Category Archives: Toddlers

10 Toddler Wrangling Tips

They're more powerful than they look.
They’re more powerful than they look.

Up until recently, I found myself wincing at the idea of E turning two or transforming into a “three-nager” on her third birthday. While I like to joke at twenty two months she’s already solidly a two-year-old, the reality is she’s also a lot of fun. Enough fun I’m not so worried anymore.

Sure, she throws some pretty intense tantrums and is about as stubborn as they come, but she also has such wonder about the world around her. Halloween, Christmas, snow… Everything familiar to me is an amazing new source of joy. And, as far as the hard stuff goes, I keep discovering little tricks that make our lives easier.

Today I’m sharing some ah-ha moments I wish I’d found earlier. My doctor recently told me the secret to a strong-willed child is making the options appealing. I think she’s right:

  1. Connect your child’s wardrobe to something he/she loves. For awhile, giving E choices of what to wear was enough, but then she suddenly didn’t want to change out of whatever she was already wearing. When I’d try to force her to wear what I picked out, she’d kick and scream and I’d have to give her space for everyone’s safety, (have I mentioned she’s strong-willed?). This could go on for 10 to 20 minutes until I somehow got the day’s outfit on and was then late for wherever we were headed. Then recently it hit me! She’s obsessed with pumpkins, snowmen, and Santa. If I told her the outfits I put in front of her were pumpkin dresses (orange), snowmen clothes (white), or Santa pants (striped) she couldn’t wait to have them on. {Insert sigh of relief.}
  2. Make food fun and available. I’m always envious of friend’s kids who seem to eat whatever they’re handed. E will easily skip eating during the day and then want to nurse the entire night, (which as I shared in a previous post is no longer an option). I get so frustrated because food she loves one day she won’t touch the next. I feel required to keep a huge variety of items on hand and practically beg her to eat at regular intervals throughout the day. While I still haven’t fully solved this problem, these tricks make a difference:
    Thanks Lala!
    Thanks for the idea, Lala!
    • Cookie cutters! One evening at my parents’ house, my stepmom pulled out cookie cutters and cut E’s sandwich and apple slices into stars. This made food she wouldn’t touch before interesting enough to eat. We’ve been using this trick at home, too.
    • Create a story around the food. Just like with clothes, if mashed potatoes become snow and broccoli becomes trees, she can tolerate putting them in her mouth. Basically, the food has to be fun enough to make it worth sitting still in her chair to eat.
    • Keep toddler-friendly snacks in a cabinet or drawer your child can access. While I might not always want her to eat a granola bar or crackers, at least I can tell she’s hungry when she heads to her section of the pantry.
  3. Outsmart tantrums. I’m not going to try to tell you every tantrum can be outsmarted, but many of E’s can. Most of her fits are connected to being overly tired, hungry or bored. Here’s what helps us:
    • Honor your sleep routine. Although I can get away with altering E’s schedule for a day or two, if we completely miss a nap or wake her too early, we’re headed straight for meltdown city. It can be tempting when out doing errands to keep pushing nap time back, but the gift of a peaceful outing is worth the time constraints.
    • Always carry food or be ready to find some. Sometimes I forget how grumpy I become when my blood sugar is low. The same goes for E. When her mood shifts and I’m not sure why, food is always a good place to start. If I’m in a grocery store and don’t have a snack for her, I don’t hesitate to break into something in my cart, (string cheese?). This is something I always hated to see my mom do as a child, but now I totally get it. No one at the check stand cares as long as you pay for it.
    • Have a bag of tricks or be ready to find one. Toddlers don’t share the same affinity as we do for fine food, conversation, or people watching. While running errands or visiting restaurants, I always have something in my “busy bag.” Whether it’s a book or small toy, I can usually buy myself a little extra adult time with the distraction. If I’m not carrying my diaper bag at a store, I’ll let her hold merchandise of interest until we get to the check stand. So far, this has worked as long as I’m ready with a different distraction when it’s time to hand it over, (like food).

      Busy bag activities allow us to actually leave the house...
      Busy bag activities allow us to actually leave the house…
  4. Busy bags. Okay, I know the last bullet was about having a bag of tricks, but I think this one is so important I’m going to say it again: have something on hand to entertain your toddler when you’re out. I’m not just saying this because I sell busy bags, I’m saying it because we’re able to go to nice restaurants and actually enjoy our food with the help of activities like coloring books, stickers, small board books, etc. If you don’t want to buy one, make one. Collect items each time you’re out and about and save them for when you feel resistance brewing. Bonus points if you wrap the items ahead of time.

    Our focused time together is the best.
    Our focused time together is the most memorable.
  5. Don’t forget to play with your kid(s). This seems obvious but between multiple jobs, keeping a clean(ish) house, feeding my family, and remembering to take care of myself, it can be easy to spend time around E without actually playing with her. But, focused time together is the whole reason I’m willing to juggle part-time gigs instead of going back to work full-time. I make a daily effort to play even if it means an uncleaned mess or unfinished task. Not only are we all happier for it, but I also notice increased independence from her when she gets a healthy dose of focused attention.
  6. Give your child a little space. As I just mentioned, I don’t constantly entertain E. I give her space to play on her own because I feel it’s important in this busy world to learn to appreciate quiet time alone. On this same token, our TV isn’t always on. There is quiet in our house because I want her to be comfortable without constant stimulation. If I can hear her playing in her bedroom, I give her space to do so without me hovering, (even if I’m still actively listening). Likewise, when she gets up in the morning or from her nap, I let her get herself out of bed and come to me. I can hear her the whole time, but she’s learning independence through the process. I also let her explore at the park or library while I watch from a safe distance. She’s learning to occupy herself for longer periods of time, which is great for everyone.

    We're lucky to live within walking distance of beautiful trails, but it's still an effort to get outside in the winter.
    We’re lucky to live within walking distance of beautiful trails, but it’s still an effort to get outside in the winter.
  7. Go outside. This is one I suck at sometimes. It’s easy to get caught up in the to-do lists and not make it outside before dark (especially during the winter). But, I know kids need to be outside as much as possible. The other day as I was lamenting the challenge of getting her to sleep at night, an eavesdropping dad chimed in that I needed to go run her at the park. He’s right. During these dark, cold winter months, it’s too easy to skip going out, but kids need fresh air, natural light, and space to burn energy without walls.
  8. Be aware of your reactions. Children are mirrors. The other day when I was startled by a raccoon, E wouldn’t take her hands off her eyes for 10 whole minutes. She was petrified and I felt terrible. The same goes for how I react when she gets hurt. If I rush over and make a big deal, she cries a lot more than if I give her a moment and then come over and smile as I calmly check her out. They know when you’re worried and they worry too. Likewise, if they witness you being overly angry or upset about something, they’re likely to repeat the same emotion when they respond to the world around them.
  9. Listen to your own words. This one is huge. As a teacher, I can always pick out what parents must say at home from how a kid talks. This starts early. We purposely try not to use words we don’t want E to use, (although we’re still guilty of slipping up). For example, if you don’t want to be told you’re mean, don’t use the word mean. Instead, say something like “you’re not being very nice.” I’d much rather be told I’m not being very nice, than mean.
  10. Don’t fight over things that don’t matter. I’ll end with this one. It’s the biggest trick I’m coming to accept. I pick my battles with E by asking myself if what is bugging me is really an issue. Often, if it’s not hurting her or anyone else, I let it go. For example, yesterday afternoon, she took a nap with her tricycle in the bed. I could have fought her, but it was clean and there was no reason for her not to take a nap with her tricycle, even if my adult brain felt like telling her no. It wasn’t worth the fight.

Obviously, different tricks work for different kiddos, and even with the same kiddo, something that works one week may not the next. Still, I love sharing ideas because you never know what might help when you or your child is about to lose it. Have any favorite tricks that are working for your family right now? Please, please share! I’m certain we’ll always be learning around here…

Nightweaning a Co-sleeping Toddler

Oh, sleep.

I’ve missed you.

Beginning with my fantasies of being able to press pause and take a nap during labor, my relationship with sleep transformed into something I desired without any real promise of attainment. I craved it. I daydreamed about it. I practically salivated over it.

Until recently.

After twenty months of co-sleeping and nursing on demand, I finally decided I’d reached my limit. I was fine continuing to share a bed as long as I could sleep without having to nurse every hour or two. While E had gone through stretches where she slept a few hours or more at a time without needing me, she was suddenly becoming more and more demanding again and my body couldn’t take it. Just as I always figured would happen eventually, I knew I was done.

Then, I hurt my shoulder and I was really done. Like there was no other option. I couldn’t lie on my side for hours upon hours. She was going to have to learn how to put herself back to sleep.

Now here’s the point in the story where I pause for a moment to tell you every baby and family is different. While we decided not to cry-it-out early on, I now have a new appreciation for the idea that maybe some moms need the separation earlier than others. Co-sleeping and night comforting was something that worked for us for a long time. I enjoyed the closeness. And, honestly, it was just easiest for me. We had shared a body, so it felt natural to share a bed. She was right there next to me, easy to put back to sleep. No need to climb out of bed in the middle of the night. You get the idea.

Even within the same family, moms report different techniques working for different kids. This worked for us. I’m not looking for approval or to suggest what we did was right. It was right for us until it wasn’t anymore. Of course, many people in our lives warned us it would be hard to get her out of our bed, but it was also hard for me to get out of our bed in those early months. To me, it has been worth the trade-off, even if it isn’t easy to transition her to her own space.

What we have done after two long months is get her to sleep for about 8 hours (on average) without needing anything from me. I still nurse her around 5 or 6AM and then she goes back to sleep for a few more hours. When you consider we were nursing hourly at some points in the last few months, this is a HUGE victory. However, it was hard-earned.

I’ve had a couple of moms recount their cry-it-out experiences as gentle fussing in the crib. This was never an option with E. For awhile she’d start her night in her own little Montessori bed on the floor, but as soon as you’d try to put her down in a crib she’d scream to the point of gagging. I’ve heard her gently fuss. This wasn’t it and we couldn’t take it for more than a few minutes. She would hyperventilate. She would freak out. It was too much for us so we didn’t push it.

Accordingly, I scoured the web for a “gentle” approach to night weaning. I knew putting her in a crib and walking away wasn’t an option for us, even if I’d tried it a couple times just to see what would happen, (and, as I described, could only take for a couple minutes!). So, I figured the first step was to get rid of nursing during the night and then worry about the bed-sharing afterward. Fortunately, my husband stumbled across this video and sent it to me:

Basically, the plan went as follows:

  1. Pick a 6-7 hour window to withhold milk as the source of sleep
  2. Nights 1-3 use any comforting you’d like to get her to sleep, nursing may be used to comfort but not put to sleep during the 6-7 hour window
  3. Nights 4-6 no milk during the 6-7 hour window, any other comforting okay
  4. Nights 7-9 no milk, no comforting

I knew it wouldn’t be easy to withhold her favorite source of nighttime comfort, but I had no other choice. It was time. And, it was terrible. She fought back, hard. She screamed, and screamed, and screamed, even though I was lying there next to her.

I tried everything. I sang songs, I ignored her. Nothing helped but time. While the plan in the video suggested 9 days, it really took us about 5 weeks with the first 2 being the most intense. Although the plan transitions to no comforting by night 7, it took us longer to get there as simply rolling over to “hold you” became her favorite trick.

Even now, I have to make sure I pack her full of as much food as possible during the day because she was clearly relying on night nursing for some of her caloric needs. Below are my journal entries from the first few nights to illustrate what a challenge it was:

Night One: Went to bed at 9, nursed but she fell asleep without nursing around 10, withheld nursing 5 or 6 times throughout the night, threw short fits then went back to sleep (still challenging), nursed once around 4 to relieve pressure, and again at daylight, slept in until 9:30+ and put herself back to sleep once after I got out of bed (heard her cry, but didn’t go to her)

Night Two: Ouch. We were off to an awesome start. I nursed her then used other methods to get her to sleep, (sing, cuddle, etc). She fell asleep after about 30 minutes without any fits around 10PM and slept soundly until 1AM when she woke up in a torrent. Nothing would get her back to sleep.

Unlike the fits the previous night, her screaming just kept escalating. A sippy cup helped calm her a little. Walking her around calmed her until my arms felt like they were going to fall off, (well, my right arm since I sprained my left shoulder and couldn’t put much weight on it).

Still, I kept refusing to nurse. I sang songs, tried to cuddle, until finally the screaming became too much. I asked her dad for help, (he was sleeping downstairs so he could face his workday). She just got angrier until the screaming became so intense that I felt like I was going to throw up.

At that point, I deferred back to the rules for the first three nights– nursing is okay to calm, just not to put to sleep. I calmed her with milk and then she went to sleep easily after I stopped nursing her. She slept without fits the rest of the night. I nursed her at 5AM since it was past the 7 hour milk-free mark (starting at 10PM). I just couldn’t handle another fit. She nursed again around 8AM and is still in bed now, (9AM).

Difficult night.

Night three: Repeat of night 2 but took 2 hours to get her back to sleep around 2, minimal additional waking, just one monstrous fit around 2 and a refusal to go back to sleep. Getting harder to want to keep going.

***

We basically repeated this for weeks. Some nights were fine and then we’d start all the way over again. It sucked, but I was determined. And, little by little, it paid off. We started to sleep through the night here and there. It was the encouragement I needed to keep going through the hard nights.

As she began to soothe herself back to sleep more consistently, it was amazing to see the shift. She’d cry for just long enough for me to question whether I should intervene and then magically put herself back to sleep. It made me appreciate the concept of self-soothing in a whole new way.

Eventually, she stopped night waking pretty much altogether. Now she’ll wake maybe once or twice, and put herself back to sleep quickly, as long as I’ve fed her adequately throughout the day. The other magical improvement is naps. She used to wake up in the middle of her nap and want to nurse. Now she generally puts herself back to sleep during her naps as well.

Parenting is such a personal journey. What works and has worked for us is definitely not for everyone. But, this is exactly the kind of blog entry I wish I’d read a couple months ago. It would’ve helped to hear that these plans don’t always work in a week or two. Sometimes they take months. Sometimes they take a lot of (comforted) tears. Our sleep plan is a work in progress. She’s a night owl. She’s still in our bed. But, one step at a time. I’m just grateful to be sleeping on my own clock again.

Welcome back, old friend.

Failing at Mommy Blogging

Motherhood is definitely a game of priorities. Unfortunately, mommy blogging hasn’t been one of mine in recent months. Now, I know what you’re thinking, maybe the world doesn’t need another mommy blogger, but this mommy does miss blogging!

The trick, I suppose, is weaving the blogging into my other priorities. Like making money for my family. That’s been a big shift for me in recent months. With E getting bigger and more independent, the worker bee part of my personality has been back in full swing. And, it seems I’ve returned a bit more scattered in muliple directions than ever before.

I finished (and refinished and then finished again…) my middle grade novel. I started teaching games at a Waldorf school. I ramped up my real estate efforts for my husband’s business. I started a home business selling travel items for kids. I…

You get the picture.

I guess the opportunity to reinvent myself has been just too tempting. Why pick one thing? There are so many options! And finally the chance to try IT ALL, or almost all… I’d also like to teach yoga and…

I think that’s going to be in my focus in 2016. Not yoga, but filtering through all the sampling I did in the second half of 2015 to hone in on fewer sources of work so I can accomplish more with my time.

But, while I’m still at it all–

Do you want to publish my middle grade manuscript?

Do you want to buy or sell a house in the Sacramento area?

Do you need any busy bags or cute t-shirts to help you survive your next outing with kids?

See, it is possible to blog and chase all my other goals simultaneously… Or, maybe not. I miss my old blog posts, about things like, you know, getting your stubborn toddler to FINALLY sleep through the night. That will just have to be the topic of my next post. Now that I’ve promised it, I’ll have to deliver, which I guess makes me less of a mom blog failure after all…

Happy holidays from my busy family to yours!

12389148_10104058758971313_1272516092_o

Busy, busy, busy bags for busy, busy, busy people!

Our beta bag is now available on our website: www.wandertots.com
Our beta bag is now available on our website: www.wandertots.com

I feel like it’s obligatory to apologize for being MIA from this blog for awhile. Between my new part-time job as a games (read PE) teacher, starting my own home-based business, and, well, being a mom, life is very, very busy. However, this writing part of myself and everything it encompasses is still at the core of who I am, so I feel I must share these new and exciting parts of my life here as well.

When I started this blog, I was moving into a space where I was giving up my regular teaching job to stay home with my daughter and write. As it turns out, I’m still home most of the time, but I’m doing a lot less writing than I envisioned. Not because I don’t love it, but because creativity comes in waves for me, and I had to put my middle grade fiction manuscript aside for awhile to let it simmer. Someday, I’ll return to it, but right now isn’t the time.

Instead, I’ve committed to some new ventures. For starters, I’m teaching PE in a Waldorf environment a couple days a week and it’s actually really fun. I get to play games with kids and give them the freedom to be inventive while also getting my own exercise alongside with them. Major win!

And, then, there’s my new business. WanderTots. While waiting for E to wake up from one of her marathon naps this summer in Hawaii, it hit me, I could try and market the same busy bags that were making our trip a success. Soon my husband had me ordering toys wholesale so we’d have an inventory waiting when I got home and I’d have no excuse but to leap head first into the world of entrepreneurship. (Thanks, honey!)

The name WanderTots camefrom my love of the word wanderlust. Travel has always been one of my passions and the opportunity to combine it with motherhood was too good to pass up. Thanks to the wonderful advice (and inspiration!) from friends before we left, I had carefully wrapped a collection of novelty items for E to take on our flight. The excitement of unfamiliar goodies kept her occupied almost the entire trip.

Then, to my great surprise, once we got home, that same bag was following us everywhere, to restaurants, family photo sessions, the grandparents’ house. You name it. Suddenly I was able to sit and enjoy a meal again instead of having to chase E around a restaurant. Busy bags literally changed my perspective on taking a toddler out in public.

Amazing how exciting wrapped goodies are for little people.
Amazing how exciting wrapped goodies are for little people.

One of the downsides of creating a busy bag is the time involved in tracking down unfamiliar items and then wrapping them individually. While I had fun in the process, I also recognized that for moms who work full-time or are caught up in other endeavors (like multiple children perhaps!), making a busy bag is a luxury. Likewise, while there are some crafty busy bag options available out there, more commercial-ready choices don’t seem to exist…

So, voila! WanderTots now offers busy bags for busy people! As with any good work in progress, expect more options as time progresses. But, for now, like us across multiple platforms (FB, Twitter, Instagram) and keep us in mind next time you’re out and about and need to occupy your little ones.

Secrets to Enjoying Toddler Travel

This was probably our peak moment of anticipation, not knowing how E would do on the 5 hour flight to Honolulu.
This was probably our peak moment of anticipation, not knowing how E would do on the 5 hour flight to Honolulu after a short night of sleep.

How to survive (and even enjoy!) toddler travel is a hot topic. I don’t pretend to have all the answers, but I’ll admit I was pretty nervous about traveling with 16-month-old E this summer. Below is what worked best for us, (a big thank you to everyone who shared ideas!).

1. Don’t count on technology to do the trick. While downloaded television shows and apps saved us a couple times on the road, they were worthless on the airplane. Having a back-up plan was key.

2. Busy bags are amazing. They may be filled with simple-seeming items, but wrapped presents doled out strategically throughout our flights really helped to keep E occupied. Look for an entire post devoted to busy bags later this month.

3. Naps matter, but not always. I was paranoid lost sleep would make for terrible travel days, but I was wrong. She did fine on (much) abbreviated sleep. As long as I balanced it with chances to sleep on other days, she really hung in there and did an excellent job. We just made a point to give her as much time as she needed on non-travel days, especially when she started to show signs of exhaustion.

Our busy bags of wrapped goodies proved to be the most useful on the plane.
Hip-hip-hooray for busy bags filled with wrapped goodies!

4. STICKERS. Back to the idea of a busy bag, stickers stopped a lot of fits. All I had to do was offer her one before she got too wound up. In fact, stickers might be the best thing ever.

5. Double check your luggage before you leave. Toddlers like to move things to obscure places, like leaving behind much-needed shoes under beds.

6. Thrift stores can be lifesavers when you need to replace lost items, (like those pesky missing shoes!). A lot of towns have really cute second hand shops devoted specifically to kids stuff, which can be fun to browse. They’re also great for picking up used toys for cheap entertainment in otherwise sparse rental homes and hotel rooms.

7. Bring a set of extra clothes everywhere you go. The potential for food, bodily fluid, and/or excrement messes is high! Plastic bags to store soiled items are definitely helpful. I made a point to organize everything in my diaper bag in different zip-lock bags. This allowed me to find what I needed quickly and prevented spills from ruining everything.

An unexpected perk was traveling with cousins. We couldn't help but joke about finding E an older sibling instead of a younger one.
An unexpected perk was the benefit of traveling with cousins. We couldn’t help but joke about finding E an older sibling instead of a younger one.

8. Umbrella strollers rock. I was tempted to use our baby carrier and ditch the stroller but a friend offered to let us borrow her super compact umbrella stroller. While the carrier was great for going through security without having to chase E around, it saved us a lot of back ache to also have a compact stroller to check at the gate. As a bonus, she enjoyed pushing it around the terminal while we waited for our flight. It also fit easily in the car with all of our luggage, which is great because our regular stroller would’ve been much too big. On a side note, I discovered hiking strollers can be rented for reasonable fees and are delivered straight to your hotel room, so lugging around an enormous stroller isn’t necessary if you’re tight on space.

9. Airlines might pleasantly surprise you. Hawaiian gave us an open seat for E even though we didn’t purchase one for her, (and I’ve heard many moms say the same thing). The extra space was great, especially since it was free. However, it also made me realize her own seat was nice but unnecessary. We shared a seat on the way home and we both did fine. While I understand the car seat safety concern, I also know E would be a screaming mess if I insisted on strapping her into her seat during a flight. I considered the risk of her getting hurt pretty low, although I know this is a hot topic in mom groups.

Hawaii ended up being a pretty ideal place to take a toddler. Understandably, beach is her new favorite word.
Hawaii ended up being a pretty ideal place to take a toddler. Not surprisingly, “beach” is her new favorite word.

10. Accept things will be different than your pre-toddler days. I was able to fit in most of the activities I love, but for smaller chunks of time. Instead of being bummed I didn’t have hours to snorkel, read books or lie in the sun, I really made the most of the little stretches of time she gave me to relax. Same goes for restaurants, site seeing, etc. Roll with it while it works and move on when it doesn’t. The joy in seeing her explore her new surroundings helped to offset the lack of down time and regular naps gave us the opportunity to recharge while enjoying the view.

Over all, traveling with a toddler was much more enjoyable than I expected. Have tips I missed? Please share as I’m certain we’ll have many more adventures to come.