For instance, an "easy" baby might be pressed to give up his Binky at 6 months. An irritable, easily overstimulated little guy might be given a pass until age 2 or even 3.

AGE makes a big difference. Sleep issues (among other things) change dramatically over even a few weeks. A newborn isn't a 3-month-old, who isn't a 9-month-old, who certainly isn't a 3-year-old. You shouldn't expect your newborn to put himself to sleep -- nor should you try. But it's very reasonable to work on it with your 12 or 15-month-old. Vary your approach based on age.

FAMILY NEEDS make a big difference. Culture, style, the state of the parents' relationship, and personal preference matter. If you don't mind co-sleeping -- if it works well for your family -- great. But if the baby keeps you awake, interferes with your relationship, or you just don't wanna -- then DON'T. Your baby takes his cues from you, and he'll be fine either way. It's the "trickle down" theory of family happiness.

And now I hope you browse around for specific tips on your questions -- potty training, bath time fears, sleep issues, behavior, sibling stuff and more.

Here's another Thinking Points article, if you're interested.

(And I hope you like some of the new changes here at BabyShrink!)

Aloha, Dr. Heather The BabyShrink Mom of Four, Parenting Expert

Child Devlopment: How To Play Your Young Toddler (12-18 Months)

Those of you long-time BabyShrink readers know that my Baby #4 is now officially a toddler. She's toddling, lurching, and careening around the house like she owns the joint. And now that she's officially past her "baby" days, her brain is going through a big burst that allows her to tackle more organized and complicated projects. It's why she now enjoys "working on" toys, as opposed to just chewing on them, or looking at them.

Your young toddler can remember more now, stay focused for longer, and is eager to try out her rapidly improving motor skills. She's also getting interested in trying to imitate you. She can't "play pretend" yet -- when she picks up the play phone and jabbers on it she's not pretending to talk to grandma (yet) -- but she's imitating YOU. It's an important step towards creative play -- which is the watershed development that leads to the ability to think and work creatively all her life.

You have the opportunity to make the most of this incredible time of development. Don't make yourself nuts by thinking you have to provide a ton of educational "stuff": simple things (and not too many of them) work best. Make yourself available to play with her, when she's receptive -- strike a balance between staying out of her play, and overwhelming her with your own play agenda. Follow her lead. When she picks up the dinosaur and looks to you questioningly, use it's name -- and offer a play option. "That's a dinosaur. Do you want to put him on top of your block tower?" Acknowledge her interest, and suggest a creative direction. It's called scaffolding -- letting her set the pace, but giving her a "boost" to build up to the next level of complexity in play. But don't push it -- you're there as a benevolent observer, and part-time participant.

Be ready to add these elements to your young toddler's playtime:

* Add another character, so that the play becomes about people and relationships.

* Add another object so that things can function in relation to each other. Think prepositions -- put something On Top Of, Underneath, or Inside.

* Modify the pace of play, based on her energy level. If she's getting too wound up, introduce some slower action. If she's not interested, try something new.

And most importantly, have fun!

Aloha, Dr. Heather The BabyShrink

Spending Holidays with Young Children: Keeping It Simple

 

Preserving the meaning of the holidays is tricky with so much pressure -- pressure to BUY, pressure to TRAVEL, and pressure to JUGGLE HOLIDAY EVENTS. The obligations start to pile up, and pretty soon we can't wait until it's all over.

Here in Hawaii, we've learned something about simplicity: Simple is better. Not always easier -- but better. As we're being bombarded with impossible holiday expectations, keep this in mind -- babies and young children don't have ANY expectations for the holidays. Everything is new to them -- even more reason to keep it simple. They can only absorb so much before they go into overload and meltdown. Admiring decorations, singing songs, and extra time with family are all it takes to make a great holiday for a young child -- and make it easier on us, too. Because kids -- especially young kids -- take their cues directly from us. So a successful holiday is mainly about OUR mood, and how it affects our kids. If we're stressed about travel schedules, dreading family reunions, and scrambling to get "the best" presents, our kids will absorb THOSE feelings about the holidays. On the other hand, if we can relax and enjoy the time off -- cooking, playing, and having fun with holiday rituals -- our kids will absorb THOSE feelings. Which sounds better?

Consider These Simpler Holiday Options:

* Fewer presents -- more thoughtfully written (and decorated) cards * Fewer "junk" holiday treats -- more time cooking real meals together * Less money spent on toys -- more time volunteering for those in need * Fewer holiday parties -- more family "cocooning" time

Aloha and Happy Holidays,

Dr. Heather The BabyShrink

Child Psychological Development: BabyShrink's Thinking Points for Parents

Lately I've been getting a lot of requests for expert comments on baby stuff: parenting mags who want info for their stories. I've got a love-hate relationship with those magazines. They recycle the same old stuff,  and aren't in-depth enough to get down into the heart of the issue. So parents are left with a handy-dandy little checklist that MIGHT work with their child (but just as likely won't) -- and they're left doubting themselves and their parenting ability (or the development of their child.) "If National Parent Mag says this should work, why doesn't it work with my child?"

Most of the writers are simply learning right along with their readers. I recently spent 20 minutes explaining to one writer why sleep cycles (and parents' approaches to sleep) should change over time. Meaning that a 3-month-old is a totally different animal than an 18-month old, and therefore, responds way differently to sleep "training". There's no quick, "one size fits all" sleep-training answer. It hadn't occurred to this writer of a major parenting mag (a parent of a toddler herself) that since the psychological needs of a young child vary over time, so must our approaches to the various issues that come up.

This has me thinking of the simple but powerful ways that parents can consider the psychological development of their babies and young children (which really is the whole point of BabyShrink). I'm working on a book on the subject, which allows me more room to explore the issue, but for the time being I'm left with the same problem that parenting mag writers have: cramming a huge subject into a limited amount of space. So what I'll do is list some "thinking points" for you to consider in your parenting, and we can discuss further as you have questions:

BabyShrink's Thinking Points For Parents:

* Your baby's psychological needs change over time. 0-6 months is about getting oriented to the world and trying to feel safe in it. 9-12 months is a whole different ball game, and leads into toddlerhood, which is different yet again (check out "annoying toddler behaviors" under my Categories below and to the right). Vary your approach as your child goes through each stage.

* Psychological development doesn't follow a straight line. There will be "regression", and there will be progress. This is normal and expected.

* The fact that your young child CAN do something doesn't mean that she WILL do it. HAVING a skill doesn't mean your child is psychologically ready to USE it. Readiness to sleep through the night, potty training, talking, and most other issues have strong psychological components  -- handling that aspect artfully, helps your child navigate the issue more completely, and with less chance of later problems.

* Your child's temperament is a major Wild Card here. What works for an "easy" baby might be worthless for your "fussy" baby. An "intense" toddler needs a totally different approach than a "shy" one.  A "bold" preschooler needs a different approach than a more "sensitive" one.

Randomly trying new parenting "solutions" can be really frustrating. Understanding the psychology of your child, and making a parenting plan based on these "Thinking Points", is the key to finding your way with your child. If you want to to know more about how psychological development affects your parenting, and how it can best be handled given the unique temperament of your child, there are lots of ways to learn more. Click around my site, Twitter me your questions @BabyShrink, comment here, or email me at BabyShrink@gmail.com for Parent Coaching.

Aloha,

Dr. Heather The BabyShrink

Toddler Behavior: How To Handle Sibling Rivalry

I love it when parents say, “Our toddler is SO happy that she has a little baby brother. She seems to have accepted him totally!” Just wait.

Sibling rivalry usually doesn’t become a problem until your toddler has to contend with a mobile baby --one who gets into her stuff, pulls her hair, and otherwise competes with her in the Zone of Stardom she previously owned in the family. When that happens, all the harmony that existed in the home evaporates, replaced by screams of “MINE!”, “HE HIT ME!”, “STOP TOUCHING ME!”, and “AAAAAGGHHHHH!”

It’s pretty upsetting, to see it in action. Our fierce protectiveness of the baby kicks in, and it’s made worse by the fact that the offender ALSO belongs to you. “How COULD she? Am I raising a sociopath? What have I done wrong?” We worry.

First of all, it’s important to understand how painful it is for your toddler to have to share you with a sibling. Here’s an analogy: Your partner comes to you and says, "Honey, I love you SOOOO much that I've decided to get another partner JUST LIKE YOU -- to live with us, be taken care of by me, and to mess up all your stuff. Isn't that GREAT?!" Not really. In fact, pretty sucky. That's how your toddler feels (at least some of the time).

And yet: The sibling relationship has the potential to be profoundly important. Think about it: We have the longest relationship of our lives with our siblings. Siblings can understand each other like no one else, because of the shared, early experiences of our families of origin. For these reasons, we WANT our kids to get along.

Know this: Parenting a toddler AND a baby who are fairly close in age (anything less than 3 or 3 1/2 years apart) is really, really hard. In fact, IT IS THE MOST DIFFICULT THING I HAVE EVER DONE.

I’m here to give you two messages: 1) Don’t worry – it’s common and typical for toddlers, little kids, and even big kids to fight like cats and dogs. It’s a drag for parents, and not usually anything to worry about, BUT, 2) we have our work cut out for us, if we want to maximize the potential good relationship between our kids. There are lots of things we can do to make it smoother – maybe not so much now, but for the future.

That said, keep these things in mind:

• Safety, of course, is Job One. Never, EVER, leave a baby alone with your toddler (at least up to age 4), even for a second. The toddler can't help herself -- and you're not allowed to get mad at her if she starts hitting while you're not looking. She’s just too young for you to expect more.

Adopt a "matter-of-fact" attitude. In normal circumstances, your toddler isn't a sociopathic maniac, and your baby isn't a traumatized victim. Baby is tougher than you think, and Toddler is less evil than you fear.

Expect your toddler to TRY to hammer away at the baby -- it's simply human nature – but let everyone know you won’t allow her to hurt the baby. Your mission is to convey this: “I can’t let you hurt the baby. Tell me you’re mad, but hitting isn’t allowed. It looks like you’re mad because Baby got to sit next to me. Am I right?” Guide the interaction towards talking. This is the perfect crucible to grind out the issue of talking about feelings – instead of acting them out. Political correctness, manners and grace come much, much later (ages 6, 7 and beyond). In the meantime, expect to be there as protector -- and try not to get disappointed, worried, or critical of your toddler. She's just really bummed about having to share you.

Resign yourself to breaking up fights -- sometimes constantly. I know it feels like you're a referee all day sometimes, and it's easy to worry about the future implications of the sibling relationship. "Will they always attack each other like this?!" They might, for a really long time -- and that might actually be a good thing. Family is the pressure cooker of life, and siblings have the opportunity to work out lots of life's big issues together: Sharing, patience, and cooperation.

But you've got to emphasize the positive. When they DO get along -- notice, praise, and reward. "What nice sharing, you two! Wow, what a lovely time you're having together. That looks really fun." Even if it's only a brief interlude in the action, make a point of praising.

Finally, make it a point to regularly schedule “special time” with each of your kids – ideally, with each parent, separately and together – to get some time where that one kid can be the focus. Nothing fancy -- even if it’s just a trip to the market while the baby is home with grandma, it will help.

Smoothing out the rough edges in their relationship -- over and over -- will eventually help them create a stronger relationship.

Aloha,

Dr. Heather The BabyShrink Mom of Four, Parenting Expert Sign up for my Newsletter and Follow Me:

Toddler Behavior: Reasons Your Toddler Doesn't Eat Much

I've just had a rare parenting experience; making a meal that my toddler ate -- and enjoyed.

Pediatricians tell us that toddlers need fewer calories, so not to worry. But there's another more developmental reason that toddlers often don't eat. The "simple" cycle of HUNGER -----> EATING -----> FEELING BETTER isn't really so simple for your toddler. It involves conscious awareness of a physical cue (hunger), understanding that FOOD is the solution to HUNGER, and then expressing that need to us. Not only do toddlers have better things to do than to sit and be restrained in a highchair (things like walking, running, climbing and screaming about bathtime), but they have a hard time "tuning in" to that feeling of hunger to begin with. We can all relate to that, right? Getting so consumed in an absorbing activity that we forget to eat. That's the daily experience of your toddler.

Understanding this dynamic makes it easier to handle. Try this:

Think ahead about when your toddler's likely to get hungry, and offer something she usually likes to entice her to the highchair. (Thin, crunchy breadsticks are the snack of choice at our house these days.) Then offer her a prepared meal -- don't expect her to sit and wait while you make it. If she resists, that's OK. Take her down and send her on her way. Try again at the next regular snack or mealtime.

Drinking milk is your toddler's default -- it's a lot easier to drink milk (think how easy a nice milkshake goes down), and it's reminiscent of the good ol' baby days, when parents took care of everything. In other words, it's regressive -- and comforting. And sometimes, toddlers get so crazy-hungry that they're beyond food -- it just doesn't satisfy the way milk would. As long as your toddler's experimenting with food and getting a little variety during the course of the week, regressing to milk in the service of preventing a hunger meltdown sometimes is OK. (But check out her menu with her pediatrician if you're unsure.)

Don't panic about rejected food. You can't force a toddler eat, poop, or sleep. Putting extra pressure on the situation only makes it worse. Take a deep breath and be glad you're not contributing to a future food neurosis.

Rest assured that as your toddler gets a bit older, this dynamic will naturally improve -- young toddlers have more trouble with food than older, "more experienced" toddlers do. And as she gets to preschool age (3 or so), she'll be more interested in playing social games involving food (think "Tea Party"), AND she'll have a lot more experience with food under her belt. Once again, the miracle of development will help us get through this maddening stage.

Aloha,

Dr. Heather The BabyShrink

Teaching Your Children About Money Good Financial Values

There's lots of talk (and worry) about money these days, and we're all thinking about our families' budgets. My friend and colleague Dr. Brad Klontz talks about financial well-being, and how it doesn't "just happen". Like part of any healthy lifestyle, there are skills to be learned, bad habits to be eliminated, and good attitudes to be built. The good news for your family is that you can start the process out in a good way at even the youngest of ages.

Age 2-3 Your children will start to internalize your money attitudes every time you discuss (or argue about) household expenses or take a trip to the grocery store.  Be conscious about spending and Use Your Words with your little ones. "Hey! Our favorite cereal is on sale. That's a great price! Let's get an extra box today."

Age 3-5 Build an awareness about money -- actual coins and bills. In our house, we've gotten the kids those inexpensive State Quarters collecting kits, and they're excited to look for the coins, trade for ones they need, and show them off to friends. They also learn cool things about the States. Also, have them help you plan your shopping list, and make them responsible for holding the list and "checking" it. Make up a computer list of regularly purchased items and a little picture of the item next to it, printing out a new one each shopping trip. Your preschooler can color in the things you need that week and keep track of it in the store.

Age 6-7 Now you can start talking about the price of things, saving, and allowance.  Include them in plans to save for special purchases, help them donate to good causes, and support "lemonade stands" and other budding entrepreneurship.

Parents But the most important job is ours. Money is the main reason for couples' arguments and divorce. This issue is worth your time and effort, people: Take stock of your financial problems, and how your attitudes are involved. Examine the weird money "scripts" from your family of origin. Challenge assumptions like "it's bad manners to talk about money". Get yourself in the habit of good financial behaviors. I highly recommend Dr. Klontz's books on the subject, which are easy to read, yet powerful. Check them out here.

And finally, GIVE. Every religion and moral/ethical tradition talks about the needy and the importance of giving. Use Your Words to model gratitude for what your family has. Help your child pick a cause and put aside a small amount of her savings to her cause on a regular basis. Carry it through by showing her how you donate the money. Make visits to learn about the cause and help in person, if possible.

Happy Saving!

Aloha,

Dr. Heather The BabyShrink

How the Economic Downturn Makes Us Better Parents

Families have been hit hard by the recession -- I see it every day in my practice. But you'd think that wealthier parents would be having an easier time than they are. Instead, they're scrambling. Because parents who relied on money to raise good kids had their priorities messed up, and now they're getting their assumptions challenged. I'm talking about the competitive, "keeping up with the Joneses" kind of parenting that results in this kind of stuff:

  • Trying to find the "perfect" stroller
  • Getting on a years-long wait list with the "best" preschool
  • Overscheduling even young children, from "Mommy and Me" to "enrichment" classes
  • Parents not having any adult life (or getting any sleep) because their lives are 100% kid-focused

But even for those of us who weren't ever considered "wealthy", there's a lesson here about priorities, and what it truly takes to be a Good Enough parent.

When you take money out of the equation, all of the extra garbage is drained out. And parents who are used to parenting by spending are forced to start parenting by being.

Being with the kids -- just hanging out. Getting to know their temperaments, tendencies, personalities and foibles. Helping them learn about themselves, and how to  be a good person. And helping them to learn about money -- what it CAN buy, what it CAN'T buy, and how to make budgeting and saving fun.

This is a really good thing. Because your kids don't need lots of money to grow into happy, healthy, productive human beings. They need YOU -- your interested time and attention.

I know by experience, people. I'm not much of a shopper, but I LOVE baby gear. I've spent 10 years searching for "the perfect stroller", and wasted tons of money on the 7 or 8 strollers moldering away in the Stroller Cemetery in our garage. But none of our four babies ever loved being in ANY stroller, and if I had just waited to get to know them a bit before I started buying, I could have saved a ton of cash. Patience and careful thought are worth a lot -- in life, and in parenting.

It starts at the earliest ages. In our family, we've discovered that toys, balloons and candy shouldn't get bought at the market as an incentive for good behavior. Toddlers in our family get told, "Let's put the balloon away now that we're done shopping. The balloon lives here -- let's say bye bye to the balloon." When they don't expect a lot of buying as young children, they enjoy the stuff we DO buy much more.

This is an opportunity to re-focus on the simple (but powerful) fact that it's US, not our "stuff", that make our kids into great human beings. Staying home, cooking together, reading, and running around outside is not only cheaper, it's a better way to focus on the enduring priorities of parenting.

And in the process, we get to know ourselves better, too.

Aloha, Dr. Heather The BabyShrink

Toddler Behavior: What Do You Do When A Baby Prefers One Parent Over The Other?

Dear Dr. Heather, Our 25-month-old granddaughter has an unusually strong attachment to her mother.

Don't Take It Personally, Dad.

Her parents have been very responsive to her since her birth. Our toddler is easy with other people including her regular caregiver, grand-parents, other extended family and just about everyone else. The problem is that when her mother is around she has a strong preference for her, to the exclusion of most others. This happens about 60% of the time.

Her mother and father are gentle and kind and fun-loving. They respond to her emotions and explain the world to her. They are consistent with their house “rules” and explain the world to her so that things make as much sense as possible. She is a bright, articulate, inquisitive, active little girl and appears to be developing normally. Again, the problem is just that she clings to tenaciously to her mom. This is trying on her dad and also tiring for mom.

Any tips on how to reduce the clinging and increase her involvement with others when her mother is present?

Thanks very much.

Grandma ~~~~~~

Dear "Grandma",

What you're describing is the sign of a healthy attachment to her mother. Babies at this age have a hard time being in intense relationships with more than one person at a time. Strong parental preferences are COMMON. Unpleasant at times, inconvenient often, but COMMON and NORMAL, at this age. The first step is understanding it, the next step is rewarding her when she works well with her father, you, or other adults. She should be gently encouraged and praised for steps in the right direction, but never scolded if she prefers mom, since this will only work against you.

Your granddaughter is at a stage of venturing out into the world, and then coming back to her "base of comfort" as needed to "refuel", emotionally. As she gains confidence this will naturally abate. Also, as she grows closer to age 3, she will be more curious about the different activities her father and you can share with her, and this will help too.

I can certainly relate, as I am currently on both ends of the preference spectrum with various of my own children. I'm top of the list with my 9-month-old and 4-year-old, and bottom of the totem pole with my 7 and 9-year-olds -- Daddy is their current favorite. All of us need to be understanding about the temporary preferences that our children express -- please don't take it personally, nor should her father. Your time (and his) will come...I promise!

Aloha, Dr. Heather The BabyShrink Mom of Four, Parenting Expert

Sleep & Nap Issues: How To Cope While Sleep Training Your Baby

We're doing our own version of Sleep Training around here, since baby #4 has proven to be immensely resistant -- and LOUD -- in our efforts to help her sleep through even a decent portion of the night. Adorable as she is, she's the most rotten sleeper I've yet produced. Tough Love is in order. Sure, she sleeps OK in the stroller.

But Tough Love is rough on me -- and on the family. A fussing (or screaming) baby feels like a constant reminder of some kind of parental inadequacy, and is really grating on the nerves. Not to mention the fact that it often happens at ridiculous hours of the night when most other babies are surely sleeping soundly. And forget sleep for poor mom. I'm a zombie.

But persist I must. I won't give in to an 18-pound 8-month old, no matter how cute she is (in the daytime, at least). It will be worth it in the end.

Here are my tips for getting through this rough time, if you're going through Sleep Training:

Make sure you and your partner are on the same page. There's nothing worse than arguing about sleep training techniques at 2 am, standing outside the door of a screaming baby. Agree ahead of time -- or don't attempt it.

Prepare the older kids for nighttime noise. I tell my lightest sleeper that he may hear the baby fussing at night. "But you're a big boy and can roll over and go to sleep. Soon we'll all get better sleep."

Use a little reverse psychology on yourself. (You're so sleep deprived it just might work!) Instead of preparing for a night of sleep, prepare for a night of watching "guilty pleasure" TV, listening to great music from your (childless) past, or even folding laundry. Fooling yourself into thinking you don't really need to sleep somehow makes it less painful to be up at weird hours.

Take a deep breath, have a zen moment, do some mindfulness meditation, yoga, or pray -- pick your version of expressing gratitude and relaxation. Having a non-sleeping, screaming baby at 2 am is really hard. But in the scope of things, not really that big of a deal. A few moments recalling the years when we feared we couldn't get pregnant, or thinking of friends who have a baby who's quite ill, and others who have God forbid lost a child, and I'm ready to get through another tough night of sleep training. Having a healthy, happy, non-sleeping baby is a high-class problem we're blessed to have, quite honestly.

I've written other posts about getting through the sleep deprivation aspect of this, but let me also mention our friend caffeine here. Don't overdo it. At my peak, I have a mug of java in the morning, some iced tea at lunch, and another cup of coffee around 2. That's 3 servings a day. Any more and I get frazzled and nutty -- and no more awake than if I had stayed with the 3 servings. Studies say that some coffee is fine for most of us, but too much will definitely make you feel worse.

Sleep Training eventually works -- I'm writing this now as the baby sleeps nicely in her crib. Get through the rough nights and I promise things will improve!

Aloha,

Dr. Heather The BabyShrink Mom of Four, Parenting Expert

Sleep & Nap Issues: A Noisy House = A Sleeping Baby?

When our first was born, I was determined to eliminate any possible source of noise inside (and outside) the house in hopes of bettering my baby's sleep. I neurotically tiptoed around, turned off the phones, waited on chores that made noise, and considered complaining to the County for allowing leaf-blowers in my neighborhood. Guess what? Nothing worked. The baby slept as she was going to sleep (not very well) no matter what. As I kept having babies, the ability to even try to maintain a quiet home was beaten out of me. It simply wasn't possible. And guess what? The babies still slept as they were going to sleep (still, mostly not very well). But slowly, it dawned on me that the normal, medium-noise level of the house not only didn't seem to worsen the baby's sleep...it improved it. Turns out, babies are used to a ton of noise in-utero. The mother's body -- and the typical household -- make it fairly raucous in there. So don't worry about a little noise -- in fact, noise machines, fans, and radios turned down low have all been found to encourage a good snooze.

I have found that a sudden CHANGE in the noise level of the house can disturb sleep; for instance, a generally noisy house turned quiet all of a sudden is just as likely to wake the baby as is the big roar of the garbage truck outside her window. But all in all, the baby will get used to the noise level in your house, and eventually allow you to sleep (a bit) too. So don't make yourself nuts trying to shush the other kids (and your entire neighborhood). Just breathe deeply, and try to grab a nap!

Aloha,

Dr. Heather The BabyShrink

Parenting Tips: How To Leave Your Baby For The First Time

I get a weird, quivery feeling in my stomach when I think back to the time, 8 years ago, when I first left our first child in the care of a sitter. That sitter, Keri, has gone on to become a part of the family -- a central figure in our lives and the reason I can function on a daily basis. But on that day, I had horrendous visions of the damage that would be done to my daughter. How could anyone care for her as well as I? I had to force myself away from them -- Keri holding my daughter's arm up to wave "bye bye" as I drove away. I cried on my way to the meeting I had to attend. It's harder on us than it is on them

Of course, all went very well that day, and for all these years since. But that day ranks up there with one of the most difficult things I've ever done. Here are some tips for those of you facing that fateful day:

Ease Into It Slowly

You and your baby will adjust more smoothly if you plan to be away for progressively longer periods of time. Start out slow: figure out the least amount of time that you'll be able to handle being away, even if it's just for a few minutes. Arrange to have the sitter come anyway, and explain to her that you'll be coming and going as you all adjust to the new arrangements. Or if you're leaving her at daycare, work out a "transition" time with the teacher so that you can come and hang out for awhile at drop-off and pick-up times, helping your baby (and you) to adjust. Eventually build up to the length of time you'll usually be away. For some, this may take days -- or weeks. That's OK.

It May Be Harder For You Than It Will Be For Your Baby

Regardless of baby's age, talk to her about your plans to leave in advance. Even if she doesn't understand your words, the tone of your message will sink in. It will also be therapeutic for you to talk about it. Up until about 5 or 6 months, your baby will be pretty cool with you being away for awhile. Older babies and toddlers will need more "practicing" in advance, but for most, their protests will only last a few minutes at most after you leave. A good sitter will have a plan to distract her quickly after you've gone. Have the sitter call you when the baby calms down -- you'll feel much better.

Know That You'll Feel Like A Part Of Your Body Is Being Removed

You're supposed to feel that way -- Mother Nature makes sure of that. Know it in advance and make plans to deal with the feelings: Call an understanding friend after you leave, and make plans for a fun thing you haven't been able to do because of the baby. But don't let the feelings keep you from getting the sitter in the first place.

Each Time It Will Get Easier

As long as your sitter is good, you'll feel better and better each time you leave. And then you'll start to feel a developing sense of relief and gratitude that you don't have to do it all yourself. You have help now! HOORAY!

Aloha,

Dr. Heather The BabyShrink

Baby Behavior Problems: Tips For Helping Your Baby Eat Baby Food

Dear Dr. Heather, My baby won't eat his baby food. His doctor says he's ready, but he's just not interested.

He takes a couple of bites here and there, but would really rather drink his milk. I'm starting to panic since the other babies in his playgroup are trying all sorts of baby food and really progressing. Not my guy. The doctor says he's healthy so I try not to worry, but do you have any suggestions?

Thanks, Carla

I'm going through the same thing that reader Carla asks about: A baby who is lukewarm, at best, about eating baby food. Carla's son is 7 months old, and mine is 6 months. As parents, we're genetically wired to FEED OUR CHILDREN.

Some babies just don't like baby food

They must eat to grow, right? So, what if they won't eat? Here are some tips for parents like me whose babies would rather play than eat:

Babies Vary Widely and Can Still Be Normal

We're used to our babies marching along in lock-step with their baby peers on the magic developmental continuum. But this is where babies start to diverge. Some are huge eaters from the get-go (I had two of those), and some eat like little birdies (got two of those too). Think of adults (or even big kids): Some pack it away, others seem to subsist on air. When our first baby (a non-eater) dropped on her weight curve late in her first year, I started panicking. But her pediatrician pointed out that "some kids are slender. Be happy, she's healthy." He also pointed out that she still had enough cute baby chub to make baby dimples on her knees, despite her skinniness. She's now a skinny (and healthy) 9-year-old who still barely eats, some days. But our second kid ate so much that first year that my life seemed to revolve around procuring, preparing, and providing food to him. As a 10-month-old, one of his meals (of which there were FIVE per day) consisted of: half a block (and I mean half of the whole pack) of tofu, half an avocado, one cup of cheerios, and 6 ounces of milk. Of course, as always, check your baby's weight and eating habits out with your pediatrician.

It's a Learning Curve (for Some)

For some (like my second), eating is EASY. They know what to do immediately and do it with vigor. For others, it's a slow process that takes weeks (or months) of introductions, playing, experimentation, smearing, blowing raspberries (wonderful, trying to scrape solidified baby oatmeal off your jeans!) and basically NOT eating, before any food is consumed. Our first had this weird habit of sucking the "juice" out of any food, then spitting out the rest. This went on for months. She also really just preferred her milk. So although it's tiring to prepare yet another meal that you suspect won't be eaten, keep soldiering on, and don't let it get to you. This is a learning process that will set the tone for other parenting issues later on. Just breathe deeply and try not to worry about it as you dump yet another uneaten meal down the drain!

When to Ask for Help

Luckily, well-baby checkups are frequent during the first year of life, so you'll have ample opportunity to discuss any concerns with your pediatrician. If there's a concern, you can be referred to your local "Feeding Team", a group of clinicians who work with babies and these challenges at many children's hospitals. They are awesome specialists who can help. Barring any medical concern, you can feel comfortable that a slow, steady, and patient approach will win the day. Remember: You can't force your baby to eat, sleep, or poop. It's a process of learning and support that helps guide their development -- but a process that ultimately has to be driven by BABY, not eager parents like us.

Good luck, and happy eating (eventually).

Aloha,

Dr. Heather The BabyShrink

Parent Tip: Advice For Easing School Pickups

Today is the first in my series of quick parent tips designed to make your life easier. As a shrink and parent of 4 young kids, I feel your pain -- and I've worked out some of the wrinkles along the way. I hope you enjoy these -- and comment below if you have a question you'd like me to tackle. Today, I'm picking up my 2 big kids from school, with a baby and preschooler in tow. Sibling rivalry is a common problem, especially after school when everyone is jockeying for your attention. The energy of the house totally changes once the big kids are in the mix. PREVENTION is the key to a smooth afternoon. Try this:

Greet each kid separately, even if it's just for a few seconds. Get down on his level for a sincere smile, hug, and as much of a discussion as you can.

RE-GREET the little ones so they don't feel left out of the special attention given to the big kids. Yeah, I know they've had more of you during the day, but it's still hard to let go and share with the big kids. Give a special few seconds as you strap them back into their car seats.

Music and other media in the car make it tough to decompress and talk after a busy day. Turn it off to bring everyone's stress level down.

When you get home, limit your computer and phone use to a different time of day. Your kids will ratchet up the activity and noise level when they notice you aren't "present". Give them this time with you and your sanity will improve.

Give big praise when siblings get along, and let them know you LOVE when they talk and play nicely after school together. Try to ignore negative behavior...practice the Deep Breath and Look Away approach for copious use. The less attention you give to their antics, and the more you give them props for their good behavior, the better it will get.

Aloha,

Dr. Heather The BabyShrink

Child Discipline: Will One Spanking Traumatize My Toddler?

Poor reader Jenn wrote in to confess her guilt at giving a swat on the tush to her toddler, worried that she might have psychologically scarred the poor baby for life. I hope you know me well enough by now that of course I don't condone spanking, and aggression turned on your child is always something to avoid. A time out is best, of course.

But none of us here is perfect, right? I chuckled at this poignantly cute description of a situation we've all experienced -- losing our tempers after a long day with a challenging toddler -- as well as her daughter's perfect illustration of how little ones learn to handle unusual situations:

Hi Dr. Heather -

Long time reader, etc.... I have two children, a 4-year-old boy and a 17-month-old daughter. Recently, it had been a long day and my kids had been getting on my last nerve. I had the two kids in the bath, and had gotten the older out and toweled off, and then asked the 17 month old to stand and step onto the mat. She thought about it, and started to do it, but refused. I asked her twice more, and she refused, sitting there staring at me. So I told her, "If you don't get onto the bathmat, I'm going to give you a smack on your bum." Of course, she just sat there looking at me like, "I've always wondered what that is." So I stood up, gave her a smack on the bum (very symbolic, didn't even redden the skin), and put her on the mat. She looked like she would cry for 5 seconds or so, but didn't, and then went on with her night.

On it's own, that's pretty much a non-story. Although I do try to be more creative in my parenting than resorting to any kind of hitting, but I obviously wasn't successful that day.

What I have a question about is that right after that, we were in my older's room getting him dressed, and while I was busy with that, my youngest lined up all of my oldest's stuffed animals, bum up, and was giving them bum smacks. OK. And she did this the next day. And the next. And at the library, when I got distracted by something, and turned to find all dozen of the library's stuffed animals lined up for a bum smacking.

What have I done? Could this have been very traumatic? Any insight you have here would be helpful. I don't know how you do it with (now) 4 kids - I only have the two, and just keeping my head above water takes up all my time.

Thanks - Jenn

Hi Jenn,

What a great question! I love your depiction of this very common toddler-esque behavior; mimicking behavior that seems emotionally "loaded".

Now of course you haven't traumatized her for life, from what you've told me. But she has realized that the smack is a powerful thing -- and she's probably picking up on your sense of conflict and guilt about it. (Amazing how they can sense those things in us, huh?) She's doing what toddlers do -- re-enacting confusing or "loaded" situations so that she can figure them out and put them in their place in her mind.

You can talk her through it, when you see her doing it. "Oh boy, seems the Mommy lost her temper and the babies got a smack. Are the babies crying now? Do they feel better now?" You can also add, "Bum smacks aren't a good idea. In our house, we talk about our problems." Try to remain "centered", emotionally, when it comes up -- no guilt or pressure, just curiosity and reassurance. And you can apologize for losing your temper, in a sincere but matter-of-fact way. You can also model toys "using their words" when they get upset, too.

Don't forget, you're not striving for parenting with perfection, you're striving to be Good Enough. In fact, the research shows that only about a third of mother's reactions to their babies are "attuned". Another third eventually get "repaired" over time, and the rest never do. So the best that any normal baby can expect is about two-thirds of perfection from you at any given time! She'll receive far more "talking-to" than bum smacks from you, so she'll get by experience how to handle problems. And the lining up of toys for a good spanking should eventually slow down on it's own.

Does that help?

Aloha,

Dr. Heather

Jenn wrote back to give me this update:

Dr. Heather,

I did have to have an emergency talk with her, when she escalated to giving us random smacks (like coming up behind me when I was working in the kitchen and giving me a very firm smack on the bum!). And it is hard to sound legitimate telling her that, "in our house, we don't hit, we use our words" when her memory of getting a bum smack is so vivid. But I did apologize to her for giving a smack before, and explained that I was wrong, and that if we smack someone we need to say we are sorry. She seemed to absorb that (and it's amazing what all they can actually understand when they can barely talk), and eventually agreed to say she was sorry to smacking us.

Of course, all of our stuffed animals are still living stomach down, but eventually that will pass, I'm sure, and it will just be one of those stories that I'll remember for later.

Of course, you are welcome to use this for a BabyShrink post. I always like seeing what challenges other people are having, and I'm tickled that I'll now be in that group.

Thanks! - Jenn

Thanks for the story, Jenn, and for reminding other readers that we can't strive for perfection, just for Good Enough! And if you have a sticky situation with your toddler, I'd love to talk with you personally to help you work it out! I'm offering Skype, phone, or in-person Parent Coaching sessions, starting at $75. Email me at BabyShrink@gmail.com, or fill out the form at the bottom of the Parent Coaching page. Looking forward to it!

Aloha,

Dr. Heather The BabyShrink

Sleep & Nap Issues: Got a New Baby? How to Manage The Sleep Deprivation

Boy, am I tired. You'd think I'd get used to the lack of sleep by now -- this is our fourth child, after all. But the crushing effects of sleep deprivation continue to be the hardest part of parenting, for me. I could change diapers and nurse and even chase toddlers all day long, if I could just GET SOME SLEEP. But this baby is just like her siblings, and she sleeps sporadically at best. At 4 months of age, she sometimes awakens once or twice at night -- but more often three or four times -- to nurse and be comforted. I've got 3 other kids, a day job, and you, dear reader, to keep me more than busy. I'm tired. IMG00341

When I had our first child, I had secret visions of the wonderful sleep-inducer that I'd be. "Babies need sleep, and so do parents. I'll get the baby to sleep." Somehow, I thought I could use my super-shrink powers to calm, soothe, or hypnotize her to sleep.

I was wrong. Our first didn't sleep reliably through the night until she was four. FOUR!

Since psych grad school, oddly, is completely unhelpful in the preparation for parenthood, I sought out and read every single "Baby Sleep" book out there. All the major titles. I tried everything, religiously. Didn't work.

And in the process, I got more and more sleep deprived myself.

There's not much recognition out there that parents' sleep deprivation often goes on for a really long time, and despite how difficult that is, it's actually quite normal and typical for a baby to be up a lot at night for several months, and even beyond. I was doing some research for this post and I found something really annoying -- most articles only address the FIRST MONTH of how to survive with a newborn. The implication is that things really improve in the sleep department after that first month of your baby's life. AS IF! In the first month, you're getting by on adrenaline, grandma's help, and that extra sympathy and interest everyone still has in the new baby. It actually gets WORSE after that first month; you lose most of those extra perks, the baby STILL doesn't sleep very well, and you're slowly but surely losing your mind from the accumulated lack of sleep.

And of course there ARE some babies who sleep beautifully from very early on. (But parents of THOSE babies aren't reading this post, are they?) It makes those of us with crummy sleepers feel there must be something wrong with my baby; or, there must be something wrong with my parenting. The urge to compare our babies to other babies is just too tempting. Not recommended, but hard to avoid.

When Your Baby Starts to Sleep Better...and then Regresses It's also easy to worry that "something is wrong" when your baby seems to be sleeping better....then all of a sudden is back to waking several times a night. Please know that regression is normal in many developmental areas, especially in early childhood. Sleep is no exception. My second-born slept a good NINE hour stretch from the age of 9 weeks until the age of five months. Then he started trying to roll over, and he roused himself several times a night with his new-found pursuit. After prematurely congratulating myself that we finally had a decent little sleeper, I just about lost it when he regressed back to waking several times each night again. Just as you get used to being up all night with a newborn, you also quickly get used to regular sleep again. And when your baby regresses and you have to go BACK AGAIN to being up and down all night, it somehow feels WORSE than when you were used to it before. "Of Course, MY Baby Sleeps Through the Night!" Another thing that happens is that we compare our experiences to other parents'. That's a mistake, because PARENTS LIE. Not all parents, but enough of them DO get caught up in the game of comparing kids that you end up getting some pretty skewed information. And for some reason, the misinformation also comes from other parenting "resources", which are often misleading. Even most pediatricians have little sympathy for our sleep deprivation. After all, most of these doctors take overnight call and had to be awake for their residency training for a couple of days at a time for years, so sleep deprivation is a relative term for them. And when your pediatrician says you can expect your baby to "sleep through the night" at 12 weeks of age, guess what she means? Sleeping a 6-hour stretch (sometimes, at least), is considered "normal". But in my book, that's not sleeping through the night, especially when most babies that age want to go down for the night at around 7 or 8 pm. By the time YOU get to bed, the nighttime rounds are just beginning.

The WORST advice you get is to "sleep when the baby sleeps". Well, DUH. But it's not that easy, is it? Babies' sleep cycles can sometimes be so unpredictable that they have their best stretch of sleep smack in the middle of the day, when you need to shop, cook, do stuff with your other kids, and otherwise live your life. Waking up every hour or two in the middle of the night is often more the reality for many young babies.

And I don't know about you, but it's impossible for me to sleep "on command". OK, baby's asleep now, ready, get set...SLEEP! It doesn't happen that way, does it? There are biochemical reasons for that. Once we're awake for far too long, or we're awakened one too many times at night, our bodies start to produce hormones to keep us awake. That's when you get that hyper, wired, "I-know-I-should-be-sleepy-but-I'm-wide-awake!" feeling at 3 am.

You might think that I'm going to give you some fabulous secrets for getting your baby to sleep. Sorry, folks -- sleep is one of the things you can't "make" your child do -- along with other bodily functions like eating and pooping. And if I had found the holy grail of making a baby sleep through the night, I would be a very rich Baby Shrink indeed. The truth is, nobody's done that. But I have come up with some tips, over the years, from both my experience as a shrink and as a mom, for how to SURVIVE the sleep deprivation that most of us experience with babies:

How to Survive Baby-Induced Sleep-Deprivation In order to be safe behind the wheel of a car and to keep your body (and mind) relatively healthy, you MUST get at least adequate sleep a couple of times a week. Consider this a Doctor's Order: GET HELP so that you can at least 1) sleep in at least 2 mornings a week, complete with eye shade and ear plugs so that you don't feel like you're "listening" for the baby, and 2) get at least a 90 minute break most afternoons when you can lie down and rest (and hopefully sleep). If you're a first-timer, it might not be easy to trust anybody to care for your Babe, even if you're eyes are crossing from lack of sleep. But you MUST force yourself allow a trusted person to help you. Not easy to arrange? I know. Essential for your health and well-being? YES.

Get some exercise -- preferably outside -- for at least a few minutes each day. I know it feels impossible when you're wiped out, but there really is a magical effect in taking even a few minutes' brisk walk. Getting outside in the sun will also help to re-set your circadian rhythms, which are being hammered by your 24/7 schedule. I promise, you'll feel better. You might also be able to sleep better when you get an opportunity later on.

Learn meditation and breathing techniques to calm the stress hormones that keep you awake when you should be sleeping. Any "mindfulness", prayer, yoga, or other meditative technique that focuses on breathing will work. If you feel hyper and over-tired, even TEN SECONDS of mindful breathing will help you slow down and feel better. But do strive for 15 minutes a day in order to get your stress hormones under control. This will help you to sleep better when you DO have a chance.

Don't obsess over how little sleep you're getting. Believe me, I've been there -- staring at the digital numbers on my bedside clock, getting madder by the minute about yet another night of lousy sleep, up and down with the baby. The less sleep you get, the more upset you become, and a vicious cycle begins. Don't obsess about it. Let it go. Tell yourself: Oh well, another late night. This is something I can look back on later in life and laugh about. I know I feel beyond exhausted right now, but this too will pass. And if you can't sleep, then read or watch TV. Just give yourself a break about it.

Don't compare the amount of sleep you're getting now to how much sleep you USED to get or need. I know you used to sleep in until noon, and you couldn't function with less than 8 hours before this, yadda yadda. But your body has changed -- you're a parent now, and things ARE different. Yes, your body needs sleep, but you're also pretty good at adapting to less sleep -- at least for the short term. It feels impossible to "roll with it", but that's what you've got to do.

Don't be afraid of the "Cry It Out" method for your baby -- once she's old enough. I think you can safely start that at about 9 months of age for most babies -- after they have sufficiently developed the memory skills to remember that you'll be coming back eventually, despite being left to cry (and sleep). Before then, you can (of course, with your pediatrician's blessing), allow baby to fuss, grunt and make noise before rushing to get her; many babies are NOISY sleepers (another reason for them to sleep in their own rooms), and don't actually need to be picked up. Try to learn the difference between "grunty-noisy-baby-sleep" noises and actual "come feed or comfort me" noises.

And finally, try to adopt a bit of a Zen attitude about all of this. Because your crushing sense of exhaustion will quickly dissipate one day, sooner or later, as your baby naturally develops a better capacity to sleep at night. Then you'll be on to the next parenting challenge. So pace yourself. Our oldest is almost 9 and I still almost cry in relief as I check in on her, in a deep sleep, late at night. How can they grow this fast? (Cue the music to "Sunrise, Sunset".) Is this the baby that so challenged my sense of order in the world, simply because she wasn't a great sleeper for the first few years of her life? And here she is, a beautiful, intelligent, happy third grader, reliably sleeping from 8 pm to 7 am every day. Development is a magical thing, people. We parents can only provide love, structure, safety, support and guidance to shape these fabulous creatures that are our children, while the amazing processes of "growing up" happen before our (sleep deprived) eyes. We can't "make" them sleep, but we can't "make" them roll over, sit, stand, speak, and run, either. So step back for a minute to bask in the miraculous glow of your child's growth and development. It's a beautiful thing! I hope this helped. And now, please excuse me while I try to get some sleep!

Aloha,

Dr. Heather The BabyShrink Mom of Four, Parenting Expert

Here's another post on babies and the normal range of their sleep patterns.