Time slow down time slow down time slow down.
Today, in honor of Maternal Mental Health week, I decided to share how things are going with this moody threenager we are raising. Beck these days, that sort of thing. Beck these days is trying and wonderful and confusing and maddening and adorable and HITTING, so that’s cute.
She is, overall, still very cute, though. What I’m finding is that Beck seems to be in a constant struggle with herself to be an easy-going toddler vs a whiny kid with opinions. This is 100% developmentally normal, but normal doesn’t mean easy, that’s for sure. Things that can irritate Beck on any given day include any food, being touched, being offered any activity besides TV, going to bed, getting dressed, or having her hair done.
Things that are consistently acceptable are Little Baby Bum, brushing her teeth, washing her hands, ….and that’s kind of it. Little Baby Bum, if you aren’t aware, is a show that we get on Netflix that has animated characters singing nursery rhymes and bouncing around. It’s no Pixar, has no plot, and sucks her little brain straight out of her eyeballs. She would happily watch LBB for 6 hours per day if we’d let her.
Beck, like most two year olds, is severely affected by how much she does or does not sleep. We are incredibly strict on sleep, for two reasons: sleep is crucial to brain and body development, and Beck is a DICK when she doesn’t sleep enough. Yep, I said it, I mean it, and I don’t take it back. Whiny toddlers are a thing in the world and there’s not much we can do about it, but I’ve honestly never met a small child who doesn’t at least do somewhat better when they sleep as much as possible. Beck sleeps 11-12 hours at night and 1-3 hours for one nap per day, depending on the day. There are a few tricks and rules we use to achieve this level of sleep, and most of them have applied to Beck (and all kids, honestly) since a pretty early age. First, we understand that wake up time will probably stay the same no matter what we do, so early bedtime is the ONLY way to get her the sleep she needs at night. Saying “if she goes to bed at 9 she will sleep until 9” DOES NOT WORK no matter how much we want it to, and it is a lie we tell ourselves that just because she wakes up means she’s had enough sleep. She wakes up because it’s light, not always because she’s well rested. There are definitely times where we stretch her bedtime, but we generally pay for it the next day with extra whining and tantrums OR simply having to cater extra to her needs and allow extra time for a nap.
Another rule we have is that Beck does not get an opinion on her sleep. She has read zero books on kid brain development and we have, so she doesn’t get a say. I see lots of people asking children their opinions on bedtime and naps, which is problematic for several reasons – it gives kids a lot of control where they don’t need any, and OF COURSE they are going to say they want to stay up, but this has nothing to do with their exhaustion level. We spend a good amount of time telling people who watch her that xx is bedtime and please just put her to bed, which I get is tough for people to understand if they aren’t used to it. We have a great group of friends with similar sleep rules, though, so we don’t have to spend a ton of time justifying why we care a lot about sleep to other people. There are tons of differences between children, but the sleep thing is one where there are lots more similarities than differences in terms of needs at different ages, and science has proven that over and over again. So, on I preach.
Speaking of control, though, we DO try to give Beck control where 1. it makes sense and 2. she can handle choices. Early on we tried to always give her two options and that became exhausting for all of us, and we never got anything done. Control at this age for us = two choices, both that we are OK with, and some sort of a timeline for choosing. Beck will take FIVE MINUTES to choose between crackers v pretzels, so we tell her she has to “choose now or I’ll do it for you,” which works to insert some hustle into her brain usually. Honestly Beck is usually more comfortable not having choices, especially when she’s tired or has had a busy day, even “what book should we read” can be a lot and I’m trying to get better at discerning when 1. she’s being a jerk or 2. it’s really just too much to think any more. Usually bad behavior stems from the second one, which makes me a little more empathetic to her because otherwise I’m just like PICK A FREAKING BOOK SO HELP ME GOD.
But I’m super calm and patient all the time so it’s fine.
Another way we try to give the illusion of control is when we happen to let Beck do things that are her idea that we would have done anyway. Like that damn TV show, she sometimes will suggest it like it’s a brand new idea right when I’m trying to figure out how to get work done with her at home. “I have an idea, I could watch this!” “Perfect plan, Beck!” This happens with walks and playing outside a lot too, things that we always do but she feels incredibly empowered if they are her idea and we get to execute them quickly.
Food is something that is a daily struggle, and has been for the last few months. The struggle is inside of me; if I give Beck the foods she likes she will eat, if I ask her to try new things there is a 90% chance she will say no. For a few meals a week if she doesn’t eat some bites of everything she doesn’t get more of ANYTHING or dessert, which is almost always fruit. Sometimes I intentionally give her only things she likes and make a big deal out of it when she eats everything (telling Jay when he gets home, reminding her throughout the day, etc). We give her teensy portions to be sure she has a chance at success, and once she eats all of everything she gets more of stuff, always her favorite things. For example, there’s no more plain pasta until she eats whatever tablespoon of vegetable we are demanding. That way we ensure that she eats her less-preferred items before filling up on carbs and meat. If she refuses to eat all of her foods, she is done for the meal, with no extras or alternatives. I know this may sound harsh, but I believe that always offering “dinner or xx” is a surefire way to never teach a kid to eat what’s in front of them, and I’m not interested in that. She’s missed a few meals, but it doesn’t happen often, she’s growing fine, and always makes up for it at the next meal. Kid growth in general is such a mind game because as soon as they’re born we are obsessed with weight gain, but after age two it’s all DON’T LET THEM GET FAT, so I try to remind myself that missing a meal does not starve a kid to death, and Beck has never even complained of hunger, so I’m not quite the monster some make me out to be.
Current favorite foods include avocado with salt and lemon juice, plain pasta, pizza, french fries, corn, diced tomatoes, baked sweet potatoes, roasted potatoes, chicken/turkey/ground beef, bread, cheese, oatmeal, every single fruit, and yogurt. Other foods come and go, but these are super duper longtime favorites. Beck still drinks only milk and water, and won’t drink juice even when we offer it to her, which I’m thinking is a good thing. “I don’t know how you get her to eat these things!” is answered with 1. she ate them from day one, 2. she doesn’t get many “bad” options at home (restaurants are a different story), and 3. she doesn’t really get options at all when it comes to what is filling her plate. Stuff gets set out and she eats it or she doesn’t, and there are results for both of those.
As for personality, Beck has a huge curiosity mixed with just enough caution. She doesn’t hurl herself off of things but is all about running around, learning new things, and telling us what she DOESN’T know, which is hilarious and new. She’s recently start saying “I don’t know what that thing is” when she can’t describe something, and so we talk about the word and what it means. She’s learning to spell a little bit and can spell her name and “mama” really reliably. She’s also started to recognize a word or two that she knows in books, and is still solidifying the alphabet – she knows maybe 15 letters all of the time and all 26 most of the time (when she sees them). Counting is coming along and speech is great; it’s the most fun to have conversations with Beck about her day because she’s so concrete and has no filter with what is useful information. She often recounts stories of tantrums (no shame there) or other times she cried about something, never with any remorse; just is very factual.
Beck is very attached+independent, which we love to observe. She’ll go off on her own for awhile and play or draw, but usually requires one of us to participate after 10 minutes or so. She’s also getting a little bit scared of monsters and the dark, so isn’t too keen to go certain places in the house where the lights are off, “mama, can you please to turn that light on for me so I can go in there?” Jay sometimes will mention monsters and she will come RUNNING and cling to me like a little monkey, so he stopped with that particular joke.
Humor is a developing skill, and current favorite sillies include saying non-words as if they are real (where does she get these?) and playing peek-a-boo in the middle of conversations and saying “where is Beck?” so we have to be on our toes to know when these kinds of games are starting. She’s still into funny faces and running around naked and getting tickled, which is so much fun and so sweet and innocent and I hope it never ends even though I know it will.
Speaking of naked, potty training is not happening. Beck has a little toilet seat that she sits on and makes grunting noises but nothing has EVER come into the toilet that we’ve been able to tell. She rarely even wants to sit on it and we even have candy in.her.bathroom set and ready, but she’ not interested so we aren’t pushing it. Her school starts in the fall and they don’t require it until the 4-year class, so we have time and I’m not worried about it just yet. Plus, diapers are convenient and getting TO potty trained means actually potty training, which sounds like a very annoying necessary means to an end, so I figure let’s not rush greatness, right?
As for me, I’m as obsessed with Beck as ever, so it’s probably a good thing that she’s going to school later this year to give her a break from the smooching and tickling and general staring in her direction. I do find that I don’t have a problem disciplining her or anything like that, which I’m grateful for because I know it’s the best thing for her and it would stink to cry every time I put her in time out or something like that. I’m sure there are times where I’m too lax and times where I am overly harsh about things that may not matter, and Jay and I both try to adjust as we go based on where we all are in our feelings and development. The best times ever are when we have nothing to do, can say yes to everything, and aren’t rushing around. The normal flow of things is a little more hurried, with a few more rules, and we make that work too. Mainly I feel so lucky to be Beck’s mom and watch her through the most miserable and most wonderful moments of her little life.
In short, sleep is incredibly important for toddlers and should be revered and respected and forced forever. The end.