Even though he proclaimed to be the world’s best dad in jest, he’s actually doing a much better job than he realises (and probably a whole lot better than most of his friends)! But he is still the father of possibly the most strong-willed toddler I’ve ever met.
I went to work this morning expecting a relatively easy 2 hour coaching session (silly me), talking through the principles of resetting a toddler’s body-clock due to his regular early rising. I’d been through my usual check list with Super Dad when we spoke on the phone:
- Does he go to bed easily – you put him in his cot wide awake and walk away?
- Does he sleep through the night?
- Does he go down for his naps okay?
- Is he a good eater?
- Does he have a good diet?
- Is he generally quite well behaved?
He answered yes to all of these, so how complicated could it be?
Unfortunately I forgot to ask:
- Is he a control freak with endless amounts of determination?
And even if I had, Super Dad, probably wouldn’t have answered yes. Not because he thinks the sun shines out of little Charlie’s nether regions, but because, like most parents, Super Dad and Super Mum (yes, she’s an A* mum too) didn’t realise to what extent Charlie has been ruling the roost.
Charlie, like most 20 month-olds, is a lovely little boy who can charm you into doing most things but if he’s not getting his own way, he’ll turn slightly grumpy, make a few loud unpleasant sounds, at which point most people would jump to attention and do exactly what he wants them to do. Or they would stand their ground but find some other form of distraction to fend off the impending tantrum. The problem with this situation is that if we (parents) always stop our children from kicking off, they end up expecting us to do everything they tell us to do.
Within half an hour of meeting Charlie, I could see that, as lovely as he is, he had his parents right where he wanted them. When I suggested Super Mum stopped playing with him and sat with me to talk, he quickly toddled over and started pulling on her fingers and moaning and grunting at her in an attempt to get her back on the floor with him. The moans soon escalated and Charlie launched into what would turn into the most epic tantrum I have ever witnessed from someone so small. He quickly forgot why he had originally become cross and started demanding his dummy, which he had spotted, but was only usually allowed in bed.
During the three hours of tantrumming, Super Dad and Super Mum told me about how they were a little unpopular among their NCT group, having had a sensible routine for Charlie from quite early on, and that he had usually been easy at bedtime and slept through the night. His diet is well-balanced, and he sits and eats well at meal -times. Super Mum spends loads of time with Charlie during the week as she’s only working one or two days. They really have been doing so much right, so why has this little early-riser turned into a little hell-raiser?
Sleep, behaviour and communication are all linked. Because Charlie has so much control during the day, he expects the same control when he wakes in the morning. He probably wakes early because at some point in the night, his dummy disappears and when he comes into a light sleep, he starts searching for it and wakes up properly. Unfortunately his most effective way of communicating is currently bellowing at the top of his voice, and when things don’t don’t go his way, he bellows until they do! In the morning, this is usually until around 6.00 when Super Dad doesn’t mind getting up. Unfortunately, when we took away the option of distraction to calm Charlie down, he didn’t know what to do with himself, and because he is SO strong-willed (a trait he has inherited from Super Mum), and SO bad tempered (a trait he inherited from Super Dad) even though he calmed down a bit occasionally, he just carried on with his tantrum.
Charlie’s parents are doing a brilliant job with him, and making so many of the right decisions, but they didn’t realise to what extent they were giving into Charlie’s demands. Once this had been pointed out to them, they started to question every move they made, and immediately started to change the way they responded to him. By doing this, they will create new boundaries and he will feel happy and safe, and won’t need to be demanding and stroppy. And by asking Charlie to add his dummy to my dummy chain, he will learn to take control of his emotions, calm down naturally and fall asleep independently.
This won’t happen overnight, and things will probably get worse before they get better, but if Super Mum and Super Dad, continue to be loving, firm and consistent, Charlie will relinquish his position of power, and peace and sleep will soon be restored to this Super Family.