Category Archives: Crankypants

Q&A: 2-year-old protesting nap

Kids across the planet are not taking naps! I’ve got two overlapping nap issues for this morning (then a playgroup situation this afternoon that will make you roll your eyes).

Chris writes:

"Here’s the issue:  I had been feeling like my son, 22 months, and I were hitting a great stride.  We were having a lot of fun during the day, he was sleeping solid at night (7:30 to 6:30), and he was even going down for his nap at about 1 or 1:30 without any fuss after reading a couple of books.  Well, for about a week now, things have slowly been unraveling with respect to sleep.  First, he started protesting nap.  Actually, he started by just talking to himself for a long time and then dozing off.  Or I would go in and remind him to sleep and rub him a little and he’d crash out.  Then he decided not to nap at all one day, and he just talked and played in his crib for an hour and a half.  The next day he didn’t protest his nap, but then the following day he talked a lot, then cried for a few minutes, then fell asleep.  Finally, today, I put him down for his nap and he cried on and off, for over an hour.  I checked on him, but didn’t want to cave in and take him out.  But eventually I accepted he was not napping again, and I took him out, and he was immediately happy and playful.  Meanwhile, I felt like a total chump.  I mean, what am I doing wrong here?  I know he’s not trying to manipulate me, but I do know he was testing a limit to see if he had to nap.  So now instead of these great happy go lucky days, I am filled with a sense of dread as the napping hour approaches because I know its going to be a struggle and I feel so dejected at the end of it all that the rest of the day I feel like a stupid mother who can’t even get her kid to take a normal nap."

I was running way behind on answering questions (lots of people wrote in that first week of February), so I emailed to ask for an update before I posted this. It’s gotten worse:

"I wish it had resolved itself by now.  We are still a bit of a
rollercoaster.  Today we had a great nap, 2 hrs.  Our friend was over,
so we pretended to put him down for nap on the couch, then took my son
over to his bed and put him down and he totally went with it without a
fuss.  But two days ago I felt like I hit the brink.  He was resisting
even the notion of naptime.  He didn’t even want to go near his room.
I coaxed him in there by just keeping it fun, playing trains.  Then
while he was playing, I started pulling down the blinds, and he went
ballistic.  Crying first, then full on tantrum.  I told myself I would
stick with the framework, stay calm, and place him in his crib.  I did
that, said soothing words, then told him that he could choose to nap or
not, but that I was leaving and that it was time to rest.  He was a
wreck, but again, I wanted to stick with the framework and stop giving
him mixed signals.  Well, I walk out, he’s screaming, crying, etc.  For
about 5 minutes, then all of a sudden, "boom!"  He jumped out of his
crib.  I have no idea how he did it.  Honestly, I think the adrenaline
got to him.  He was totally blase about the whole thing, he just went
straight over to his train table and started playing.  My heart was in
my throat.  We have removed the bumper, and a  couple of large stuffed
animals that I think he used to climb out.  We are thinking about the
crib tent since we already have the mattress at its lowest setting.

to say, its still crazy.  I’m trying to release the stress and just see
it from his point of view.  And I keep telling myself its temporary and
that this will resolve itself.  I just wish I had a better sense of
whether or not I’m doing all that I can to ease him through this."

Yikes. You must have been completely freaked out when he jumped out.

It sounds like you are doing what you can. He needs to know what the limits are, and you’re consistently but cheerfully enforcing them. And you know he’s too young to be actually giving up the nap for good yet.

Full disclosure: My older son never took naps in his crib (he took them on my bed, but slept in the crib at night at that age), and he gave up his nap at 2 1/2. So I don’t have a great track record myself with forcing naps (I was in the first trimester of pregnancy when El Chico gave up his nap and I barely had the energy to make us lunch, let alone enforce nap time).

Let me just toss a few ideas around, and you pick the one that makes the most sense for your son:

1) If he’s the kind of kid who really resists authority and does better when he’s got more control, you might want to think of moving him out of the crib and into a toddler bed. At the right-around-2 age he’s in, some kids resist the crib/confinement like their lives depend on it, but if you remove the obstacle and put them in a bed they can get in and out of, they won’t have anything to rebel against and they start taking naps again.

Obviously, you know whether that’s the way your son is. It may be the perfect answer or it may backfire totally because he needs the structure and confinement. Or it may be a partial answer–a friend kept her daughter in the crib for nighttime, but got a toddler-size Aerobed and her daughter was so enthralled with it that she happily took her naps there every day.

2) If he needs the structure and confinement of the crib, you may want to tell him it’s Quiet Time and leave a few books in the crib so he can play quietly. By designating it Quiet Time and not nap time, it gives him more control over what he does, and that makes it more likely that he’ll actually fall asleep (because he won’t be resisting it so much). It also gives him a way to save face if he’s really caught up in the "No nap" fever.

3) You could always trick him. Lie down with him and tell him you’re going to nap together. Or tell him you need a nap but you need his help, and ask him to tell you a story while you "fall asleep." The moms of grown kids I know swear this works wonders (although when my mom did it with me she’d fall asleep and I’d sneak downstairs and watch the drawing shows on PBS).

It seems like you just need a way to get across this gap until he moves into a more cooperative phase, so I hope one of those suggestions will help. Anyway, you’re doing the right thing.

Amy’s having a similar problem with an added stress (two, actually). She writes:

"I have a 2 1/2 year old son and 5 month old twins. Up until now my son has been amazing at taking a nap. He would go down after lunch and sleep for about 1 1/2 hours to 2 hours. Now he refuses to go to sleep (I know he still needs a nap cause by 3 he has meltdowns all the way until bed. I’ve had some luck at lying down beside him for awhile, but this isn’t really a possible every day when the babies need to be fed or looked after)…, but am okay with him having time by himself in his room. I just need this time to recharge as well as continue to look after the twins. But he will not stay in his room. He bangs on the door, screams at the top of his lungs or cries. It is really hard to recharge while this is happening. In fact it is very stressful part of my day. I need some wisdom. I need him to stay in his room (he has toys and tonnes of books which he loves to look at, he just won’t do it during this time). Am I being unrealistic?  Any advice would be welcome! Please I’m about to pull all my hair out!"

I think this situation is directly related to the new siblings (congratulations, by the way). The acting out and exerting control seems to be a way of processing the changes. He probably feels like nothing is the same or fun anymore because it’s winter and he’s stuck inside, plus you’re busy with not one but two new babies.

I predict that this will pass once the babies start to crawl and he can actually play with them a little bit. So you really just need a strategy to help you deal for the next couple of months. I’m going to suggest that you get him some fun new quiet toy that he’s crazy about, with the stipulation that he’s only allowed to play with it in his room with the door shut during Quiet Time. Is this bribery and manipulation? Absolutely. Is it going to work? I sure hope so. If it doesn’t, I’d try snacks or the reward of watching a favorite DVD or anything else that will get him to stay in his room for an hour or so. Since this is a short-term situation caused by an outside stress I wouldn’t worry about any long-term ramifications of bribery.

Whatever you do, though, I’m going to give both Chris and Amy the same advice I gave Heather a few days ago: Tire him out in the mornings. Playdates, trips to indoor playgrounds, running around in the basement with a borrowed dog, whatever. If he’s really tired, and feels like he doesn’t have to fight sleep (because you’ve given him the Quiet Time out or the toy to play with), he’ll probably be more likely to fall asleep.

Let me know if any of these suggestions work. I’m tired on your behalf.

Q&A: major tantrums from big sister-to-be

Remember the lovely Jessica, who is expecting her second baby in a few months? She’s back with a follow-up:

"Since you gave me such great advice about preparing for a second child, I’m hoping you will take a stab at my current parenting dilemma–out of control tantrums by my almost 3-year old daughter.  Summer recently had a discussion about this on her blog, so I know that I am not alone.  It seems like most children go through this stage at about three and that it is all associated with their increasing need for independence.  I understand and am fine with this being just a developmental stage like any other  What I need help with are some more effective practical coping strategies, because I feel like I am trying what others have suggested and the problem just keeps getting worse.

Here’s what I am doing:
(1) Granting reasonable requests (i.e., Yes, you can have an apple),
(2) Trying to involve her in things to make her feel like she has more control (i.e., You are having trouble biting into that big apple. Do you want to pull up a chair to the counter and help mommy cut up the apple?  You can get out the cutting board and put it right here so that I can slice it.),
(3) Not trying to reason with her when she flys off the handle for no reason (i.e., NOT SAYING, however tempting, but you just wanted me to cut up the apple and yes, it does taste the same cut up as it did whole, etc.),
(4) Calmly removing her from the situation, putting her in a safe place like her room, and ignoring her while she screams, kicks, hits, and generally throws herself around for 45 minutes about the apple while telling myself and my husband this is just a phase, this is just a phase over and over again,
(5) Mild bribery (i.e,  Saying, if you can calm down and stop screaming about your apple and join Daddy and me at the dinner table, you can watch your Leapfrog video after we finish dinner),
(6) Resisting going out to the store to buy a new whole apple because I just cut up the last one in the house, or alternatively somehow skewering the apple back together with toothpicks if it will make my previously cheerful preschooler stop screaming, because I shouldn’t be giving into her and rewarding this type of behavior.

I wouldn’t mind keeping this up if I felt like it was working, but I think every day it has been getting worse, and the things she is getting upset about are getting more and more ludicrous and impossible for me to head-off.  For example, this morning we had a 30 minute fit because I got up out of bed before she did and used the bathroom first.  She wanted to be first, even though she was still asleep when I committed this crime.  She also is pretty violent with these tantrums and OFTEN either starts one out by punching me or kicking at my 7.5 month pregnant stomach, which is obviously unacceptable.  And it’s not just that she acts out with me.  She does it with my husband, my sister (who she sees on a daily basis) and is starting to do it at preschool, but to a lesser degree.  Also, since her screaming can easily carry on for 30-45 minutes, it’s making it hard for me to leave the house with her, and it is making us late for appointments, etc.  To avoid being late, I often wind up gently physically forcing her to do things she doesn’t want to do, like get dressed, etc. which only makes the screaming and kicking worse, but is occasionally necessary to make it to school on-time.

She is normally an extremely active child, very verbal, and while naturally strong-willed, usually quite thoughtful and pleasant.  She is eating fine, her diet includes very little sugar or other things that could be throwing her off, her sleep routine is good, and she still takes an afternoon nap almost every day.  She’s been going through a bit of a growth spurt, but other than that I can’t think of anything physical that would be turning my baby into a hellion.  But she is one at the present time and I am not sure what to do about it!  Please help!"

Now I’m feeling guilty. Because I should have warned you that this could happen as your due date got closer and closer.

When I was at about the same stage of pregnancy with El Pequeño, we took a sibling preparation class with El Chico geared to kids in the 2.5-5 age range. One of the things we were told was that kids whose parents were expecting another baby had no idea what having a sibling would be like, so they built it up in their heads as a horrible, scary thing. The closer the due date got, the more wigged out the kids would get, and they’d start behaving worse and worse (and worse). Everyone in the class looked around and said slightly different versions of the statement, "I’m so glad to hear it’s normal because I thought my child had suddenly turned into an uncontrollable monster."

The timeline we were given about sibling feelings as a new baby approached was this:

* At the end of the pregnancy or adoption wait, the potential big sibling will get more and more stressed, imagine more and more horrible things, be completely unwilling to talk about them, and start acting out by having crazy tantrums.

* When the baby comes, the big sibling will realize that babies are, essentially, pretty boring. The big shock will be that everyone still loves the big sibling and that things aren’t all that different. Many of your friends and family members will even be kind enough to bring a present for the big kid when they come to see the baby, so the big sibling will get new toys. The sibling relaxes and things are calm for about two weeks.

* After two weeks or so, the big sibling gets bored with the baby and tired of all the attention the baby’s getting*, and wants the baby just to go away. The big sibling may even verbalize this desire for the baby to go away. We were told to let the kid talk and validate his or her feelings. I remember El Chico telling me he didn’t like El Pequeño because he cried all the time. When I said I didn’t like him because he cried, either, El Chico was shocked and said, "But Mom, we love him! He’s just a baby!" It’s important to let the big sibling express negative feelings and not try to tell them they love the new baby if they don’t feel like it right then.

* The big sibling will resent the new baby and might act out. Depending on the age of the big sibling (and how willing you are to allow the sibling to express negative feeling without repercussion) the acting out may be mild pushback on things you ask combined with some benign harrassment of the baby (hugging just a little too hard, licking, etc.), or it may be more serious (actually trying to hurt the baby, throwing tantrums, etc.). The big sibling may also have some nightwaking and bedwetting, even if s/he’s been night trained for a long time.

* Once the new baby gets mobile (scooting or crawling) the baby will start to be more fun for the big sibling, and they’ll start to interact more and the bad behavior should decrease.

So far we’ve found these predictions to be dead on in our house, and it sounds like it’s happening to you, too. Your daughter’s behavior sounds annoyingly textbook for a potential big sister.

Since this is an event-delineated problem, you really only have to tread water until the baby comes. I think you’re doing exactly the right thing by combining limits, distraction, and giving her situations in which she has (the illusion of) control to try to make it through the days with her. You don’t want to just give up on the discipline, because that would be shooting yourself in the head foot and would make your days even worse, but nothing you do at this point is going to make her behavior stop or diminish much. So don’t feel lke you’re doing something wrong or missing something that could fix it. Just try to stay on as even a keel as possible, and hope the baby comes earlier rather than later.

To be prepared for the new baby coming, I’d suggest getting a really good front carrier (Ellaroo, Mobywrap, Hug-a-Bub, etc.) for the new baby so you can still play somewhat with your daughter. Also think now about lining up help for the first few weeks after the baby’s here. You won’t need the same kind of help you did with a first baby (when you’re so freaked out you almost forget how to brush your teeth), but you will need someone to play with your daughter while you’re working out the nursing, changing your pads, changing the 12th poop blowout of the day, etc.

Hang in there. It’s extremely tiring when you’re huge and exhausted to have to deal with escalating tantrums and unreasonable requests from your older child. As confusing as having a newborn and a preschooler is, I still found it way easier than the few months before having the second.

*Why do so many people think the best way to pay attention to a new big sibling is to ask "So how do you like your new brother?" or "So how do you like being a big sister?" It’s just like that old chestnut "But enough about me. How do you feel about me?" If you’re looking for something to ask a new sibling, try "Have you gotten any new toys lately?" instead. Kids love to talk about their toys.

Q&A: toys for a 9-month-old

Alecia writes:

"I have a 9-month old son (just turned 9 months yesterday!) who
spends 4 days a week at a daycare center, one day a week home with just
me during the day, and the weekends home with both me and my husband.
He (uh, baby not husband) goes to bed very early (about 6pm) so
Monday-Thursday there’s not a lot of playtime between daycare, dinner,
bedtime routine, etc. However, Friday-Sunday we hang out, play, do
things around the house, run errands, nap etc. Pretty typical. My
question is – is it possible my son is bored with his toys? What is
normal for a just-turned-9-month-old to find entertaining/interesting?
Well, besides magazines, anything made of paper, the cats, the cat
bowls, floor lint, and our shoes…

We’ve avoided most of the light-up-and-make-noise types of toys, but have a
lot of plastic cups, balls, teething toys, rattles, board books,
crinkly things (shunned for anything made of real paper), vehicles of
various sorts (planes, trains, trucks, etc.) and one activity-center
type thing (very small, not a big one). We don’t keep everything out at
once, but rotate stuff from being out on the floor vs. put away in the
toy bin. The plastic cups are a pretty big hit, as are some soft animal
bucket things we got at Target (I think they are called Bucket
Buddies), but nothing holds his attention very long (sometimes we’re
talking 5 seconds or less).

I know babies are *supposed* to have short attention spans, but this
seems extreme – it seems like he isn’t really interested in any of it
right now. He goes on what my husband and I call baby "rampages" where
he picks up each toy and immediately flings it aside, moving on to the
next where he does the same thing. He can scoot on his belly, but can’t
cross-crawl (or whatever they call "true" crawling) or pull himself up
to standing by himself yet (rolling over, sitting, etc. no problem).

I guess I’m looking for two things – 1) advice on this stage of
development (do all 9 month olds find their toys boring? Is this
because he’s frustrated with his lack of locomotion and is focusing on
that?) and 2) any toy recommendations you have from your boys.

P.S. To clarify, I’m not looking to keep him entertained so I can do other stuff (although that would be nice sometimes), but just to find things that he thinks are interesting (besides eating paper). Also, we live in Minnesota and it\’s winter, so long walks outside are often not an option, although we get out as much as we can."

This stage is so frustrating it makes me want to eat paper.

I think he is not bored with his toys, but is bored with himself and his own lack of locomotion. And there’s nothing you can do about that, unfortunately.

I wonder if he’d be more interested in motion games with you than in playing with toys per se. Dancing around with you, all the "Trot Trot To Boston"-type bouncing-on-the-knee-until-you-throw-up games, putting him on a big piece of cloth which you then pull around the house to give him a "sled ride" inside the house, rolling off the couch into your arms, etc. Those would at least give him the illusion that he’s going somewhere.

He may also like toys he can lie on his stomach and manipulate, or those "gyms" that encourage them to scoot and crawl and pull up. Another big hit might be battery-free "push ‘n’ go" vehicles that will encourage him to go after them.

At that age both of my boys had just begun to crawl, so they had no interest in toys whatsoever. They were too consumed with exploring our outlet plugs (El Pequeño’s current nemesis) and the cat’s water dish to care about any stinking toys. But as he got closer to a year, El Chico’s favorites were the ball tower, Mega Blocks, and cars in any shape, size, color, or material.

I think the rampage stage is going to last until he’s really crawling and can go where he wants to. So get new toys because you think they’ll be fun, but don’t expect him to spend a ton of time with them until he’s more mobile and over the frustrated stage.

Also, many of the advertising circulars that come in your Sunday paper are printed with 100% soy-based inks, so they’re not toxic if a kid ended up with a nice big piece of colorful, wrinkly paper in his mouth.

Any more toy suggestions?

Q&A: depression during pregnancy

Jodi writes:

"This will be short and sweet. This is my
first pregnancy and I am almost three months along. I am very excited
and feel lucky because I got pregnant the first time I ever went
without protection (thank god I was a responsible teen). I am 33 and as
my ob/gyn said "On the senior citizen side of birthing"  (hell of a
bedside manner I know ). Anyway here is my thing I have been feeling
DOWNRIGHT DEPRESSED for a few weeks. I am usually outgoing and love to
have fun but I just feel sad and kind of remorseful that I have not
done more of the things I set out to do. Did you ever experience
this? It is making me feel very guilty."

33? Is old?

Bwahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahaha. Hahahahaha. Ha.

Excuse me while I wipe the tears from my eyes.

I think your OB must have had extremely limited experience if s/he thinks 33 is "on the senior side" of first-time pregnancy. Even the technical definition of  "older" first-time mother doesn’t start until 35. I had my first baby at 29 and I’ve always been The Kid with other moms of children my son’s age. (Now that the kids are around 4, all the other moms at my son’s school seem to be in the 38-45 age range.)  I know a ton of women who didn’t have a first baby until age 38 or 39 (note that I’m not saying that it’s advisable to wait until that age specifically, or that you’ll have an easy time conceiving then, just that I know plenty of people who had first babies then).

All this is to say that 33 sounds positively early to have a first baby to me. Your OB’s comment is uninformed and a wee bit insulting.

But about the depression. Did I ever experience this?


I spent the first trimester of my first pregnancy in a serious, almost debilitating depression. I had just started building a little teeny career in something I liked better than my old "career." All of a sudden I was pregnant (with a baby we’d been trying to conceive, but somehow didn’t think would come so soon) and felt like I had nothing to show for my life, which would now, of course, be over, because you can’t do anything with a baby.

I dragged through the days, too exhausted from the pregnancy and too heartsick from the depression to do more than two things each day (and sometimes one of them was take a shower). I started having panic attacks. When I went in to a prenatal visit the midwife could tell I was not doing well and she basically twisted my arm to see the therapist that worked with women at the birth center.

What the therapist told me was this: There are extremely powerful hormones surging through your body when you’re pregnant. Different women react to them in different ways. Many women become depressed under the influence of these hormones. The only thing to be done about it is go through the motions of living day by day as best you can. Getting up in the morning is a victory.

What I know is that the depression may change or lessen or disappear by the end of the pregnancy, or it may not. I felt a little better in the second trimester (until the World Trade Center was attacked a few miles from my apartment), and then the depression came back slightly in the third trimester. Since I have had depression in my "normal" (non-pregnant and non-lactating) life, I knew I was at a higher risk for post-partum depression, but I never developed it (I made a hard-core plan to prevent it and it worked).

There’s a website called Pregnancy and Depression that has collected all the available research studies about depression in pregnancy (it also has some info about treating depression while breastfeeding and during mothering, and some info about bipolar disorder). Most of the studies are evaluating the risks to babies of exposure to antidepressants while in utero, but I thought this study was interesting and kind of sad. The conclusion is "Rates of depression, especially during the second and third trimesters of pregnancy, are substantial. Clinical and economic studies to estimate maternal and fetal consequences are needed."

I can tell you what I think the maternal and fetal consequences of prenatal depression are. I think those of us who are depressed during pregnancy doubt ourselves. I think we feel guilty that we’re not glowing, happy little earth mothers, basking in the miracle of human repoduction and our own fecundity. I think we feel cheated out of enjoying something our culture tells us is the pinnacle of human experience, and terrified that we won’t enjoy being mothers. I think we’re afraid that there’s something inherently wrong with us that means we won’t be good, or even adequate, mothers to our children. I think we think that if we’re so depressed during pregnancy we don’t deserve to have children. I think that’s why no one talks about prenatal depression.

But it’s real. It exists. It’s caused by hormones and the enormous changes we’re going through in our views of ourselves and in our relationships. It doesn’t have anything to do with how much we’ll love or enjoy our children, and it certainly doesn’t mean we won’t be damn good mothers. It does not have to mean that we’ll get PPD. It just means that we’re not the happy preggos in the magazines. But that’s OK. We’ll keep on getting up every morning, and we’ll waddle through our days until delivery, and then when the baby is crying at 3 in the morning we can think "At least I’m not still pregnant."

So, Jodi, don’t feel guilty. You’re going through a ton of changes and you have enough hormones to kill an elephant racing through your system. If you end up coccooning yourself your friends will understand. And life’s not over when you become a parent. You can’t do much of anything for the first year or two, but then you’ll get your groove back, only with renewed efficiency and a BTDT kind of fearlessness (that undoubtedly comes from knowing rightly that once a small person has puked into your mouth there’s really nothing left to be afraid of).

If you’re not already supplementing with flax seed oil, consider starting now–it can’t hurt. But try to cut yourself a break, and know that better things are coming for you soon.

Q&A: one parent throws off another’s schedule

Christine writes:

"This is more of a family question. 

I’ve noticed that Max has both good and bad times with the
sleeping.  Things had been improving, a lot, particularly with the
daytime napping, and then they tanked.  Then they got better, then
worse, etc., and I’ve been trying to monitor what’s going on in the
house that may explain this.  I finally figured it out – things get bad
when my husband is around more during the day –  weekends or university
holidays (thus, the sleep disaster that was late December). 

I’m Max’s primary caretaker and while I’m not rigid with a
schedule, I do things a certain way and Max and I seemed to be getting
into a groove.  Paul does things differently, and I want to respect
that as much as possible, since there’s clearly more than one way to
skin a cat.  However, some things that Paul does result in poor or no
daytime naps and I pay for that at night.  Plus we end up with a
grumbly baby, and that’s no fun. 

I don’t want to usurp Paul, and I don’t want to imply that my way
is "right" or "more right."  And I really rely on the time off from
baby-care that Paul gives me during those times for my own sanity.  Can
Max adjust?  Do I try to force Paul into doing things my way?

P.S. Paul and I typically communicate really well, but I’m sensitive on
this.  I got a lot more confidence in my ability to handle Max before
Paul did…he’s still a little wavery, and I don’t want to shake that
at all."

There should be a name for this common syndrome. How about Other Parent Disruption Factor? (Not that you moms and dads who go off to work all day are other. We know you’re equal parents who are completely capable of caring for your children just as well as those of us who are the primary caregivers do. But "other parent" is just easier to say and type than "non-primary caregiver" is and less derogatory than "secondary caregiver" is.)

I don’t know a single family that doesn’t have or hasn’t had some form of this problem. I think yours is more intense because Max is still so young and his sleep isn’t really that solid anyway. He may also just be a sensitive kid, which is wonderful except on this particular topic. But OPDF seems to be one of those common things that no one talks about before it happens.

The thing that made it vastly better for us is something I don’t really recommend: My husband got laid off from his job. So he was home all the time (he and I both did freelance work and just traded the boy back and forth) and became part of the normal routine. For the 15 months he didn’t have a full-time job he was also a primary caregiver, and that helped make the OPDF almost non-existent.

Except, of course, that my husband has different energy than I do. So the routines were the same, and El Chico doesn’t sleep any differently after a day with his dad, but there are things he does with his dad that he’d never try with me and vice versa. Sometimes my husband and I will compare notes and we’re just stunned at how differently El Chico (and now El Pequeño) act when they’re alone with him vs. alone with me.

People (or at least me) talk all the time about how babies learn very quickly what the rules are with different people. The classic example is that grandparents are notorious for letting kids have all sorts of foods that they never get to have at home, and the kids learn not even to expect those foods at home. But I think kids also sense different expectations and energies from different people and respond to those.

The upshot is that I’m not sure there’s anything that you could do about Max’s reaction to Paul, even assuming you wanted to. The problem doesn’t really seem to be that Max is different with Paul, but that it’s ending up being your problem because Max has crappy nights after being with Paul all day. The good news is that the more time Max and Paul spend alone together, the more confident Paul will get and the less Max will have his sleep affected by Fun Day With Daddy. The bad news is that this won’t happen in the next few weeks, probably.

I wonder if you and Paul could try to troubleshoot the routine to see if there’s anything Paul could tweak while he’s alone with Max. It’s not about making Paul do things your way–it’s about deciding together that it’s important for a 9-month-old to nap, so the nap must be respected. How Paul gets him down for the nap has nothing to do with you, and you won’t even care about it, as long as a decent nap happens. If there are other things that contribute to bad sleep (like Daddy-Max Dance Party or something similar that gets Max all riled up), those could switch to morning or very early afternoon so they aren’t still having an effect by bedtime.

If the nap is a given (and, yes, a 9-month-old does need a nap every day, and most of them need two naps at that age), then it’s really not your business how it happens, and Paul and Max will work that out. So I’d focus less on the ethics and emotion of forcing your way on Paul, and just make it a stated value that whoever has Max on any given day respects the naps. Then when you come home and find them doing some strange trust exercise game involving Max launching himself off the couch onto Paul’s chest, you won’t even have to care because you’ll know at least he had a nap earlier.

Q&A: waking in the middle of the night and screaming

Kate writes:

"Here’s my question: My son, Brody, started sleeping through thenight at 4 months. He went 7 months without waking during the night.
Suddenly, at 11 months, he started waking at midnight- we’ll feed him
and he’d go back to sleep. He’ll wake again around 3-4 a.m., we
feed him, and then he screams (and I mean SCREAMS) for 60-90 minutes
before finally collapsing from exhaustion. We’ve tried everything-
rocking him, gas drops, singing to him, CIO (which I hated),
etc. Nothing has worked, aside from letting him sleep with either my
husband or myself on the couch. Up until this point, he’s never slept
with us. It’s been 3 1/2 months. Do you have any suggestions?
We do follow a very strict bedtime routine- dinner, then 30 minutes of playing,
followed by a 15 minute bath, and a final bottle before bed at 8 p.m.
Is he too old to be sleep trained? If not, what method would you recommend?

Thanks for your help!"


I’m going to cut to the chase: I think your son has some kind of digestive problem of the reflux/heartburn/ulcer type.

Here’s how I got there:

You’ve got the bedtime routine, so rule that out.

When he wakes up, it’s not just to play, so I eliminated having the wrong nap schedule (some kids start waking in the middle of the night for playtime when they’re on the verge of going from two naps to one because the sleep times are disturbing their body cycles).

It’s been going on for 3 1/2 months, so rule out a developmental spurt, which would last a month or two, tops.

It happens every night, so it’s not night terrors or nightmares.

He’s waking up screaming from a dead sleep, which says to me that there’s some kind of pain involved. Probably from lying flat, since he can only fall asleep on top of one of you.

My guess is that he’s having some kind of stomach trouble while lying flat that makes him wake up and think he’s hungry (so he eats again at midnight, and then again at 3) but then it just gets too painful and he wakes up and screams. You hold him upright for an hour, the pain goes away, and he can sleep again. That’s the exact cycle I had when I had an ulcer 7 years ago. It hurts, but it feels like eating will make the pain go away, but then it actually just makes it worse.

I’m assuming he’s getting a bottle of formula or milk at bedtime, then the same thing when he wakes up? During the day, does he get this same meal right before going down for a nap? If so, how are his naps? Or does he get bottles and then stay upright for an hour or so afterward? If he’s staying upright, he won’t have pain symptoms because all the acid will stay down in his stomach until digestion is in full swing.

You could try propping the head of his crib to see if he sleeps a little bit longer at an incline. If the pain is severe, though, that won’t solve the problem.

The other thing I’m wondering is what changed at 11 months to make this start happening then. Did you change formula? Or switch to cow’s milk then? If you didn’t make any change in what you’re feeding him at night, then I’d talk to your doctor to see if s/he can run some tests to see what’s causing this. Since my experience is with ulcers, not reflux or heartburn, I’m thinking he maybe somehow got the bacteria that causes ulcers (helicobacter pylori), which they can find by analyzing a poop sample. But there’s got to be a straightforward diagnostic path for reflux and heartburn, too.

I do not think this is a sleep problem. If it was, something would have changed in the last few months just because baby sleep changes all the time. It seems clearly pain-related to me. Try to watch and see what happens during the day when he has a bottle. Try propping the crib. Think back to anything that might have changed right before this started. Talk to your doctor (and emphasize the pain and screaming, so you don’t just get the "let him cry it out" crap they sometimes try to hand you because they think you’re just a "nervous first-time parent"). See what happens if you give him a banana or another food that is unlikely to cause reflux instead of a bottle in the middle of the night.

Then write back and definitely let me know what happens, because I’m going to be preoccupied with Brody’s problem until I find out what the real story is.

Q&A: toddler prefers one parent

Linda writes:

"Okay, so one of my 20-month-old twin girls is going through the"extremely attached to Daddy" phase.  It’s no big deal in regard to my
feelings, but it IS a big deal in regards to our evenings.  When my
husband gets home from work, she goes ballistic.  First, she’s just
thrilled to see him and show him her toys and have him play with her.
Then she becomes extremely fragile and freaks out over EVERY LITTLE
THING.  He can’t put her down or change his clothes or pick up our
other daughter.  We are both torn.  We want to give her all the
Daddy-love she needs.  On the other hand, is it okay to be catering to
her like this?  She is getting to the age where she can start
manipulating and becoming spoiled, isn’t she?  It’s not like when she
was a baby and her wants equaled her needs.  We are wondering if she’s
angry at him for being gone all day.  Of course, he feels guilty about
that thought and has been trying to spend extra one-on-one time with
her in hopes that this will fufill her need.  So far it’s not working.
For the record, our other daughter seems okay with the amount of
attention that she gets from my husband.  Her behavior hasn’t changed.
I think she’s okay with the extra attention that Daddy’s girl is
getting right now, but I (and my husband) certainly don’t want it to
continue like this forever.
What do you think?"

In four months she won’t even want your husband to look at her. I’m completely serious–some toddlers go through phases in which they don’t want anyone looking at them. They’re strange little creatures, toddlers.

It very well might be that she’s angry that he’s at work all day. Or it may be that she’s getting messages from the toddler mothership to cling to him as if her life depended on it. This is a common stage some toddlers go through. I think they’re so strange because they’re really starting to understand themselves as individuals, and they have these fierce opinions and desires at this stage. They can almost express them, but not quite, and it’s incredibly frustrating.

I thought months 18-21 or so were the worst in terms of frustration, acting out, and just generally strange behavior (like wanting to wear the same shirt day after day after day, or only eating peas, and I’d put her clinginess with your husband in that same category). Before I sat down to write this I looked in my Ames & Ilg Your One-Year-Old: Fun-Loving and Fussy to see if they had a special section about clinging to one parent. They didn’t cover it in depth at all, but the chapter with "Stories From Real Life" had all sorts of letters from poor, frustrated parents in the 1970s that sound exactly like the stuff we’re going through now. "Patrick is a Daddy’s Boy," "Twenty-One Months Can Be Hardest Age For Child," "Youngster Frightened By Rain, Fights Against Naps and Bedtime," "Little Boy Bites Less But Pinches and Shoves More," and the letters continue.

But it’s normal, and it’s not going to last. This stage is so frustrating for toddlers that to me it just makes absolutely no sense whatsoever to crack the whip and try to break bad habits or really do much discipline, because the emotions are too high and it won’t really stick as easily as it will when they hit the next law-loving phase. Do you remember when you were 14 and you just thought the world was conspiring to makes things difficult for you? I think that’s what it must feel like to be 1 3/4. The best cure for the acting out is to only enforce the rules that are actually important, try to facilitate communication as much as possible, and just hold on because in another 4 months you’ll have a much more confident, steady, fluent child who is happier more often than frustrated.

If your other daughter doesn’t seem upset by not getting equal time with Daddy, then I wouldn’t worry about it because you’d know if she was bothered by it. I’m now imagining how awful his evenings would be if both of them wanted to be attached to him at the hip.

Incidentally, the last letter in the letters section of the Ames and Ilg book is "Watching Young Child Grow Can Be A Joyful Experience." Which you already knew, but your husband may need to keep repeating to himself as he tries to walk through the house with 25 pounds of girl hugging his leg.

Q&A: 12-month flip-out?

Julia writes:

"My daughter will reach one year in just a few short weeks.  She’s made some amazing developmental leaps recently, including walking (completely independently, and quite quickly, I might add) and talking.  She’s been so much fun lately I can hardly describe it.  But then yesterday she began acting, um, weird, for lack of a better descriptor.

She’s figured out that she can "ask" for something by pointing to it and saying "that! that!" repeatedly until "that" is handed to her.  With this skill, she’s also realized that she doesn’t always get what she wants.  She’s begun throwing what seem to be the beginning of temper tantrums.  They aren’t bad, but they’re frustrating.  I know she’s just upset over that lack of control over her environment.  But is that all? She’s also been super clingy, approaching me with her blankie in hand for some hugging and then not wanting me to put her down.  She’s been really tired – in fact, since she began toddling she’s reverted to three hour-ish naps a day, and an earlier bedtime.  Yesterday, her funky mood was bad enough and persistent enough to get me really down.  (All add here that I think my hormones are doing their own special number on me, as well.)  Today she’s already exhibiting much of the same behavior. I’d rather not be in tears by noon.

In the past you’d mentioned the book Wonder Weeks.  But the book only goes through 14 months, so I never coughed up the change to get it.  Is this time frame a common one for freakouts?  If so, I think I can get through it more easily knowing there will be an end to it shortly.

Are there other tips you might have for controling mini-temper-tantrums at this young age?  Or for any of her other weirdness?"

I think part of the clinginess is directly related to her newfound walking skills. Many kids need to come back to you as soon as they can leave you. So once they master walking they go through a clingy phase. Annoying, but it means she’s really attached to you.

I’m not sure which one of the Wonder Week periods she fits into right now. There’s one from 40-44 weeks (and she was born at 38 weeks IIRC, so that would be 42-46 weeks for her), and one from 49-53 weeks (or 51-55 weeks for her).

The earlier one is when she learns about sequences, or that she can put things together (putting one block on top of another, for example). The symptoms the book lists that happen before this leap are, in part:

Cries more often and is bad-tempered or cranky
Is cheerful one moment and cries the next
Wants to be kept busy
Clings to your clothes, or wants to be close to you
Throws temper tantrums
Wants physical contact to be tighter or closer than before

The later leap is when she learns about patterns, or that there is a goal that requires steps to achieve (like setting the table, for example). The symptoms the book lists that happen before this leap are, in part:

Cries more often and is bad-tempered or cranky
Is cheerful one moment and cries the next
Wants to be kept busy
Clings to your clothes, or wants to be close to you
Throws temper tantrums
Wants physical contact to be tighter or closer than before

So, yeah. It definitely sounds like it’s part of a developmental leap, although I’m sure the walking has something to do with it, too. Are you signing with her? That might help her cut down on some of her frustration about the words she doesn’t have the motor skills to say yet.

The general tantrum-aversion tips I can give are to try to remove all elements of control from the situation so it isn’t a power struggle of her vs. you. ("It’s time to put your pajamas on now." vs. "I want you to put your pajamas on now.") When she’s a little older you’ll be able to give her choices ("It’s time to put your pajamas on now. Do you want to wear the red ones or the blue ones?") Make things silly whenever you can. And keep on using the distraction that’s been working so well for so long.

But basically, I think you’re going to have to wait this one out. In a week or two she’ll probably be her old sweet self, but smarter because of the leap, of course.

Congratulations on making it through the first year! Onward and upward.

Q&A: 2-year-old waking up after new baby arrives

Jo-Ann writes:

"I am a WOHM of a two boys who are 2 years old and a 5 month old. Things with the baby are great.  I have been so lucky that he has been a great sleeper since he was born. We cosleep and he might wake up once to nurse but sometimes he doesn’t wake at all.

My two year old is having the issues. He is having major issues in daycare. He is acting out and testing constantly. He was home with me for over half of my maternity leave and we had the best summer ever. He has now been back in daycare for almost 3 months and is still acting out. The daycare have been working with him and things seem to be getting somewhat better.

I nursed him throughout my pregnancy and in late September he decided to wean in the evening and now we are just nursing before nap on the weekend. We have replaced his evening nurse with reading books for closeness. He seems to be ok with nursing on weekends and only asks to
nurse then.

Now his problem has become night waking. He has always been a pretty good sleeper and for the last 7 months he has gone to sleep at about 8pm and has woken up at about 6 – 6:30 am.  The past week he has gotten up at midnight, 2,3,4, and up for the day 5:30am.  Each time he wakes and yells and screams for Mommy and Daddy. One of us goes to him.  He is easily calmed and goes back to bed.

To say the least I am a walking zombie.  What is funny is that people expect I’d be sleep deprived from the baby but I am not.

Any ideas would be appreciated!"

Geez does this sound familiar. Only my older one was 3 when his brother was born, and I don’t WOH. But other than that it’s the same story. Mine went through a period of acting out a ton (eased when my husband was home to run around with him all summer) and then a long stretch of waking up every night. It was a different thing every night–sometimes having to pee, sometimes having wet the bed, sometimes having a bad dream, sometimes hearing noises, etc. I sooo identify with being sleep deprived from the big one but not the little one. It also happened exactly this way when a friend of mine had her second (they were 17 months apart)–the baby slept like a champ but her toddler was up 6 times a night some nights.

It has eased* for us in the past few months, though. I don’t think we did anything. I think it was just the passage of time and his process adjusting to the New Normal. The little one has been here for almost 8 months, so El Chico may just be getting used to him and to not being the only kid in the family.

But I honestly have no idea. Readers? What do you say?

I’d really like to hear from some parents who have younger kids older than, say, a year, who can tell us whether this is something all olders seem to go through or not. And any parents of three or more, did this happen every time there was a new baby?  If there was a gap of more than 4 years between the older and younger was there still this acting out and sleep disruption? In hindsight do you think there’s anything that can be done about it (aside from the obvious trick of spending as much time with the older as possible)?

*By "eased" I mean that El Chico’s sleeping better. El Pequeño now seems to be heading into the 8-9-month sleep regression. Ha. Ha ha. Hahahahahahahaha. Sigh.

Q&A: Bedtime #2

Emmie writes:

"My twin boys have always been rather fussy in the evenings. They are
now 8 months old, and one of my boys does not seem to be outgrowing
this tendency. We put them down at 7 and the hours between 4 and 6
(when bathtime begins) are punctuated by contant whining and fussing.
It’s driving me nuts. Bathtime goes well, and then he screams the whole
time I dress hime until he gets fed. When he’s not sleeping, he’s
extremely active. I’m pretty sure he’s well-rested, as he takes 2 good
naps per day (about 3.25 hours total) and sleeps 11 hours straight at
night. Please give me some insight as to when this evening moodiness
will end. I’m so tired of dreading that time of day."

Hmm. I know almost nothing about twins. If he was a singleton I’d look at either the nap schedule or something he’s eating.

It may be possible that his second nap is just hitting him wrong,
and he’s waking up before he should be up (even 15 minutes can make a
difference in this) or it’s just hitting him at the wrong time of day
somehow. I don’t know if there’s anything you can reasonably do about
that, though, since I can’t imagine dealing with two different nap
schedules with twins. Maybe Linda or another twin mom can help us out with this one, because I’m a little daunted by the logistics of twin naps. (And I can’t even bring myself, except in a parentehtical way, to suggest that maybe he needs a slightly earlier bedtime than your other son does.)

The other thing is that maybe there’s something about something he’s
eating that isn’t sitting right. Either he’s got some kind of mild
sensitivity or allergy, or maybe it’s giving him heartburn or
indigestion. Is there something he eats every day? If so, see if the
fussiness stops if you don’t feed him that for a week.

Oh, and is it possible that he’s hungry during that time? Have you tried feeding him just a teeny snack right then?

(It just hit me that with twins there’s always a control. Cool. I love the experimental method.)

I don’t know if you live someplace that’s cold right now, but the best thing I’ve ever done to get out from under the anvil of the 4-6 pm timeslot
is go outside. In the warmer weather I’d just go walk around, and in
the colder weather I’d go to the grocery store or another store
(bearing in mind that I live in the city and can walk to the store, so
this was all with the kid in the sling or stroller). The change of
scenery seemed to provide enough diversion to break the fussy habit.

Get back to me and let me know if any of what I wrote was helpful.