Baby Headbangers

All parents of toddlers have witnessed the full body flailing of their enraged child. It is something to behold. Kids definitely don’t hold back when they’re angry or upset! This can be disconcerting to the parent, but even more disconcerting is when your toddler repeatedly bangs her head against the wall or the sides of her crib or the floor—for apparently no reason at all.

According to parents.com, as many as 20 percent of babies and toddlers between the ages of 6 months and 24 months intentionally bang their heads. For some, this can last a few weeks and for others up to a few years, usually settling down by the age of three or four.

Why do they do it?

Comfort – You know how rocking in a rocking chair or falling asleep on a boat can be soothing? The back and forth rhythm can be calming and help you relax. Head banging has the same effect for some babies when they discover that the repeated motion helps them feel at ease.

Anger or frustration – Young children do not have the verbal skills they need to express the storm of emotions they go through, so banging can help them vent these feeling.

Pain – Some babies and toddler bang their heads as a way to self-soothe when they have teething pain or earaches.

Attention – Children who realize that you find the head banging upsetting might do it to get your attention. The more you try to stop them, the more they will see it as something that can get a rise out of you.

In very rare cases, repeated head banging can be a sign of an underlying issue such as autism. If you notice other behavioural or developmental issues with your child, it’s always a good idea to get him checked out, especially if the head banging continue past the age of four.

So what do I do?

The first step is to make sure your child is safe and protect her from hurting herself. Children that head bang will generally not cause themselves harm; they will only bang hard enough to comfort themselves, not to cause actual pain or injury to themselves. Resist the urge to line the side of the bed or crib with pillows, as this is a suffocation risk. Remember that your child will not bang hard enough to cause himself pain.

Give her some extra attention when she’s not banging. This is always helpful for most attention-grabbing behaviors from kids. A few extra minutes playing or sitting down to read books can go a long way to giving your child what she needs. Try not to get too upset or make too much of a fuss when she’s actually banging, because this will set up a negative reinforcement situation. Just make sure she’s safe and try to distract her if possible. If not, let the banging session run its course and carry on with your day.

Offer your child other solutions for soothing himself, such as cuddling and playing some calm music, giving him a warm bath, singing a song or telling a story.

wunder bumper
Wunder Bumper – A fantastic product to soften the blow for headbangers.

Once your child develops the ability to speak and express himself more, he will most likely stop the head banging. Remember: we all have our ways of expressing anger, frustration and sadness. Head banging might seem like an alarming way to do it, but most of the time it’s perfectly safe and won’t cause any long term damage or trauma.

Are Soothers Bad For My Baby?

A lot of parents who use soothers feel a twinge of guilt the first time they stick a pacifier in their baby’s mouth. However, dealing with a screaming infant in the grocery line or on a long car trip will make most parents try just about anything they can think of to calm the child down!

The truth is, it often works. Babies are born with the instinct to suck. They have limited means of expressing what they want and can’t let you know if they’re hungry, thirsty or in pain. Sucking soothes them and brings them comfort, which is why a baby will suck on just about anything you put in its mouth, whether it’s a bottle, breast, finger or toy.

But at a certain age, kids are more than capable of learning to self-soothe, and pacifier dependence can cause long-term problems. I recommend getting rid of the soother between 3-4 months if it is interfering with sleep. It is at this age, when that sucking reflex starts to diminish as well.

Here are some reasons you should consider ditching the soother:

Sleeping

Soothers interfere with the consolidation of nighttime sleep. If your child uses one to fall asleep, she will most likely wake in the night and then not be able to get back to sleep until she has it again. . Even if the child isn’t bothering you to help find the soother, there are still times when it’s causing a full wake-up for retrieval. While brief wake-ups are common in the night, when a child is soother dependent it often leads to fragmented sleep, which can make for a tired and cranky toddler the next day.

Dental problems

Pediatric dentists recommend getting rid of soothers by the age of 2. Overbites and crossbites can occur, which lead to problems with chewing, speech and appearance.

Ear infections

Studies are now linking pacifier use with recurring ear infections. In fact, children who use soothers regularly are up to three times more likely to develop ear infections.

Speech

Around the age of one, kids enter into their speech development phase. This means they will start trying on sounds and words and will often babble to themselves and others while they learn this new skill. If they constantly have a soother in their mouths, they might be less likely to practice talking.

Also, constant soother use can make it harder for a child’s tongue and lip muscles to develop normally, according to Patricia Hamaguchi, a speech-language pathologist and author of Childhood, Speech, Language, and Listening Problems: What Every Parent Should Know.

I have found that parents are often far more worried about the idea of taking it away, than the actual reality of it. Most children are over it within a day or two.

Get Better Sleep Tonight

During my 3.5 years as a sleep professional, I’ve gotten used to people asking me what the “secret” is to getting a baby to sleep through the night.

Of course, there is no ONE secret. Teaching a child healthy sleep habits is a combination of lots of different things.

But that doesn’t mean that there aren’t some shortcuts, either!

With that in mind, today I’d like to share with you 7 different shortcuts you can start trying over the next few nights to get your child sleeping better.

Let’s get right to it:

Sleep Shortcut #1: Watch the waking hours

One of the BIGGEST enemies of sleep – especially for babies and toddlers – is overtiredness… and many parents are surprised to learn just how soon their children get overtired!

Here’s a quick guide to how long your child should be awake between naps during the day:

Newborns (0-12 weeks): 45 minutes of awake time
3-5 months: 1.5-2 hours of awake time
6-8 months: 2-3 hours of awake time
9-12 months: 3-4 hours of awake time
13 months to 2.5 years: 5-6 hours of awake time

If you make sure that your child is put down for naps BEFORE they get overtired, you’ll find that they fall asleep more easily at naptime… AND that they are more relaxed at bedtime, too!

Sleep Shortcut #2: Don’t Be Afraid Of The Dark

We humans (babies and toddlers included) sleep better in the dark.

Try making your child’s room as dark as possible. (I recommend using blackout blinds, taping cardboard over the windows, or whatever it takes!)

In many cases, even the glow from a nightlight or a digital alarm clock can be enough to disrupt your child’s sleep cycle!

BONUS TIP: Try to keep your child’s room as dark as possible during daytime naps, too. This can often make a BIG difference in how long your child will nap during the day!

Sleep Shortcut #3: Be Predictable (And A Little Boring)

Babies and toddlers love predictable routines. And a predictable bedtime routine (lasting no longer than 30 minutes) is a great way to let your child know when the time for sleep is coming.

A typical bedtime routine might look something like this:

– nursing or bottle (10-15 minutes)
– bath (10 minutes)
– put on pajamas (5 minutes)
– read a story or sing some songs (5 minutes)

Make sure that this routine is the same every single time. Remember, you want bedtime to be as predictable as possible for your child!

After your bedtime routine is complete, be boring. Lots of children will try to “drag out” bedtime by playing games, throwing toys out of the crib, standing up, etc.

Don’t participate.

If your child has thrown their blanket or favorite stuffed toy out of the crib, calmly return the item without saying a word. Be boring, and the games shouldn’t last too long!

Sleep Shortcut #4: Feed AFTER Naps, Not Before

For a lot of babies and toddlers, the single biggest reason they don’t sleep well has to do with a feeding-sleep association.

In other words, your child has “linked” the ideas of feeding and sleeping. They think that they need a bottle or nursing BEFORE they can fall asleep.

By feeding right after naptime – instead of before – you can help your child break this feeding-sleep association.

IMPORTANT NOTE: This strategy should only be used before naps, not before putting your child to bed for the night. (A full tummy is needed to make sure your child doesn’t wake up hungry during the night!)

Sleep Shortcut #5: Same Place, Same Time

Remembering that our children love predictability, it’s a good idea to have your child sleep in the same place – at the same time – every day.

This means that naptime should happen in the same place as nighttime sleep – rather than in carseats, strollers, your lap at the coffee shop, etc.

For many parents, simply changing WHERE their child naps during the day causes a big improvement in the length and quality of nighttime sleep.

BONUS TIP: When you are putting your child to sleep for the night, it’s a good idea to make sure that they fall asleep where you want them to stay asleep.

In other words, if your child falls asleep in your arms on the couch and then wakes up during the night in a completely different place (like their crib), chances are they’ll be surprised… and start crying to let you know about it!

Sleep Shortcut #6: Try The “1, 2, 3? System

When your child wakes up during the night – or during a nap – and starts crying or fussing, try to wait a specific length of time before going in to check on them.

The first day you try this, I recommend waiting exactly one minute before going in to check on your child. On the second day, wait two minutes. Three minutes on the third day, and so on.

Why?

Well, everyone (babies and toddlers included) will wake up briefly at the end of each 45-minute “sleep cycle.”

Most adults wake so briefly that we don’t even remember it in the morning. But children who haven’t learned to fall asleep independently need a little longer.

This “1, 2, 3? System gives your child the opportunity to get themselves back to sleep – without your help. And once your child has learned this skill, you’re home free!

Sleep Shortcut #7: Take Five

Before you put your child to bed (for naps or at nighttime), make sure the five-minute period before they are put to bed is very calm and relaxing.

No throwing your toddler in the air… or watching TV… or tickle fights… in the five minutes immediately before bed.

IMPORTANT NOTE: I totally encourage tickle fights and any other kinds of rowdy fun you can think of with your children. It’s fun for the whole family! Just NOT in the five minutes before bed. (Right after waking up is a great time to play!)

The Next Step?

Like I said, these are “shortcuts” – quick tricks that, for some parents, are the missing piece of the puzzle that gets their child sleeping through the night.

And while I hope that you’ll be one of the lucky parents who’s able to solve their children’s sleep problems using one of these tricks, I’m also here for you if you need a little more guidance.

Holiday Road

Sleeping Baby + Vacation = Relaxed And Rested Parents

When you’re planning a family holiday with a baby, an important thing to consider is how your travel plans are going to affect your child’s sleep routine. You’ll have a much more enjoyable vacation if you organize your trip in a way that allows for as little disruption as possible to your little one’s sleep schedule.

This will help ensure she gets the rest she needs to be happy, healthy, and alert during your trip—which is bound to make your holiday more enjoyable for everyone!

Here are some tips to help ensure sure your baby gets the sleep he needs during your travels:

Tip 1: Don’t over-schedule

One of the biggest mistakes parents make is to try to pack in all the fun and adventure they might have had back in their “child-free” days. The fact is, when you travel with a baby you can’t plan to go bungee-jumping in the morning, swim with dolphins in the early afternoon, go parasailing in the late afternoon, and go on a dinner cruise in the evening.

It’s better to slow down the pace and make sure you schedule regular naps and early bedtimes, just like you would at home.

Tip 2: Be consistent with naps and bedtime

An occasional nap in the car seat or a later-than-usual bedtime probably won’t do too much harm, but if your baby’s naps are all over the place and she goes to bed much later than usual several days in a row, your baby will become so overtired and cranky that a complete meltdown will be inevitable.

Tip 3: Be patient as your baby acclimatizes to the new environment

Even if your baby is the best little sleeper in the world at home, when you’re in a strange environment things might be very different. It’s normal for babies and toddlers to test boundaries around sleep when they’re someone new.

Just because you have certain rules at home, they won’t automatically understand that the same rules apply at Grandma’s house.

In a strange place, your baby might cry for a while at bedtime or wake up at odd times during the night. The best way to handle this kind of behavior is to react the same way you would at home. Go into the room every five minutes or so to offer a bit of reassurance, but other than that, don’t bend your rules. If you hang on tight to your consistency, within the first night or two, your child will be used to the new environment and will be sleeping well again.

Tip 4. Make sure you bring your child’s sleeping toy and/or blanket

If your child has a treasured comfort item, it will go a long way to helping him feel safe and secure enough to fall asleep in a strange environment.

Tip 5. If you’re not a co-sleeping family, don’t start now

Another big mistake parents make is to start sharing a bed with their baby or toddler while traveling. Even if it’s only for a few nights, if your baby decides this is her new preferred way to sleep, you could find yourself dealing with a big problem when you get home and put her back in her crib.

The good news is, most hotels have a crib you can use or rent. You could also take your portable playpen along and use that as a crib.

Melatonin for Babies? No Way!

Melatonin for Babies?  No Way!

There was a recent article in Today’s Parent about an busy, working mom with two children who claimed she has tried everything to get her children to sleep well. (I posted the article on my Facebook page.) I commented on the post that she should hire a sleep consultant  and my comment was deleted. Most likely because I included my website. I did this because I feel I have a responsibility to let sleep deprived parents know there is help out there. I am also 100% confident that I could help her get both of her children sleeping well.

There was another post from a mom that gave her children Melatonin and it worked like a charm. It was very concerning for me as it was not deleted and planted the idea for many other sleep deprived parents that Melatonin was the answer.

For overtired parents who can’t seem to get their kids on a healthy sleep schedule, the promise of a magic pill can be pretty enticing.

But it seems to me that more and more doctors and parents are turning to Melatonin as a Band-Aid for sleep issues with their children. I hear stories all the time about people saying they are giving their babies Melatonin to help them fall asleep at night, and I have serious concerns about this.

Here’s the deal: Melatonin is NOT a long-term solution to poor sleep habits. Healthy sleep habits need to be learned at a young age in order to set kids up for a lifetime of healthy sleep habits.

And while some studies have shown that Melatonin can be helpful with autistic children or children with ADHD, most babies and children do not need Melatonin; they need to be taught good, independent sleep skills.

Here’s why:

Melatonin is a hormone that is secreted by your brain and is present in every person’s body. According to the National Sleep Foundation, “no other hormone is available in the United States without a prescription. Because melatonin is contained naturally in some foods, the U.S. Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act of 1994 allows it to be sold as a dietary supplement. These do not need to be approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) or controlled in the same way as drugs.” The same goes for Canada.

Dr. Johnson-Arbor, a Hartford Hospital toxicologist, says, “It’s (melatonin) possibly thought to affect growth, and to affect sexual development and puberty.” Other side-effects can include headaches, drowsiness and stomach ache.

According to the National Institutes of Health, “Melatonin should not be used in most children. It is possibly unsafe. Because of its effects on other hormones, Melatonin might interfere with development.”

There’s no need to put your kids at risk just to get them down for the night. The plain truth is, children need to be taught to sleep properly — and it’s up to you, Mom and Dad, to show them how.sleepingbaby