Category Archives: Developmental Spurts

55-week sleep regression

And today we tell the tales of the 55-week (13 month) sleep regression. Kamala and Kelly wrote me virtually identical emails detailing how their daughters were waking up and staying awake for more than an hour in the middle of the night, and crying hysterically if they were left alone. (The only difference was that Kamala’s daughter has been sleeping through for several months already, so the waking up was new, while Kelly’s daughter was still waking up twice a night but used to go back down easily, so the staying awake is new.)

Both girls escalate tension when left to cry, so the experiments Kelly and Kamala and partners have done have only left everyone shaky and unhappy and even more tired yet unable to sleep. Kelly is afraid that she’s scarred her daughter by letting her cry for too long for two nights. Both women are afraid that this is never going to end, and don’t know what to do when the kids wake up in the middle of the night.

I’d love to talk about some techniques for this period, and I remember clearly both my boys going through it. (I remember feeling extremely insulted by it both times. It wasn’t enough that we’d made it through the first year–things just had to fall apart for a month after that year? Honestly.) But I can’t remember for the life of me what I did about it.

I think there are two lesson to be learned from that: 1) It eventually ends, and 2) memory is merciful and you won’t remember all of the suffering. And if you don’t remember it, the baby certainly won’t remember it. So I don’t think Kelly should worry about having hurt her daughter with the crying.

Is there anyone who’s just come through this phase who has some good suggestions about how to make it through the hour+ awake sessions in the middle of the night? I think that if the kid is playing alone in the crib and isn’t getting upset, you should just sleep through it. But if the child needs someone there while s/he’s awake, there’s got to be something that will bore the child to sleep. I’d probably choose Food Network over Sesame Street, and keep the lights dimmed and the sound low to see if it would help mesmerize the child into slumber. But I’m betting someone out there has even better suggestions. Complaining about this phase is, as always, allowed.

FWIW, the skill developed during the 55-week leap is the ability to follow programs, meaning dealing with a bunch of little events. The example in the Wonder Weeks book is the program "eating lunch," which involves the ritual of sitting in the high chair, getting a bib put on, eating the foods, getting cleaned off, etc. No wonder kids start to seem so much more independent at around 14 months.

(Has anyone else been watching the BBC show–now on the Discovery channel in the U.S.–"Last Man Standing"? It’s 6 youngish American and British athletes who go to tribal villages and participate in their tests of strength and fighting rituals. I’ve been watching, thinking how lame it all is. Any woman who’d mothered a child through the age of 5 could beat any of these guys in tenacity, endurance, and feats of strength under adverse conditions. Brazilian piranha-tooth cuts on the legs rubbed with chile powder? Try 36 hours of unmedicated labor.  Zulu fighting sticks? Try sleep regression after sleep regression. Running 30 miles uphill in sandals? Try nursing all night for months and still holding down a full-time job. Maybe I should work up a pitch for the show: kick boxer, triathlete, and bodybuilder vs. mom of high-needs baby, mom of twins, and mom of three kids under age five.)

4 month olds

I’m really, really behind in my life today. And I’ve been getting a ton of questions lately from people with 4-month-olds. And there’s just so much going on at that age that makes it a tough, tough time–they don’t really nap yet, their nighttime sleep is falling apart (thank you 4-month sleep regression), you may be back at work or seriously wondering what made you decide not to go back to work and either way it screws with your head, you probably haven’t lost the baby weight yet and don’t feel sexy but then there’s Scary Spice doing the cha-cha looking like a brick house, and your baby is probably not as fat as your doctor wants him or her to be, and it all just sucks.

A very helpful nursing-related post about breastfeeding at 4 months from CJ:


Things to consider if your four-month-old baby coasts down the growth charts

So I’m going to just open up the comments, and those of you who remember your 4-month troubles, (or are in the middle of them) post them, and we’ll all commiserate. I don’t think there’s much of a cure for most of this stuff except for time and being gentle with yourself, and realizing that you do what works at the time and then when it stops working you do something else. Think about getting sleep today, not what might happen a year from now.

Q&A: newborn how-tos?

Nancy writes:

"I’ve been enjoying your site for months now, and finally our babies are here.  Yes, twin girls, born 3 weeks ago today!  They are lovely and fun – and I am a nervous first time mom.  I would love to see a posting about "what the heck do I do now that the baby is HERE??" panic that I feel on many days.  I’m getting the hang of living with less sleep and am learning to respond to their needs, but honestly… is there a list of things I "should" be doing at this early stage, or is it really all about keeping them fed, dry and cuddled, and the rest takes care of itself?

Ok, I’m an engineer, and I’m used to procedures and data and all that stuff.  These babies have rocked my world in a really good way, but I’m kind of lost without my procedures and data.  I realized pretty quick that logging their feedings and diaper contents was satisfying my data collection needs but was making me crazy and stressed, so I’ve cut that out now that they’ve surpassed their birthweights and I know they’re well fed and content.  I’m having a really tough time letting go of the need for procedures though, or some basic "how-to" guide.  Is there such a thing for little babies?  For how long do they count as "newborns"? Several people (including members of our local moms of twins club) seem to indicate the first two weeks are the hardest — so I feel good for all of us getting through them.  But what now?  The Wonder Weeks book doesn’t kick in til 5 weeks.

Am I being to anal retentive?  Have you any advice? There are so many knowledgeable moms who read and comment on your site. Everyone had to have started off as a nervous new mom though… what did you do back then?"

Well, my mother* says, "If, at the end of the day, you’re alive and the baby’s alive, you’re doing an excellent job." And I have to agree with her. The first 8 to 12 (OK, 14 or 20) weeks are just about keeping your head above water. Is everyone (including yourself) fed? Diapers changed? Some semblance of sleep happening? No bodily pain? Then you’re doing everything right.

Honestly, there’s nothing you need to be doing at this age. Babies like movement, and it’s good for them, so if you could wear them around some it would be nice. And playing music and singing to them would make them happy, too. But at this age they’re really just working on getting organized, growing, learning that their needs will be attended to, learning what love is, and being snuggled. Everything else is, at best extraneous, and at worst overstimulating**.

I think that because you know you like checklists and data, you should start keeping track of something that’s interesting and is going to vary, but won’t stress you out like the eating did. I guess I’d go for poop, because it changes so much in the first 12 weeks. Both of my kids changed the frequency of their poop every time they hit a growth spurt (3 and 6 weeks and 3 and 6 months). You could make a number of interesting graphs and charts of the poop, especially with two kids.

I can’t speak to twins, because I haven’t had them, so I’m going to ask the moms of multiples to comment about the two-week thing. (Linda, Hedra, Jody? Everyone else I’ve forgotten?) With both of my singletons 6-8 weeks were the worst, but maybe it’s different with twins. (A postpartum doula friend of mine swears that there’s some major digestive thing that must happen around 6 weeks, because she has yet to see a baby who doesn’t go through a cranky stage that’s accompanied by excess gas or spitting up at that age. She thinks it’s a normal developmental blip that passes as inexplicably as it comes for most babies. So I’m going to guess twins hit that same thing, too)

But right after that nasty 6-week age it seems like the babies start to organize themselves a little more in terms of sleep and eating. You can start some kind of routine based loosely on feeding them every few hours, making sure to fit in a trip outside every day to maintain your own sanity. Then by 4.5 or 5 months or so the bedtime routine is solid for them and they may even be taking solid naps during the day, and it all seems to make sense.

I think that if you’re looking for something to do (which amazes me because at 3 weeks with my first singleton I could barely put on my own socks) your time is going to be best spent by observing your girls to start to figure out their personalities and what they like and don’t like, how they respond to different kids of touch and stimulation, how they like to fall asleep, etc. Having this knowledge of them is going to pay off for the rest of their lives, so it doesn’t hurt to start looking for clues early.

Did anyone have anything resembling a routine at 3 weeks? I guess I can’t imagine, since the babies are still changing daily at that age. But I know some of you are more structure-oriented than I am and probably came up with something that helped you feel more proactive about the minute-by-minute interaction. If you did, please share with Nancy.

* I know you guys must get sick of hearing about my mom all the time. She’s not perfect, of course, but she does have a lot of common sense, and she’s extremely sympathetic to mothers in the trenches. It’s made my life much easier that she doesn’t suffer from that rose-colored amnesia plenty of grandmothers seem to be struck by as soon as their children become parents.

** I just spent a full 5 minutes trying to figure out how to punctuate that sentence correctly. Editors/pedants in the crowd, what would you have done?

Q&A: 5-week-old sleeping and playing

Laura writes:

"As a first time mom with a 5 week old, I love your site and your discussions have helped me enormously so far. At the moment I have two questions on which I’d love your and your readers’ thoughts. First, about when are babies able to drift off to sleep on their own? Right now to get the baby down to sleep, I need to rock, jiggle, etc until he is absolutely 100% sound asleep. We do swaddle him, and that helps, but if he is the least bit awake when you put him down, he wakes himself back up and proceeds to screaming within minutes. To be clear, I’m not talking about sleep training, I know he’s not old enough, and I’m perfectly happy to nurse and rock until those little eyes close. I would just love to be able to put him down without worrying that the smallest jiggle will mean that I need to start all over again.

Second, about when can babies amuse themselves for a bit of time? For now, the baby seems to need me to constantly entertain him. He will sit in his bouncy chair for a few minutes without my attention, but otherwise if I’m not actively talking, singing, walking, bouncing, swaying or patting, the fussing begins. Again, I know that interactions are incredibly important for development and I’m not expecting independent living. It would simply be so nice to sit next to him on his mat and do something else while he plays.

I’m sure it sounds like I don’t want to parent him, and that’s not the case at all. I enjoy spending time with him and I’ve loved getting to know him so far. He’s generally a happy little fellow and only fusses when he’s trying to tell me something. It would just be good to know if this is his personality and I should get used to it or a developmental thing that will change over time."

It doesn’t sound at all like
you don’t want to parent him. It sounds like you have a 5-week-old and
your life has changed in an instant and you’re thinking, "What have I
gotten into? How much longer am I going to have to be on-duty and
present every single minute of the day?"

I can remember being a few weeks in with my first and
thinking, "OK, only 17 years, 49 weeks, and 3 days until he’s no longer
my responsibility." And I loved him so much it made me ache. I just
wasn’t used to the constant vigilance and demands on my attention.

At this point you’re just trying to keep your head above
water, really. I think the sleeping has to do with a bunch of factors.
The first is personality. Kids just sleep the way they sleep. Some go
down best by themselves, some need someone to help them for a long
time, some are a mix, and some keep changing so you never feel like you
know what’s up with their sleep.

Another thing I think plays into sleep at the beginning is
their stomachs and their size. There are growth spurts at
(approximately) 3 weeks, 6 weeks, 12 weeks, and 6 months. Not
surprisingly, these are also times when parents report that their kids
started sleeping more easily. It seems like the maturity and additional
size that happens at the end of a growth spurt sometimes helps with
sleep, too. (Tangentially-related: Did anyone else notice that their
kids’ pooping schedule changed every time they went through a growth
spurt? Or was it just my two?)

But then those combine with the developmental spurts and
physical milestones and teething to make it all kind of a
two-steps-forward-one-step-back proposition. A grand stew of confusion
and tiredness for everyone that sometimes doesn’t even make sense in
hindsight.

So the short answer is that there’s no real age at which
babies just start automatically going to sleep by themselves. Your son
may need to be comforted to sleep for another week, then hit a growth
spurt and start falling asleep by himself. Or he may be one of those
kids (like my older son) who needs someone to help him fall asleep (by
nursing, or rocking, or sitting in his room) until he’s 3 years old,
and then suddenly he just starts going to bed easily by himself.
He’ll probably be somewhere in between.

If you’re worrying that
your son may need to be comforted to sleep for years, don’t despair.
Even if that happens, a) you’ll survive, and b) it’s not all bad. In
some respects it was easier to get my older one to sleep because I had
a hand in the process. If I did whatever he needed at that stage, he’d
fall asleep. My younger son, who is "easier" because he cries for 10
seconds to 10 minutes and then conks out without anyone else, is kind
of a wild card. If he has the proper conditions he goes down easily,
but if there’s anything distracting or he can get free, no one can get
him to sleep.

Everyone is going to tell you in the comments section how
their kids slept at 5 weeks and then what happened later, so you’ll
have tons of data points that all add up to "There’s no way to tell and
you’ll worry about it, but you’ll also make it through and you’ll all
be fine."

The playing by himself is a real annoyance, isn’t it? You just
want to run to the bathroom, but even that’s too much. First babies
don’t realistically give you more than a minute or two until they’re
able to move or control things on their own (so whenever they achieve
some kind of mobility control, whether it’s sitting or rolling or
scooting or crawling). Second babies get entertained by the first
child, so you can get a few more seconds here and there.
I think it’s totally the age and circumstance, not a personality thing
at this age.

One
good way to cope with this is to wear the baby in a sling/wrap/Ergo as
much as possible, because the baby benefits from the motion and the
closeness, and you can get stuff done. You can walk around outside, do
some laundry, make a sandwich, etc.

Another thing that I only figured out with my second child is
that when you have to leave the baby alone and know he’s going to cry,
you might as well double up on the unhappiness by turning it into tummy
time. Your baby probably cries when he’s on his tummy at this point.
Since he’s going to cry for the 90 seconds it takes you to go to the
bathroom or get yourself a glass of water anyway, why not put him on
his tummy before you leave? He needs the tummy time, and this way you
can at least feel like something productive is coming of your trip to
the kitchen.

If you have a My Breast Friend, you can strap it on, sit down
at a desk and put the MBF on the desk. Your baby can lie on the MBF and
sleep or nurse, and you can type or surf at the computer over him while
he sleeps.

This stage is tough on everyone. It’s especially tough when
everyone tells you to "enjoy this time because it goes so fast" or that
"these are the best days" or all those platitudes issued by people who
don’t have teeny infants. You feel trapped and a little freaked out,
and then guilty about not loving every second of it. It’s hard to
adjust to your old life being gone for a long time, and not really
loving the new normal. Even if you love your baby, it’s still jarring
not to be able to just think your own thoughts for 10 minutes.

But. Things will get easier. You will get some time back. You
will get yourself back. You’ll have more fun with the baby. You’ll hit
a good stride together. Be kind to yourself.

Q&A/Reader call: Developmental spurts after one year

Fahmi writes:

"I was wondering something. I think our almost-seventeen month old is hitting a Wonder-Week or some kind of a regression because he’s been generally clingy and cranky lately. At your recommendation, we got the Wonder Weeks book and it was wonderful – but now that we’ve passed the year mark, we feel adrift, lost, confused.

From your experience, and with everyone else that comments on your site, what are some of the regressions, wonder-week like moments that we can look forward to after the first year? I’ve read about the 18 month one, and the hump from two to three years old. Any others?"

I know. It’s awful not to know when the next spurt/regression is coming up. These are the things that I’ve observed. Please, everyone, confirm or deny my observations and add any of your own.

15 months: Kids who have previously not been sleeping through start to sleep through the night and/or go down more easily. This is useful because after 15 months of no sleep you’re almost ready to hurl yourself off a bridge.

16 months: Just when your life was getting back on track, your toddler will start to get cranky and want to do everything him- or herself, but won’t be able to. Constant whining and battles ensue. You reconsider the bridge plan.

18 months: Your little pumpkin starts waking up 2-5 times a night. Even kids who’ve been sleeping through (and not just that "sleeping through" that means five hours at a time) start waking up again. "What fresh hell is this?" you ask, but no one seems to know the answer. Breathe deeply and stay away from bridges.

20 months: Your child starts sleeping through the night again. as if nothing ever happened. You feel like you’re being gaslighted, but are a little more rested. At least the nights are back in shape, because "pain in the ass" is a true understatement for the daytime.

21 months: Something strange clicks in your child’s head and s/he seems to be more mature, competent, and calm overnight.

22 months: This child is a joy! I could eat those chubby cheeks and listen to that lisp all day long. Let’s have another baby right! now!

That brings us mostly through the second year. Does anyone have anything to add?

Q&A: babies taking too-short naps

Babies are strange. Exhibits A and B come from readers Paula and Katherine.

Paula writes:

"My DD2 is 4 mths old.
Has been a great sleeper, still is, but we now have the delightful 45 min sleep
cycle kicking in! She wakes up ON THE DOT of 45 mins of when she went to sleep.
Sometimes she’ll go back off to sleep but a lot of the time she needs me to get
her back to sleep. That’s OK, but I have a 3yo as well so I can’t spend a half
hour every 45 mins getting DD2 back to sleep IYKWIM.

DD2 will show tired signs about an hour after being awake. I’ve been putting
her down, up until a week or so ago she’d sleep 2-3 hours solid. Could this be
the problem? Should she be up longer now, then maybe she’d sleep longer? I
remember something about being up for 1.5-2 hrs now and then down for 2?

Please help a weary
mum who thought I was doing so great with 2 kids, but now I’m not so
sure!!!"

Katherine writes:

"I’m hoping you can help me shed some light one this.  My daughter will be 6 months old on March 20.  Since the end of January, almost all of her naps have been exactly 30 minutes. She takes at least 4 or 5 a day.  Thirty minutes is clearly not long enough for her.  She’ll usually wake up relatively cheerful, but get tired and cranky pretty quickly.  I don’t think anything is physically bothering her.  I sat in her room once for the entire duration of one of these naps.  She slept peacefully without moving a muscle and then at 30 minutes her head turned to the side and her eyes popped open.  She saw me, grinned and that was the end of the nap.  There’s no coaxing her back to sleep at this point.  I’ve read about going into a baby’s room 10 or 15 minutes before you expect them to wake and stroking their face or something to cause them to stir and restart the sleep cycle.  I haven’t had any luck with this approach.

I’ve read all of your posts on sleep and sleep regressions.  She will be 25 weeks old on Wednesday, so we’re approaching the 26 week developmental spurt.  This started just before the 19-week spurt.  Do you think this is just related to these spurts and will end on its own within the next few weeks?  I just can’t understand how it’s always exactly 30 minutes.  It’s like someone put an alarm clock into her skull and I can’t find the snooze button.  Her night sleep has suffered somewhat lately as well.  She went from sleeping 12 hours with only one wake-up to waking up 3 or 4 times a night.  But thanks to your sleep regression post, I can understand that and am hopeful it will end soon.

The only thing that ever helps her nap longer is if she sleeps on her belly.  I put her down on her back, but sometimes in the process of falling asleep she’ll flip over.  Given her age and the fact that she sleeps in an empty crib on a firm mattress, I feel ok about not flipping her back over.  If she’s on her belly she sometimes sleeps longer, sometimes wakes up after 30 minutes as usual but then goes back to sleep after a few minutes of fussing and sometimes wakes up after 30 minutes and won’t go back to sleep.  This is odd to me as she generally hates being on her tummy, tummy time has always been a struggle for us.  Since she usually hates being on her tummy I couldn’t put her down that way even if I wanted to, she has to do it herself.  I do catch myself HOPING she’ll flip over and then feel guilty about it.

Any thoughts or suggestions?  This is really getting me down because I work 20 hours a week from home.  So I have to get up at 4 am to get hopefully 2 hours in, try to squeeze some more work into nap time, and then finish up after she goes to bed.   The work I do really requires me to concentrate for more than 30 minutes at a time.  Since her night sleep isn’t the greatest either I am needless to say very, very tired."

(And I bet all of your SAHM and WOHM friends keep going on and on about how you have the best of both worlds working from home, don’t they? The grass really is always greener.)

I think both Paula and Katherine have babies suffering from the throes of major developmental spurts (as Katherine herself assessed). You really can NOT underestimate how much these spurts can screw kids’ routines and sleep up. It’s mystifying.

(I also think–and this is JMO and should not be constituted as advice from an expert because you all know I am not one–that Katherine’s reaction to the belly sleeping is totally appropriate. Her daughter can easily roll herself over at this age, and it’s just not realistic to be constantly watching so she can flip her back onto her back at this point. I think if you had a chronically ill child or preemie this wouldn’t necessarily be the case, but for a strong healthy baby who can roll it seems not to be much of a worry at this age.)

It’s normal. It’s happened to millions of babies and mothers. But it still sucks. Sucks sucks sucks. The baby’s tired. You’re tired. You can’t relax or get anything done while the baby’s asleep because you know it’s only a matter of (very little) time before you’ll hear the yowl and have to go in to pick up your still-tired child.

You start to feel a little like Bill Murray in Groundhog Day.

But then, one day, magically your child will sleep for 60 minutes. And then before you notice it’ll be 90 minutes.

So, knowing that eventually it will resolve itself (whether you do anything or not), the trick is to have some coping techniques. Here are the ones I employed (with various degrees of success) when my kids were doing the short-nap rigamarole:

1. Know that it won’t last forever (this was a lot easier with the second child than with the first). Just knowing it’s not going to be the rest of your life will probably help your mental state.

2. Consider naps in motion. It won’t help you get anything done at home or take a nap yourself, but if you put the baby in the car or the stroller and drive/stroll around the baby might sleep a little longer at least for that nap.

3. Pretend you have Stockholm Syndrome and that the short naps are a feature instead of a bug. Short naps are way better! It means you can get out of the house again to run some more errands! You feel soooo sorry for those poor chumps with babies who sleep for an hour or more at a stretch!

4. Put the Rolling Stones’ "Mother’s Little Helper" on repeat play and dance during the entire lousy 30 minutes of every nap, snickering evilly.

5. Get a friend or relative or hire a babysitter to come hang out with the baby for a few hours one afternoon to give you a break. At least that way the short naps will be someone else’s problem for at least one afternoon.

Everything else I think I’ve blanked out. But that’s good news, too! Some day you won’t even remember how awful this phase was.

Anyone else?

Q&A: short end of the stick

Daylight savings time! Gah. No matter how many times we go through it, it still screws us up in my house. (Tips for dealing with it in the link.) Feel free to post all DST-related complaints in the comments section.

And now a question that will surely give all of us a case of the Mondays. Kelly writes:

"I do hope you can help!  I have a 2.5yr old boy who’s absolutely in love with his penis.  That’s fine, and I know it’s normal and don’t want to discourage him or make him feel bad or that it’s wrong or anything. However, he’s constantly trying to get at it, and very regularly pulls off his clothes during nap time or at night to play with himself.  Not too much of a problem, save that he’s not even remotely potty trained, which ends with a lot of washed sheets and middle-of-the-day baths. It’s also causing a problem in that he loves his 3mo brother’s as well and though he’s not allowed to touch it he loves watching us change the baby and asks for us to change him and throws tantrums when we close the baby’s diaper (to which we now try to take the baby into another room to change, but that’s not always an option).  Is there any way we can get his hands out of his pants and keep his crib dry without affecting his future attitude towards masturbation (which we view as healthy and normal) or sex or his body?"

I always kind of feel bad when people write in with philosophical problems with their kids masturbating, but at least they’re pretty easy to address (kids need to explore their bodies, just let them do it). A logistical problem with masturbation, however, while easier emotionally, is much more complicated to come up with decent advice.

As I see it, you have a few options:

1. Potty train ASAP. It won’t do anything about his trying to get at his penis constantly, but it’ll mostly fix the mess and clothes-washing problem.

2. Put him in shirts that snap at the crotch inside long pants that he can’t easily get undone. Solves the access problem, but will probably cause fights while you’re dressing him.

3. Go crazy with penises all the time–talking about them, playing with anatomically correct dolls (some here and here), drawing pictures of them, etc.–and see if that helps calm him down about his own (or at least his brother’s) penis.

4. As much naked time as possible (this will also help with potty training). If he has more access in general, he may not be so desperate to do it when he needs to be clothed. The big problem here is that he could get really cold if you’re in a climate that’s still in winter.

It seems to me that the big problem here is that he’s still on the young side to be able to understand that touching himself is fine, just not at certain times. And, even then, the standard "That’s something we only do in our own rooms or in the bathroom" line (works equally well for masturbating and for nose-picking) doesn’t help with your problem.

So I’m not really coming up with anything sure-fire. I think if none of the above suggestions affect his need to get at his penis at night and naps, you are going to end up just waiting it out. In another 6 months or so he’ll be better able to understand situational rules and that he can touch himself, just not when his clothes need to stay fastened.

If anyone else has anything, feel free to jump in.

Q&A: 3-year-old freakouts

Continuing with the theme of aggressive behavior…

In the past couple of weeks I’ve gotten half a dozen emails from parents concerned about 3-year-olds and truly agressive behavior, from screaming fits to hitting and attacking other kids and adults, to self-mutilation.

Now remember that I’m no expert. I only go by the things I’ve tried and seen work or not with my kids and all the other parents I talk to (including you all in the comments and by email). I do believe that you know your own child best, and that careful observation is a parent’s best friend. So let me break down the things that I’ve observed seem to make 3-year-olds into strange tantruming fiends.

Stuff they’re ingesting. Occasionally I’ll get an email from a parent describing a child who seems to be completley unable to contrl his or her out-of-control behavior. Discipline and even outright punishments don’t work, and the child seems to be held a prisoner of his or her outbursts. It’s as if the kid has no ability to stop.

To me that indicates that there is something physical going on that is making the child act this way. (If you’ve ever been in pain for a prolonged period, you get what I mean. So much of your energy is going into dealing with the pain that you just have no control over the rest of you, adn you can be pretty vicious with other people.) SInce it’s doubtful that your child has suddenly developed some strange illness, I’d take a look at what’s going into your child’s mouth.

By the age of 3, most kids are not under their parents’ control at all times anymore. Any hope you had of controlling everything that goes into your kid’s mouth is completely out the window. Either they’re at daycare or preschool eating who-knows-what, or with a babysitter or adult relative (who may be feeding them candy or other treats) or at playdates with other kids. That means there’s plenty of opportunity for your child to be eating things with artificial colors and flavors, preservatives, and MSG. You’re going to ahve to be a real detective to figure out if your kid’s eating this kind of stuff. If s/he is, enlist the help of the other adults you child interacts with to go cold turkey on that stuff for 2-3 weeks to see if it helps. For some kids it seems to be a huge factor in negative behavior, and ocne their systems are clear of the chemicals they gain control of the actions like any other 3-year-old has (which is to say in a limited by improving way).

Transitions. Normally we think of transitions as being a problem for young toddlers ("Say goodbye to the trains"), but it hits 3-year-olds, too. Maybe even more so, because now they’re able to really be absorbed in an activity, and also to know what’s going to happen next. If you have a 3-year-old who’s having problems with transitions, try to build more time into your schedule to cushion the transition time. Maybe get to preschool/daycare pickup a few minutes early so you have time to sit down and play for 5 minutes with your child before it’s time to put on coats and go home. Develop some ritual that the child can look forward to as soon as you leave school, so there’s something positive to go toward. Talk about how hard it is to leave or switch activities. Whatever you end up doing, validate your child’s feelings, because that will help him or her feel more open about talking to you about what’s making him/her so upset. More talking means less acting out.

Loss of control. It’s still such a big issue for this age. Hey, who am I kidding? It’s still an issue for most 50-year-olds I know, so how could it not be for a 3-year-old? They still ahve no control over most aspects of their lives, from when they wake up to where they go to whether they have to share their parents with a younger sibling. It’s enough to really just piss a person off and make her want to throw something or bite someone. Giving kids as much choice as you can (with what they wear, what they eat from two or three options, what music you listen to in the car, who they invite over to play, what games to play after supper, etc.) the easier this will be for them. That might cut down on the tantrums.

Problems dealing with scary emotions. This is just a variation of loss of control, but it’s different because the loss of control is coming from inside themselves. Kids (yeah, adults, too) have problems managing and processing big emotions. It’s good for your child to have big emotions, even negative scary ones. You’ll help your child accept and manage those emotions by giving them the vocabulary to talk through them. Keep on talking your child through the tantrums and feelings, even if your child seems to be verbal enough to do it themselves. "You’re feeling really angry because you couldn’t stay at Jack’s house. It makes you mad!" Helping them give a name to the feelings is going to validate those feelings and also release some of the need to use violence to express them. Eventually you can help your child think of ways to feel better, like making a plan to go back to Jack’s house in a few weeks, or playing with Play-Dough when you get home, or something like that.

Those are the big things I can think of for this age. Anyone else either in this phase or past it who’s noticed something else? Anyone just want to commiserate about how challenging 3 can be for both child and parents?

Your comments on sleep regressions

You guys are smart, and very, very kind. I’m going to pull some of the comments and we can talk about them some more.

First, though, let me list the posts about sleep that people seem to think are helpful:
Quick and Dirty on Sleep
11-week-old and self-soothing (about using "props" and teaching your kid to soothe himself)
What are sleep regressions anyway?

If you don’t have time to go in and read, the developmental leaps (according to The Wonder Weeks) are at 5, 8, 11, 19, 26, 37, 46, and 55 weeks. (Remember to add or subtract weeks if your child didn’t gestate for 40 weeks.) It seems like the ones at 19 (4 months) and 37 weeks (8-9 months) are the worst, followed by the 26 (6 month) and 12 week ones.

Also, if you care, here’s the big post I wrote on CIO. I was a dedicated anti-CIOer (and still hate the idea of setting out to break your kid by letting them scream for as long as it takes). But after having my second child I came up with this theory that there are kids who release tension by crying (so they need to fuss or cry for a few minutes in order to release enough tension to fall asleep) and kids who gain tension by crying (so if you let them cry for more than a few seconds you’re screwed because then it takes forever to calm them down again). If you know which kind of kid you have (or how they are for nighttime sleep vs. naps, for example), your path with regards to crying vs. soothing becomes a little more clear.

J said: "That’s the problem with expectations. They always let you down." This made me laugh, because it’s so true about baby and toddler sleep. And Valentine’s Day.

Davida said: "But I do know that YOU are the one there with your daughter, not any of
the experts, and so they mustn’t be allowed to make you feel guilty." Seriously. And that’s my big beef with this culture of expert-worship. Everything’s great as long as your kid conforms to their set pattern, but if not, you feel like it’s your fault. Yes, there are some things that you might be doing that could hurt your kid’s sleep (like mainlining those caffeine or ginseng/guarana energy drinks, or not having a regular routine of some sort), but if you’ve got a decent structure and set the stage for sleep, it’s not your fault.

Shandra said: "I personally decided that I wouldn’t do anything at night that I wouldn’t do during the day." I did, too. It’s extremely hard, sometimes, although easier now that I’ve relaxed my daytime standards. (Ha! I’m my own best audience.) Anyway, it was important to me, and once I identified that as one of my core values (congruence in actions) I was able to release some of the anger at the nighttime egregiousness.

Marsha said: "our babies are not enjoying whatever sleep disruptions, tantrums, or
whatever else is making us parents want to pull our hair out in
frustration/fatigue either." Yeah. It’s so hard not to get all adversarial in the middle ofthe night, but you and your child really have a common enemy, which is baby insomnia. You and your baby can work together (OK, so you do most of the work) and you’ll stay in a better frame of mind than if you sink into that tempting-but-empty mindset of battling with your child.

Charisse said: "There are various things you can try, but no one of them is necessarily
right for you, and sometimes the idea that you "should be doing
something about this" is worse than just getting through it." Dude. Yes. Which is why I spend half my time here saying, "There’s probably nothing you can do about this now, so just try to split things up so neither you nor your partner are taking the full hit." And one day, yes, one day you will be annoyed because your child forgot to brush his teeth when he put himself to bed, and woke up at 7 instead of 7:30 in the morning.

Laury said: "It seemed to make a huge difference smiling (I know this sounds hypocritical) and telling him, knowing that he could do it." I don’t think it’s hypocritical at all. Think about it–if you were supposed to be doing something you weren’t sure you could do and were a little scared of all by yourself, wouldn’t you feel much better about it (and maybe even be able to do it) if the person you most loved gave you a smile and encouraged you before leaving you to do the task? Contrast that with having her scowl and tell you to "Just do it!" and leaving angry. The pleasant way sets a person up for success.

What other sleep wisdom do you guys have? I don’t really mean techniques (because those are a dime a dozen and won’t work for everyone anyway), but ideas and concepts and attitudes that have helped you get through the long nights.

(Mollyball, if you’ve checked all the physical stuff–like silent reflux, etc.–I’d try either the Calms Forte 4 Kids homeopathic pellets, or finding a pediatric chiropractor or cranio-sacral practitioner.)

Q&A: 4 1/2-month-old not sleeping

I need to create an easier way to search for topics by age. Today’s question is a classic. Zakhele from South Africa writes:

"I would like to find out what is bothering my baby. He is 4 1/2 months old and everything was all good with his sleeping up until recently. He started this new thing which me and his mom don’t understand. He was sleeping the whole night including weekends, and now he only sleeps on weekends the whole night and during the week it’s a mission. I was wondering whether there was something wrong with or not, bcoz his mother takes him with her to work and she feeds him every 4 hours during the day and we give a bath at 9 pm every night and then she feeds him between then and 10 o’clock and then we go to sleep. I don’t know–do you think what’s affecting him is bcoz he does not feed well, and he plays a lot now and sleeps less even during the day? Sometimes, like yesterday, he didn’t sleep at all during the day. I worried bcoz he is not like this. I mean the past 4 months were the happiest months of our lives and we were even boasting about it to our friends that our baby manages to sleep on his own the whole night without any hustle. Please help doctor do have any suggestion for me and my wife?"

You said it–you were boasting about it to friends, and that’s what made him stop sleeping.

Just joking! (But it kind of seems that way, doesn’t it?)

I
think it sounds like he may be about to go through a developmental
spurt
and gain some new skills. There’s one that happens right around
19 weeks, and another one that happens at 26 weeks. While the baby’s
brain is working on learning and practicising the new things for that
spurt, their bodies can’t really stay still. It’s like those times when
you have something big on your mind–sometimes you just can stay still,
and you have to get up and walk around to get the excess energy out.
The same thing happens to a baby. It can last anywhere from a few days
to a few weeks. Once the baby’s brain works through the new skill,
he’ll go back to sleeping again.

There’s not much you can do about it until he goes through the
spurt on his own. The only suggestion I have that might work (and I
really mean "might," as it has no effect on many kids) is to try to
tire him out physically during the day. Play the kinds of patty-cake
and motion games that will get him excited and trying to move with you,
or dance around with him a lot.

You could also try an earlier bedtime. In the US, 10 pm would be a really late bedtime for a kid, starting at around 3 1/2 months or so. We tend toward bedtimes for babies at that age in the 7-8:30 pm range. But I have no idea what time you are getting up in the morning, so 10 pm might be the perfect time. You could always play around with the bedtime and move it earlier if it makes you feel like you’re doing something productive.

Basically, though, I think you’re seeing what happens when your baby’s mind and body starts developing. Everything just goes haywire for a few weeks, and the only thing you can do is stand back and watch. It’ll get better again (and then worse, but then better, and then worse, and then at some point he’ll move out of your house and it won’t be your problem anymore). So while you’re waiting for this sleep regression to resolve itself, just don’t mention anything about it to your friends.