Welcome to Joyful Toddlers!

This space is about increasing our enjoyment of the young children in our lives through concrete action and by adjusting the lens through which we view them. My work comes out of LifeWays, which is inspired by Waldorf education. I welcome your comments, and questions about increasing your enjoyment of the children in YOUR life.


Thursday, September 30, 2010

Hard Mornings


Q: My four and a half year old has suddenly turned into a raging grouch in the mornings: won't do anything I say, screams at us, sometimes throws full-blown fits. He often calms down after he has breakfast, but not always. What can we do to calm things down?

A: My first question would be, is he getting enough sleep? 4-5 year olds still need at least 12 hours of sleep in a 24 hour period. If he has recently stopped napping, you'll need to compensate with an earlier bedtime. Also, children who are sleep-deprived often have a hard time falling asleep, and wake up early. Remember, sleep begets sleep, so try moving his bedtime half an hour earlier, and see if that helps.

My second thought is that he might be going through a growth spurt, so he has low blood sugar when he wakes up. The fact that he often calms down after breakfast supports this idea. A couple ideas here: first, try to give him a substantial snack before bed. Something like oatmeal can be warm and calming as a bedtime snack. Or a cup of warm milk, or a banana. Next, try having some food ready for him as soon as he wakes up, already set up at the table on a pretty placemat.

Third, if you've fallen into a pattern of negative interactions in the morning, you'll need to shift things around in order to change the energy of the situation. Does he wake up on his own? If so, when he comes out of his room, you might try saying gently: “Oh, I'm glad to see that you're awake! Come sit on my lap and eat this banana while I read you this story.” Being warm and snuggly on your lap without having to interact much directly is a nice way to wake up. When I have children in my care waking up, I will bring them onto my lap and brush their hair gently. I often spray the brush with Rosemary-water, which is gently invigorating. As I do this, I will talk about what I was doing while they were asleep, and what we'll be doing for the rest of the afternoon. This is a very gentle description, using lots of imagery and not expecting any answers until they're ready.

If he starts to fall into the belligerent behavior, your can tell him, firmly but still lovingly: “Please ask me again, in a respectful tone of voice.” If he's unable to do that yet, you might say, “I can see you're really hungry. I bet after you eat your breakfast, you'll be ready to speak respectfully.” If he's falling apart because he's having a hard time waking up and has low blood sugar, then walking away from bad behavior won't be very effective, as he'll be unable to self-regulate until he's had some food. So something I use in situations like that is this: I'll say, “Wow, you're having a tough time. I'm going to give you a big hug, and when I'm done, you can sit down quietly and eat your breakfast.” Then I'll give the child a big, soft, enveloping hug, pouring as much love into him as possible. I might even whisper “I love you so much.” Getting a hug and love at a time when they're acting unlovable is often just what a child needs in order to calm himself if they're tired or overwhelmed. Then I'll pull back a little, look at him, and say lovingly, “Are you ready to sit down at the table now?” Usually I'll get a quiet nod.

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