My mentor, Dana Obleman, founder of the Sleep Sense program www.SleepSense.net, taught me that a boundary is only a boundary if it is followed 100% of the time. Wow, mind blown! As a mother of four, this is really hard to follow. Honestly, I’ve reflected on this often and have landed on being realistic in this statement. There is only so much we can handle in our day-to-day lives, right? So, when is it important to hold boundaries and when can we fudge them?
I am very strict around bedtime boundaries, timing, routines, and rules. I tend to fudge my screen time, chores, and hair-dos. Let me clarify, I typically tell clients to not let their kids watch electronics with meals, but none of my kids nap anymore so I let them watch TV while they eat breakfast and lunch. Chores, ugh, chores are so hard. My older is in charge of the litter box, which he doesn’t always do. I won’t bore you with the examples with my other children, but the point remains. I’m not perfect. With that being said, I am very firm when it comes to sleep and it has really paid off. My kids simply go to sleep when it’s bedtime because they know it’s a boundary!
When working with toddlers and older children, I hear time and time again that kids use stall tactics. This is classic and a place where you and your partner should be 100% consistent with your rules.
Let’s get real, this is so frustrating! As a result, I suggest creating boundaries around one or two daytime behaviors before you try and tackle nighttime stalling. Why? Well, simply put, if you don’t have the energy to tackle boundary pushing or stall tactics during the day, you will not have the energy to stay firm throughout the night. Some great examples of perfect day time boundaries are sitting at the table to eat, completing the bedtime routine in the same order every night, or putting toys away when asked.
Once you decide to set a daytime boundary make sure you are prepared to handle the push back from your child. For example, using a timer is a great way to provide your child warning that playtime is almost over. You can say, “I’m setting the timer for 5-minutes. When it goes off we’re cleaning up your barbies.” Then provide a warning. “In 2-minutes, when the timer goes off we’re cleaning up the barbies.” Once the timer goes off, follow through with your direction. Be prepared for an explosion of emotion the first few times! Allow the tantrum or pouting to happen. Our job as parents is not to protect our kids from emotion, but rather guide them through it. Trust me, the more consistent you are, the easier it will get.
https://www.janetlansbury.com/category/toddlers-preschoolers/ has some great resources and strategies for setting boundaries with toddlers. Simply put, she’s the expert!
Now, once you’ve done that for a week, you can move on to bedtime! I suggest implementing a strict bedtime routine that is done in the same order with the same number of items at the same time every night. Meaning, if you take a bath first at 7:00, always take a bath first at 7:00. If you decide that you want to read two books to your child, only ever read two books.
Once your routine is complete, make sure you’re also consistent with your expectations around sleep. For example, if you don’t want your child sleeping in bed with you in the middle of the night, don’t ever let them. Why? Well, if you blur the lines for your child, they will attempt to blur the lines even more because they don’t know where the boundary begins and ends. See, toddlers are smart and they, understandably, are trying to find their place in the world. So, if you let them sleep in your bed on Tuesday, why not on Friday? There it is, that’s the nuts and bolts of boundary pushing!
My biggest piece of advice is to sit with your partner and decide what are your sleep goals? Once that is established, come up with a game plan for what you will do when your toddler tests you. Who will respond and how will you respond? Work as a team. Clearly define your boundaries with each other so you can remain firm and clear with your child.
Struggling with boundaries? Reach out to me!