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Top Sleep Tips For Babies, And For Managing Your Temper

Dr. Fran Walfish Answers Your Questions

Q:  Dr. Fran, my 10-month-old daughter wakes up several times each night and can’t fall back to sleep. My husband and I are exhausted. What can we do to help her learn how to put herself back to sleep?          Anne R.

A:  Dear Anne, it is not an unusual challenge for infants to learn how to put themselves back to sleep. In fact, it is common. Each parent is individually different and your baby’s crying evokes different feelings inside of you.

The following are my general “Top Sleep Tips For Babies.”

• From birth and up, always put your baby down to sleep when he is slightly awake or aroused. His task is to discover and develop self-soothing techniques (other than Mommy’s skin). He will find his thumb or you can interest him in a pacifier or soft, cuddly blankie.

• Once your infant is 6 months old, experts believe her stomach is large enough to hold food through the night.  She is old enough for you to begin a sleep routine and expect her to sleep throughout the night.

• From 0-6 months old you cannot spoil your baby. Respond quickly and warmly every time he cries. It’s fine to pick up your infant, feed, rock, comfort and sensitively provide whatever he needs. After 6 months, do not feed or pick up your baby when he cries in the middle of the night (unless he is sick, teething, or physically hurt). Instead, sit on a chair in full view and position yourself as a supportive, disengaged (no chatting) companion to teach your child to self-soothe and not depend on Mommy’s skin when he is anxious.

To be a good parent you must balance two things at the same time—nurture and boundaries. You are there with him (nurture), but you will not pick him up out of the crib (boundary). This is an opportunity for your child to grow.

• Do not go in and out of your child’s bedroom checking.  This is confusing to young children. The hardest behaviors to extinguish are those that you intermittently reward. It is reinforcing to the very behavior you want to get rid of. This means that if you sometimes go in and sometimes go out of his bedroom your child may think that screaming louder and longer will bring you back.

• Create a nighttime routine that prepares your child to unwind, settle, and let-go of the day. Repeat this sleep routine every night before bed. Perhaps your routine includes dinner, bath, bottle, and books/songs.   Make sure everything in your routine is quiet, calming, and cues your baby that sleep is coming.

Q:  My wife intervenes every time I discipline our children.  She says I explode with too much anger. I have a stressful career and very little patience when I come home at night.  My kids are starting to disrespect me because their mom undoes my every move. What can I do to remedy this situation?
Alex W.

A:  Dear Alex, you’ve got to cool it with yelling at your kids.

Don’t bypass this opportunity to develop a warm relationship with your children now while they are still young.

If you need 20 minutes after the office to yourself before stepping behind the line of fire, try following my tips below.  Good luck

• Deal with your anger in the moment. The build-up and surprise factor is the scariest part for your child.

• When angry, remove yourself, take a short cool-down time, then return and deal with the situation directly and in a calm manner.

• Refrain from verbal putdowns, berating, or spewing hostilities to your child (or spouse). Make this a solemn commitment.

• As you recognize and accept anger as a natural, normal human emotion, accept it in your child. Invite your child to tell you about it openly.

• Talk about feelings with your child. Embrace anger as just another acceptable feeling.

• Set and hold boundaries matter of factly, rather than with a flurry of anger.

• Work on extending your tolerance for delayed gratification. Be patient. Your child will comply only if you are supportive and on their team.

• Teach your child to always tell you the truth. Assure him that you will work on not getting so angry because you love him and do not want to scare him.

• Know that you are a model for your children. Your child will think, “If Daddy explodes, why shouldn’t I?”

• Be kind to yourself.  Know this is a process, not a quick fix. Be sure to hold on to your motivation to raise happy, healthy, disciplined, loving children.

Dr. Fran Walfish–Beverly Hills psychotherapist and author of The Self-Aware Parent at www.DrFranWalfish.com.  

Send her a question at franwalfish@gmail.com.

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