Monday, February 21, 2011

Preschooler Advice - Learning to Count, Write, Spell, Read, ETC.

Every preschool director will tell that the key to getting 3 and 4-year olds to learn is through play.  Many preschools set up learning centers around the room.  You’ll walk in and see a kitchen, a reading area, maybe a dress-up area, an art easel and a sensory table.  And believe it or not, all of these centers are helping to teach your child how to do fundamental, but beginner things like counting, sorting and reading.

So what can you do at home to supplement what’s going on 2-3 mornings a week for 3 hours a morning?  Make it fun, never call it work and don’t force it if the time isn’t right.  I am using “learning to count” as an example below, but these ideas can apply to anything you want to practice with your kids.

Choose something your child loves and thrives at.  For example, if she loves puzzles, get her one with numbers and then sit on the floor and do it with her.  Count out the number puzzle pieces as she puts them in the slots.  Or does she like to sing and dance?  Buy a CD with counting or just play background music and make up counting songs.  Maybe you say "ONE alligator!" and then she yells "TWO lions" and you name it the Animal Counting Game.

With my son, he brought us his tubby numbers (the foam letters that stick on the bath tub wall) and
asked us to show him how to draw them.  We had his easel in the dining room at the time and we just did it a million times a day.  And his other love is books so we would count with number books.  He also loves workbooks so I have bought tons at various stores including Wal-Mart, Target, Walgreens and The Dollar store.

The other key is you'll need some one-on-one time with her, but don't tell her "now we're going to work on numbers."  Just make it play time like any other day.  Or while your cooking dinner, ask her to hang out with you in the kitchen and do a sing-song game.  We also do this a lot after dinner as well.  My son loves to play on our bed and the latest thing he is into is rhyming, so we play "Rhyme Time."  He says "bed, fed."  Then I say "dog, frog."  We used to play a number game, then an “Animal Alphabet” game we made up, and now it is a LITTLE more advanced with rhyming.

And when you’re child starts to show an interest in reading, buy the BOB Books, and ask me for more advice!

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Toddler Advice - Bedtime Tantrums, Make it Stop!

I just received this question from a dad via email, and figured I would share it here.  I am sure LOTS of parents out there can relate!
Hey Mommy Wisdom, do you have experience with bedtime tantrums? Sure, what parent doesn’t, right? Just wondering if you had any secrets. My almost 15-month old daughter can be a lot of fun during the day but is so damn stubborn at night - she sleeps through the night most of the time, but getting her down is the tough part. We’ll start around 8pm, she will scream and we go back in with the unfinished bottle once or twice, then she’ll finally give up at like 9:30. I am more into letting her cry it out, but one of us always ends up going back into her room wondering - is she still hungry, does she have to poop, is a new tooth coming in...?  One other thing that I’ll mention is she has just recently gone from 2 naps to 1.
Where do I begin?  I have so much to say!  Going from 2 naps to 1 is hell and would definitely cause upheaval.  I remember my son eliminated his morning nap very gradually, but it started at 14 months.  He didn’t totally give up his morning nap until about 17-18 months.  And even then, if in the car around 12:30pm, he would fall asleep.  He gave up naps altogether a year ago at the age of 3.5, it also took 6 months, and still, if he is in the car at 4:30pm, he’ll fall asleep!!!
I wouldn’t go back to 2 naps, but you could do it gradually.  Like give her a morning nap 3 days a week depending on mom’s schedule and your daughter’s mood.  OR, you could skip morning nap completely, but do her afternoon nap earlier.  For example, if your ideal afternoon nap starts at 1pm, for one week, have her go down at 11am (know that the time from nap wake up and bed will be hell).  Then, the next week, 11:30, then the next week 12, etc, until she is napping at 1pm without being overly tired at lunch time. 
Sooo, even though we probably know the cause of the bed time tantrums, that doesn’t mean they should be happening or you should be playing into them.  Now here is where the tough love comes in.  SHE’S NOT A BABY ANYMORE!  It doesn’t matter if she has a poopy diaper, is hungry or has a tooth coming in.  All these things will happen periodically and she’ll survive until morning!  Or she should at least be able to fall asleep with those things.  If she gets up in the night, that is when I would wonder about those things.  Just wait, she will be going to bed hungry a lot once she is a picky pre-schooler!
Bedtime is bedtime, let her cry it out!  And when I say that, I don’t mean that you totally ignore her crying for two hours.  Not yet anyway!  If it were me, I would go in every 10-15 minutes, not pick her up, and say the same exact thing every time.  “Isabella, it is bed time.  You need to go to sleep now.  Mommy/Daddy is going to leave now, I want you to get your rest.  I love you (pat, pat the back.)  Goodnight.”  And do that every 15 minutes until she falls asleep (and say it before she goes down that first time too). 
And if you do it for an hour plus, and she gets MORE agitated, then it isn’t working, and I would spread out the amount of time in between each of your visits (maybe let her cry for 20-30 minutes.)  And if that doesn’t work, then I would let her cry it out until she falls asleep and not go in at all.  My pediatrician would tell you to do this from the get go – he told me that when his daughter was about 2, she would cry to him from her crib and actually said something like “daddy, why don’t you love me.”  And he wouldn’t go in at all!! 
She CAN manipulate at this age.  And so try and tell yourself that by hugging her, feeding her, etc. you are doing her a disservice – this helped me a lot when I was in a similar situation with my son.  She needs to learn to self-soothe because this will go on (or come and go) FOREVER.  I just went through a phase with my son who is 4.  He would come into our room several nights a week to give us an update on things – like tell us he was going to go the bathroom.  OR, he would even come in just because “he loves us so much.”  Talk about manipulation!!!!! 
And the last thing I’ll mention, and this is my opinion of course, but based on experience, 8pm is too late for her bedtime.  Now if 8pm is the only option because of your work schedule, then you’ll just have to power through this until she gets used to her days with just one nap. 
Even when my son was taking 2 naps a day, he went to bed BY 7pm.  Of course, he has always been an early riser, but still, I think under 2 should be in bed at 7, 7:30pm at the latest.  She is obviously over tired from not taking 2 naps – which is fine.  It will just be that way until she gets used to it, which could take 3-6 months.  But another option, if all the above ideas fail, you could try an earlier bed time for a week and see if her tantrums subside. 
Just remember, every phase is very, very gradual.  She will get used to her new routine, don't expect any of these ideas to work over night.  BUT, also, keep in mind that your CHILD is no longer a baby, she is a little evil genius!!!  So, buck up, and show her some tough love.  She’ll thank you for it some day!

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Toddler Advice - Coming into your room at night!

A mom of a 2.5 year old boy recently came to me with a dilemma, one I had experienced with my own son.  Her child comes into her room every night around 2 or 3 in the morning, wanting to snuggle with her for a few minutes.  He falls back asleep right away, then she takes him back to his bed, and he sleeps through the rest of the night.  BUT, she doesn’t.  The act of taking him back to his room keeps her up for a couple of hours.  She wanted advice on how to get him to STAY in his bed from the get go.  Here is my reply to her.

I have been here from time to time with my son, and as someone who needs a lot of sleep, it can be miserable!  Here are your four options to deal with this dilemma.  Using a lock or gate, a sticker chart, a special goodnight clock or having a rational conversation with your child.  I think that using a gate or lock is premature at this point.  It could definitely come to that, but at this point, it would confuse him and possibly upset him since it IS kind of a punishment.  And right now, you are welcoming him into your bed for the snuggle, so he wouldn’t understand the lock/gate.  And therefore it wouldn’t work.  I also think the sticker chart and clock could work for him, but I think the first thing to try is the rational conversation.

Here are the steps to take:

  1. Since you and your husband both take part in bedtime, you each need to do this every night at the end of your bedtime routine.  You say the exact same thing to him, every night – “Max, you have been coming into mommy’s bed in the middle of the night.  But it is very important for Max to sleep in his bed, and mommy to sleep in her bed.  We both get very tired when you wake up in the night.  So tonight, I want you to try your hardest to stay in your own bed.”  (side note – I do think leaving the door open with the bathroom light on might help this too.)  And that’s all you say before kissing him goodnight and leaving.
  2. Then, he will probably still come into your room at the same time (2 or 3am).  You must immediately say similar words.  “Max, remember what mommy said?  It is important for you to sleep in your bed and mommy to sleep in her bed.  We both get very tired when you wake up in the night.  Let’s go back to your bed now and I’ll give you a BIG hug and tuck you in.”  Then you do that, WITHOUT letting him into your bed.  And he might come right back in, and he might do it again and again for two hours.  But you MUST stand your ground.  And I would do this for two weeks.  You have to break this current routine with him with this middle of the night snuggle, and now it is all about setting a new routine for him.  You’ll be exhausted and crabby, but better to break the habit now!
  3. If that doesn’t work, I would move on to the sticker chart.  He is a little young for it, but you can try, if the above fails.  Buy an 11x14 piece of brightly colored poster board and then draw in colorful markers at the top “Max’s Sticker Chart.”  (it is horizontal.)  Then, you make about four rows with a ruler that will be about three inches tall.  And you buy about three different packs of kiddy stickers.  And you tape the poster board to the outside of his door, at his eye level.  Make sure to keep the stickers out of his reach, but always in the same place.  And you put one sticker on it, in row one.  And you tell him that this is his very special sticker chart.  And every time he stays in his bed from bed time until morning, he gets one sticker.  And if he can get 5 stickers (or 3 or 7, whatever you want), he gets a NEW book!!!  And you have a supply of books hidden and he gets to pick one from a special drawer or wherever.
  4. And if he messes up, and comes into your room, say the same words you have been saying every time he comes into your room.  Then, the next morning, you take him to the chart and explain that you are starting a new row b/c he came into your room.  Maybe he already has three stickers in row one, then you put a new sticker on a new row, and explain he is starting over with his goal of getting a NEW book (or a new toy, whatever you think will motivate him.)
  5. You could also do the goodnight clock in conjunction with the sticker chart.  Tell him that if he comes into your room before “sunny bunny” is up, he won’t get a sticker.  I think that this clock is better suited for a child of about the age of three, but this process could take that long!  You know your child best and probably know if the clock and sticker chart would be effective or maybe too overwhelming.
Goodnight clock that we use, and we call the bunny “Sunny Bunny.”

Remember, kids love routine.  Sometimes, they create or add something to their routine that us parents don’t want.  It is our job to alter their routine so we all can have the best possible day.  Kids need to eat right and SLEEP WELL!  Sometimes, this means being a little stricter than is in our nature.  But just keep in mind that kids look to their parents for this stability.

Good luck and let me know what works for you and Max!