Q: I read a reply you gave someone else about not letting a baby cry herself to sleep. I agreed with everything you had to say. However, my 14-month-old is waking up every hour at night. Finally after dawn she will sleep for two hours. I don't want to ignore her, and I can't, but I'm getting run down from lack of sleep and I don't think it's good for her either. Is this sleep anxiety? I'm still breastfeeding and that's the only thing that will get her back to sleep. Help! D.B., Chicago
A: At 14 months, your daughter should be sleeping more than an hour or two at a time, and we can understand how tired you must be. There are a number of possible explanations but you will have to experiment to discover which ones are most relevant to your daughter. You mention you are breastfeeding, but it is not clear whether your daughter is also eating solid foods. If not, it is possible she is hungry and why she sleeps after being breastfed. Talk to your pediatrician.
Or maybe you are responding too quickly when your daughter wakes. Babies and young children actually wake up a number of times every night and often fall back to sleep after a few minutes of complaining or rustling around. While we do not recommend that you let your daughter cry without comforting her, if you hear her in the night, you might try waiting until you are certain she is really crying. If it becomes necessary to intervene, do your best not to stimulate your daughter. Leave the lights off, don't play with her or talk to her more than necessary-in other words, be as boring as possible while you feed or change her in order to keep her from waking fully.
Also, evaluate your daughter's sleeping environment. Is there too much light? Is her room too hot or too cold? Is she over- or underdressed?
One of these should do the trick-if not, we recommend you have your pediatrician do a complete evaluation to be sure there are no medical reasons for her sleep disruptions.
My 2-year-old won't listen when I explain anything Q: I know 2-year-olds can be very difficult to deal with, but I am really having trouble with my daughter. Whether it be wearing her seat belt, not bothering her older sister when doing homework or not eating the food she picks up from the sidewalk, she resists. When I explain why, she yells louder and gets more and more upset. On occasion, I have lost my temper and slapped her bottom, which makes her scream louder and makes me feel terrible, because I don't believe in hitting children. I don't seem to able to get her to do what she has to without a complete meltdown-on both our parts. What do you suggest? R.V., Naperville
A: We suspect the real problem here is that you are trying to reason and be reasonable with a 2-year-old, which is not really possible. Two-year-olds don't have the language skills necessary to understand hypothetical statements (“If you eat that piece of candy you found on the sidewalk, you could get sick”) or to argue with explanations. Moreover, they have very little impulse control-they want what they want when they want it. This is a normal state that they will outgrow, but for now words will not solve the problem.
Because your 2-year-old is behaving normally, there is no reason to punish her or to be angry with her. The real solution is to realize explanations are not going to work and solve the problem in a friendly but expeditious manner (take the candy and throw it away, strap her into her car seat, pick her up and take her away from her sister). Then you can comfort her and try to help her engage in an enjoyable activity. You will not have the same frustrations. And you will be much less likely to lose your temper. Also, keep in mind the goal of anticipating and preventing your 2-year-old's meltdowns (have a toy to give her when you put her in her car seat, have your older daughter keep her door closed when she is doing homework, keep an eye out for attractive garbage and change course).
If I'm not there, how can I be sure he eats healthy? Q: My son, who is in sixth grade, is able to go to the cafeteria for the first time (previously he had to bring lunch). I have signed up and paid for him to be on the lunch plan for the entire year. I am concerned that he is mainly eating candy for lunch. I find tons of candy wrappers in his back pack and his answers about what he ate for lunch are vague. He is a little overweight, but mainly I am concerned about his teeth and his health. How can I get him to eat a healthy lunch? E.C., Oak Park
A: This is a common problem At whatever age children gain control over their eating, they frequently do not make the wisest choices.
We suggest a dual approach. First, sit down with your son and explain why eating so much sugar is bad for him. Tell him you know he cares about his body and staying healthy, and emphasize that there is no reason he couldn't have one candy bar a day as long as the rest of the day he makes good food choices.
Get him an age-appropriate book about nutrition. You might make an appointment with his doctor to talk to him about the importance of good eating habits. At the same time, approach the school. Investigate whether the lunch plan can be modified to limit the amount of sweets a child can get at any one meal. Often biology teachers are happy to spend class time explaining why growing children need to include a variety of food groups in their diets.
Finally, think about what is being communicated to your son about sweets by the family culture. If you eat a lot of sweets, he may be copying you. In that case, maybe the whole family could go on a “sweets diet.” On the other hand, if candy is never allowed, children can react by seeking it out at school and friends' houses. This is why it is important to make clear to your son that sweets are fine in moderation.
Questions? Here's your chance to get some answers to your pressing parenting questions. If you're trying to figure out how to handle some aspect of your child's behavior, send your question to Chicago Parent Q&A, 141 S. Oak Park Ave., Oak Park, IL 60302; or e-mail it to SPedersen@wjinc.com. The Piepers will respond to three questions per month. Sorry-they are unable to respond to questions that they do not answer for publication. For more answers to questions from readers since January 2000, visit our Web site. Click on “Past Issues” and then “Smart Love.” For a more complete understanding of the Pieper's philosophy and psychology, read their book, Smart Love: The Compassionate Alternative to Discipline That Will Make You A Better Parent and Your Child a Better Person.
Martha Heineman Pieper, Ph.D., and William J. Pieper, M.D., are the authors most recently of Addicted to Unhappiness: Free Yourself from Moods and Behaviors that Undermine Relationships, Work and the Life You Want (McGraw-Hill, 2002), which helps parents and other adults improve their own lives. They also wrote the best-selling parenting book, Smart Love (Harvard Common Press, 2001). The Piepers have spent more than three decades practicing psychotherapy with infants, children, adolescents and adults; counseling parents, and supervising other mental health professionals. The parents of five children, the Piepers live in Chicago.