Setting loving but firm limits is a safety measure necessary for your little ones. But setting limits and following through with them is tough! The only way limits work is if you truly believe in them. If you believe in them then you’ll have the conviction needed to hold them up.
Think about boundaries, limits, and deadlines that you give yourself.
If you say ok by 8pm I can’t eat any more snacks, or else! And then it’s 8:30 and a commercial for ice cream comes on the tv. All of a sudden, you find yourself getting up and getting yourself ice cream. That tv commercial really got to you. Now all you can think about is how much you need that ice cream. And hey, 8:30 isn’t too much after 8pm.
That’s because your boundary/limit/deadline was self imposed. You know that nothing is actually going to happen if you don’t follow through with it. Sure you might have a vague belief that it’s better for your health if you don’t eat snacks late at night. Or you might want to lose a little weight. But still, if you have that late night snack, you know that there will be no immediate consequence. You won’t see the scale go down, but you can start that diet tomorrow…
But it would be a different story if you were part of a weight loss challenge. If you knew that your chances of winning would be reduced by late-night snacking, you would be able to convince your brain that you did not need the ice cream after all. There would be a bigger sense of urgency to lose the weight in order to win.
Or if you were lactose intolerant you would have even more conviction to not eat that ice cream from the enticing commercial. The pain you knew would follow the treat would help persuade your brain that the ice cream was not worth it. And then you would be able to stick to your boundary/limit/deadline you imposed.
Now think about that time that your toddler wanted something so ridiculous that you found yourself laughing at the tantrum that ensued.
Let’s say your 3 year old decided they wanted cotton candy for breakfast one morning. You know that pure sugar is not what a busy, growing 3 year old needs first thing in the morning. So you let your little one know, in a kind but firm way, that unfortunately cotton candy is not a good choice for breakfast and offer a healthier option instead.
Even if your 3 year old, who doesn’t understand the world of food and nutrition yet, threw himself on the ground screaming, kicking, and crying that they needed this cotton candy, you would still be able to say no. You would feel such a strong conviction in your decision that cotton candy was not a suitable choice for breakfast, that you would be able to stick with your limit.
This is because you’ve learned over the years that we need a healthy breakfast that will fill us up and give us long lasting energy to have a successful day. You know that cotton candy would give your little one a sugar high for about 20 minutes, then they would crash, and want something else to fill their belly up. On top of that, you might also be thinking about the damage the sugary treat would be wreaking on your little one’s teeth.
Setting a limit can be tough!
I read something that Dr. Tracy Dalgleish, a licensed psychologist and relationship expert, said about boundaries in our adult relationships that really rings true for our relationships with our little ones as well. She said that setting the boundary is hard but dealing with the aftermath of setting the boundary is even harder! She reminds us that the other person has the right to have feelings about whatever boundary that you are setting. Keeping that in mind as you set your boundary or limit will help you be better prepared to deal with their feelings.
When it comes to our little ones, we will most likely feel uncomfortable as we hold the limit, especially if they are having BIG feelings about the limit, but we have to work through that discomfort and remind ourselves of our “why.”
That is why it is sometimes easier to maintain our limits than other times because we have a stronger sense of our “why.” In other words, it is easier to stick with our decision if we know in our heart it’s the right one for the safety or health of our little one.
Like, for instance, if your toddler calls you a bad mommy (or daddy) because she wants to play with the big, shiny knives on the counter, do you cave and let her have a go with the knives? No. If she starts screaming that she’s a big girl and she can use the knives, do you believe her and give her a knife to play with? No. You know that knives are dangerous and that an ER visit will likely be in your future if you hand over what your “big girl” wants. You know as the parent, that saying no will keep your toddler out of harm’s way, so you deal with the big emotions and hold your ground. Your “why” is very clear to you so you deal with the discomfort that you might feel from their big emotions.
So why is it so easy to give in and let your toddler decide how much (or, more accurately, how little!) sleep they get?
It is my mission, as a pediatric sleep consultant, to strengthen your “why” when it comes to your little one’s sleep and the limits that are necessary.
I hear it all the time- “Oh no, my three year old stopped napping.” Or “yea my two year old won’t take a nap anymore.”
If your toddler refuses to nap or throws a fit about napping, would you then stop offering the nap? Would you take the nap out of the equation because the toddler decided it wasn’t for them? Would you take your tiny little toddler’s word for it that they didn’t need the nap?
“No Nap!” “I not tired!” “I want to play!”
Sure we’ve all probably heard these protests before, but as a caregiver, it’s our job to know that even though they might not want to nap, their little bodies NEED the sleep. If we know in our heart of hearts that this day time sleep is necessary for our little ones to thrive, then we would be better prepared to feel uncomfortable with their refusals and still stick to our limit.
Now think about that in terms of food. If your toddler decided they didn’t want to eat the dinner you cooked and threw a tantrum, would you stop offering them dinner?
Sleep is just as important as food!
We need sleep! And as caregivers we need to offer sleep! And continue to offer sleep, or at the very least, a rest, for these independent little boss people we call toddlers. If we don’t offer them naps or if we let them decide when their bedtimes are (too late!), we are putting our toddlers in harm’s way. It’s that simple.
It’s our job as caregivers to find out how much sleep our little ones need, and then make sure that they have the opportunity to achieve that much sleep. Yes, of course, sometimes if your toddler is refusing a nap, then you can’t physically make them sleep. But you can offer it at a time that would be best for their bodies and in a place that is easiest for them to fall asleep. In the same way you can’t physically force your child to eat the yucky broccoli on their plate, but you can try to figure out a different way to continue to offer your child a nutritious, healthy meal.
If you never offer your child fruits or vegetables, then they are never going to eat fruit or vegetables. If you never offer your child the sleep their body needs, they won’t voluntarily say, hey I think I’ll go take a nap now.
Sleep is important for toddlers for a number of reasons. It helps them to:
- Grow and develop properly.
- Learn and remember new things.
- Regulate their emotions.
- Have better behavior.
- Improve their immune system.
- Reduce the risk of accidents.
And all sleep is connected. So if you don’t offer your little one a nap, when they are at the age that their bodies still need that day-sleep, then you’ll most likely see their bedtimes and their night sleep affected as well.
If your little one is overtired when they are going into bedtime, they will most likely get their second wind and “not feel tired” due to the rise in their stress hormone. Which will prolong bedtime and they won’t be able to fall asleep right away. If they are suffering from being overtired, they might start having more night-wakings or early morning-rising, and as a result, wind up getting even less sleep!
Yes, it’s true, if you let your little one push their bedtime back until 11pm, it won’t result in the same, immediate ER visit that playing with knives would have, but it is putting them at risk for numerous other safety and health issues!
Is this helping your “why”? Do you see how important your little one’s sleep is yet?
Go into naptime or bedtime knowing that your little one is going to have big feelings about your limit. Toddlers don’t want to stop playing. Of course they don’t want to lay down and rest. They want to go go go! But you know things they don’t know about the importance of sleep. You know how much they will gain by getting the sleep they need! Stay strong in your conviction and work through your discomfort for the sake of their health!