How to stay calm with your child

How to stay calm with your child
I’ve been short with my toddler. Rude. Frustrated. And there are days when I seriously can’t wait until he’s down for the night. But in over two years, I have never yelled at him, thanks to one miserable day when I vowed never to do so again.

The little guy was a mere eight weeks old, too young to be anywhere near “easy,” but old enough for me to wonder if this parenting thing will ever cut me some slack. I had been rocking him to sleep, trying unsuccessfully to get him to nap. Not only was he not falling asleep on the ball, but he cried the entire time (and my toddler until now is no quiet crier). We were both miserable, and I could feel my frustration growing.

I continued to rock him on the yoga ball, wishing that he would stop crying and fall asleep already when I yelled at him, “Why won’t you just go to sleep?!” Of course that did little to calm the guy down. Instead, he let out a series of frantic cries I had never before heard.

Those cries have since forever been imprinted in my mind. He cried not of discomfort, hunger, tiredness or even crankiness. He was frightened—of me. Of what I had become, and whether I would hurt or abandon him. He grew terrified of the world he knew so little of, and wondered why this person who had coddled him in the past was now so angry.

Remorse quickly took over and I held my baby close, feeling guilty for having resorted to these antics when the little guy needed so much more than that. I cried right along with him, and continued to cry even as he fell asleep in my arms. It was then that I vowed never to yell at him or get so frustrated that he would feel frightened of his own mom.

And thankfully, I kept my promise. Granted, I still get upset and even raise my voice, but have yet to resort to that kind of anger. The biggest reason I’ve been yell-free was because of that cry I can’t forget. I can still remember his frightened cries and they to this day continue to serve as a reminder—a check on myself—not to resort to anger and yelling.

The second reason I’ve been able to keep my temper cool has been the realization that anger doesn’t do any good. Yelling at him did nothing to get him to sleep. In fact, it did the opposite and escalated his frustration. Even these days I find that being rude or frustrated at him ends up exacerbating the problem rather than mindfully trying to resolve it in other means.

When I do find myself on the brink of losing my mind and taking my frustration out on my toddler, I try the following suggestions:

  • I give myself a break. I remember one time when my toddler was frustrating me beyond imagination, and I plopped him down in the bedroom, walked over to the living room and crawled into the couch with a blanket over me. My husband took the cue and dealt with LO on his own, providing me a chance to cool down and compose myself.
  • I ignore him. Ignoring is so much better than getting into an all-out battle with a two-year-old when tempers flare. I’ve sometimes mentally shut him out for a moment and focus on something else just so that I don’t lose my cool.
  • I pick my battles. There are just some days when letting your kid “win” is needed to save your sanity. I’ve since realized that letting the little things go doesn’t turn kids into monsters who will take advantage of their parents forever on out.
  • I take a step back. When I’m lucky, I still have part of my parenting cap on my head enough for me to pull myself out of the crazy tornado. It’s almost like I’m watching myself in action and see and feel the emotions in me without reacting to them so quickly. During these times, I’m able to realize that this is temporary, that there are better days to come, and that a calm mom is more effective than a hysterical one.

All of these suggestions happen quickly, but sometimes it’s all I need to keep from going bonkers. Almost all of them are less than ideal, but much more preferable than yelling or doing something I’ll regret or worse, frighten my toddler.

Sometimes parenthood brings out terrible traits you never you knew had and never had to deal with in the past. I decided I was ready to share That Terrible Day in the hopes that other parents on the verge of yelling at their kids can find alternatives to doing so.

When have you lost your cool with your kids? How do you stay calm when you’re frustrated?

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Why I regret rocking my baby to sleep

Flashback Friday: Why I regret rocking my baby to sleep
When I was pregnant, a co-worker advised, “Don’t rock your baby too much—he’ll get used to it.” As I nodded my head and smiled politely, all I could think was, “Cruel woman! How could she suggest such an idea?!”

Well… six months, two broken knees, and one sleep-deprived mama later, I knew exactly why she suggested not to rock my baby to sleep. (I’ll get to the broken knees later.)

After bringing my baby home from the hospital, I quickly realized how easily he dozed off after a few bouncing and rocking in my arms. Somehow he only fell asleep in mine—a fact that I actually took great pride in: “Only mama has the special touch!” I employed all sorts of crazy rocking, from the side-to-side stepping to the bob-and-weave rocking. But the constant rocking plus a growing baby meant that my arms were exhausted.

When my toddler was about four months old, I visited my sister when I noticed she had a yoga ball. “Can I try to see if I can bounce LO on the ball?” Not only did she agree, but she lent us the ball—a curse in disguise as I would soon learn. The ball seemed to work miracles: not only were my arms given a break, but the ball seemed to conk out my baby quicker than ever. But with our ever-growing dependence on the ball, my baby grew to rely on motion to fall asleep, so much so that we would have to bounce him for several minutes before gingerly placing him on the crib.

This rocking business wasn’t working out for us. A few months ago, SSBE reader Mommy Organics asked me what I would do differently if given the chance to do it all over again, and hands down I would not have rocked my baby to sleep. Perhaps with another baby or different techniques I wouldn’t have this sour experience with rocking, but as it is, below are the reasons why I wish I didn’t:

  • My baby relied exclusively on external sleeping aids. We all have sleeping aids, some of them as common as sleeping in a dark room or hearing white noise. But my baby’s sleeping aids were not only unsustainable (we couldn’t rock him the whole night) but prevented him from falling asleep on his own. He could have explored self-soothing techniques to fall asleep, whether it’s rocking his head side to side or sucking on his thumb. But because we did all the work for him, he had few opportunities to develop that ability on his own.
  • Frequent wake-ups meant the entire family was all tired. Not only was our baby not sleeping on his own, he also didn’t know how to help himself fall back asleep when he woke up in the middle of sleep. And since our baby was a light sleeper, that meant waking up every hour and a half to two. We hardly reached deep sleep; even though we technically clocked in eight hours, our bodies weren’t rested.
  • My knees gave out. Our baby required at least 10 minutes of ball bouncing per sleep session. Considering that he was still napping three times a day in addition to the evening where he would easily wake up three times a night, that’s a whole lot a bouncing. All the bouncing took a toll on my knees, and considering that my mom and two sisters already had knee issues, I didn’t want to exacerbate the pain and need surgery as well.
  • And lastly, my baby got to the point where he still cried despite all that rocking. In what is supposed to be a nurturing act—a bonding experience between parent and child—brought us both misery instead. Somehow the rocking itself wasn’t soothing enough, and he ended up crying in our arms the entire time. Something wasn’t working.

We ended up sleep-training our baby at six months old. While it’s not for everybody, sleep-training worked for our family. After two days, my baby was falling asleep on his own sans rocking. Considering that he was barely clocking in three-hour stretches of sleep, I just about died when he slept for 11 hours straight. He woke up more energetic, and we were so much happier for it.

Were I to have another baby or travel back in time, I wouldn’t jump to sleep-training as the first and only solution, but I probably could have employed a few techniques to avoid sleep issues to begin with, such as:

  • Put him down drowsy but awake. I had heard of this advice, and perhaps this is what my co-worker was referring to when she meant not to rock him too much. Instead, I ended up rocking or nursing my baby to drunken oblivion. Not only was he more likely to wake up confused as to how he ended up in a crib when he remembered being in someone’s arms, but he also wasn’t given a chance to learn how to fall asleep on his own.
  • Give him a chance to lie awake on his back. I felt this pressure to always carry my baby, and that if I even so much as lay him down I felt like I wasn’t doing enough. Letting him enjoy time on his back probably would have helped him feel comfortable in his crib.
  • Nurse him when he just wakes up, not to fall asleep. I forget where I had heard of the E-A-S-Y technique (eat, awake, sleep, you), but the general idea is to feed your baby after he wakes up. We didn’t really have a routine in the beginning, but once we started getting into a rhythm, we eventually followed this technique.
  • Decrease or eliminate sleeping aids that I planned to wean him off of anyway. Darkened rooms and white noise is fine by me, but I wouldn’t have rocked, swaddled, or nursed to sleep if I intended on taking those away from him down the line. I’d rather that he didn’t need so many external sleeping aids and instead practice his own self-soothing skills.

You now know why my blog is titled the way it is. While parenting presents many challenges (ahem: tantrums), sleeping was by far the most difficult for us. I think we did our best knowing what we did, but boy if they had that time machine, I would have done a few things differently.

As for that yoga ball, we promptly returned it to my sister with the intention of never wanting to lay eyes on it again.

For parents who rocked their babies to sleep: did you love it or hate it? For parents who didn’t rock their babies, how did you get him or her to fall asleep?

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Struggles of a new mom

Two years ago, when my toddler was four months old, I described in my journal how frustrating it was trying to get him to sleep and how much our lives had changed. You would think that after reading all those baby books, I would know how difficult caring for a baby would be, how much I wasn’t going to sleep, and just how different my life would be… I knew all that, but nothing compares to being slapped with a big fat reality check once the kiddo was born.

Up until we sleep-trained LO, I struggled with sleep deprivation, sleeping in one-hour increments. I felt robbed of my time because I was constantly breastfeeding, and frustrated when I couldn’t figure out why my newborn was crying and how to get him to calm down. It didn’t help that he was a crier. As in, frequent and loud—no soft mew-mewing here. I found myself wanting to speed up time just to get to the point when it would finally get easier.

I realize now that I felt that way because of the extremity of new babies (they don’t kid you when they say your life turns upside down), my baby’s temperament, and my own expectations of motherhood and what I could handle. There are certainly things I wish I knew then that I know now. For instance:

My baby could only stay awake at most one to one and a half hours at a time
I wish I realized that babies can’t stay up for very long. There were probably many times when my baby was over-tired. I probably could have established a better schedule knowing that babies sleep way more than we think.

Feed the baby after he wakes up
I used to nurse LO to sleep because it was almost guaranteed that he would knock out. While it almost always worked, I also created a little guy who relied too much on nursing to fall asleep. Only down the line did I start feeding him after he woke up. This way, he doesn’t rely on milk to sleep, and he’ll have energy from milk once he woke up.

Establish a routine
Establishing a routine is a must. We sort of did this, what with bathing him at night and reading books and singing, but we really needed a daily routine. I don’t suggest sticking strictly to the clock, but there are certain rhythms that babies have: they sleep, they drink milk, are awake for an hour or an hour and a half, then go back to sleep again.

No rocking!
I couldn’t believe it when people told us not to rock him to sleep. “How cruel! They don’t know what they’re talking about!” Never mind that they were mothers of several children, but I still couldn’t wrap my thoughts around the idea that you shouldn’t rock your baby to sleep. But I think I had the wrong impression—I thought they were saying not to hold them often, or to let them cry it out (too early at this age), but what they were really saying was to let your baby fall asleep on his own.

Give him a chance to fall asleep on his own
Then I heard the old adage of putting him down drowsy but awake. I would hold him (er, probably rock him) until his eyes would start to slowly close, and then lay him down into his crib in slow motion. The minute his body hit contact with the mattress… BAM! Those eyes flew open, and drowsy was out the door. I thought, “Oh no! He’s not drowsy anymore! Let me pick him up and rock him some more,” and the cycle would repeat over and over. I didn’t realize my mistake: I was picking him up right away. Yes, his eyes will open wide when he hits the mattress; but that doesn’t mean he can’t get drowsy and eventually fall asleep.

All in hindsight
I wish I could give myself advice back then, but at that moment I could only trust people when they said it would get better. And it absolutely did.

What advice would you give first-time moms?

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Do I know how to jinx myself or what?

I know three people who gave birth this month, and last night my husband and I got to reminiscing about LO’s newborn days: how he hardly slept, how we had to rock him to sleep, and the worst part, how we would only get 1.5 hours of sleep at a time (3 if we’re lucky) because LO kept waking up. It really is true that you don’t know how tiring it is to take care of a newborn until you have one for yourself. Prior to having LO, my definition of sleep deprivation was either: a) you only got four hours of sleep last night and so you’re gosh darn tired the next day, or b) you actually didn’t even sleep at all last night, and oh my you’re a walking zombie.

Well. None of the two will even come close to the sleep deprivation that comes with having a newborn.

First, if you happened to only get four hours of sleep last night—or shoot, even no sleep last night—you have options: you can either take a nap the following day. You can sleep 12 hours the next night. You could take a day off.

But with a newborn, you can’t. You have to wake up over and over and over. Every day. For weeks, or more often, for months.

And it’s the shortness of the sleep that would really get me delirious. Two hours isn’t long enough to get into the deep sleep your body needs to fully rest. So even though I may have clocked in a total of eight hours of sleep a day, the fact that I would wake up every 1.5 or two hours made me feel like I still got no rest. There basically is no deep sleep with a newborn.

So back to last night: my husband and I were shaking our heads in wonderment over how we ever got through it. We’re fortunate now that LO sleeps 12 hours straight. As we turned off the lights, we jokingly said to each other, “See you in two hours when LO wakes up! Hehehe…” That was at 10:45pm.

12:42am—LO cries. I felt so bad but I didn’t even get up to check in. I was so tired. The worst part was that it took me a while to fall asleep, so for all I know I was really only asleep for an hour at most when he cried. He eventually settled himself back to sleep. Then,

5:58am—LO cries again. This time I get up to check in. My guilt must have entered my subconscious because I had a vivid dream of entering LO’s room and finding that his crib had been wrecked and he was stuck underneath the pieces of wood. I poked my head in but it was so dark I couldn’t see anything other than a silhouette of his figure standing on the crib. I told him it’s not time to wake up yet and to go back to sleep. He laid down, but once I closed the door, he cried again.

So then my husband goes in and checks to see if his diaper was wet. He also gives him Tylenol because it’s likely that he is teething. He finds that LO also dropped Lovey, and we know how he gets when he drops Lovey. And lastly he turned off the fan because it actually did get pretty cold. Poor baby.

I ended up not falling back asleep and just got up to get ready for work. So of course the rest of the day I’m a zombie. And I can’t believe we jinxed ourselves with our great sleeper. No newborn schedules, please!

So to my friends of newborns, and to all newborn parents out there, cheers to you, because even though I was so tired today, I know you’re ten times more tired than I am!

Labor

Even though my labor was over a year ago, I still remember those hours clearly. And I’m happy to say that the whole experience was not as bad as I thought. That may be due to the fact that I was vastly afraid of giving birth, so I guess anything was better than what I had imagined! The contractions and labor were also not what I expected, and definitely not what you see in the movies.

I was 39 weeks pregnant and we had just visited the doctor that day, Friday. She offered to strip my membranes to perhaps help instigate contractions, but I declined. I figured I wasn’t even due yet, and would be more open to it if I were overdue at 41 weeks. That Friday was also my last day at work before maternity leave. I thought I would give myself a week before my due date to relax.

Later that evening at 11pm, I started to feel gassy, then from gassy to crampy. I don’t normally get cramps, but I figured this is what this must be like. It was mild, but because the tightness was happening in intervals, I told my husband, “Is this labor?” We started timing the cramps, and they got tighter and tighter. Everything was still manageable, just annoying, something you had to just breathe through.

My husband made me some soup and crackers, and I just relaxed and tried to sleep (of course I couldn’t). We just prepped our apartment and made sure we had our bags packed. Finally at 5am, the contractions were happening five minutes apart, and were lasting for a minute each. “It’s time,” we realized.

We drove to the hospital thankfully in the early hours of the morning so we avoided the normal traffic. We parked in the emergency parking lot, and they brought out a wheelchair for me to sit in. I was holding my Care Bear tight as they wheeled me into triage. The contractions were still occurring, and I was already at three centimeters by the time we got there, meaning they could administer the epidural. Yay!

There were two anesthesiologists who gave me the epidural. The first step is to numb the area so that you actually don’t feel the epidural needle going in. Once they numb the area, they tape all sorts of tubes on your back so that the tube that the liquid will pass through will stay in place. Then they insert the needle, take it out, and it’s just a catheter that stays in place.

The second needle they gave me was the IV, which I felt was even worse than the catheter. I’ve never been a fan of IVs, and this one was located on the top of my hand! I couldn’t even look at it, so I asked them to tape over it to take my mind off of it.

Once the epidural was in, the nurses advised me to rest as much as I can, which I finally did! I actually slept through all my contractions, even when they were off the charts and I was already fully dilated. I didn’t feel a single thing.

The baby still wasn’t making his way down. The first thing the doctor recommended was to add some picotin, which induces labor by adding even more contractions. That didn’t do the trick, so the nurses broke my water bag by sticking a huge stick and literally poking the sack, which finally sent the baby in motion.

Once I finally hit ten centimeters, it was time to push. This meant that they had to reduce the epidural a little bit so that I would feel some sort of sensation to help me push. Pushing was the most difficult part (maybe because I actually felt something?). It just felt like having to poop out a seven pound blob and being extremely constipated. Luckily for me, total pushing time was only 30 minutes. The baby was facing down too, so they said if he were facing up the whole pushing process probably would’ve taken 15 minutes. That’s definitely rare for first time moms, since pushing normally takes hours.

So at 3:20, my little boy came out! The whole experience lasted from 11pm the previous night to the next afternoon. We spent the next few minutes resting, getting him to latch on, and me getting stitched up. I was pretty happy with the way the whole process went, considering how scared I was of the pain.