It’s Not All Mary Poppins

In which Mary digs in her heels

Top of the top of the top of my pet peeves with parents. Bar none.

Worse than parents who…
… can’t say no to their child.
… are chronically late at the end of the day.
… don’t call when they’ll be late dropping off the child.
… call me “the babysitter”.
… refuse to leave before they’ve calmed their baby (and thus spend 15 minutes winding the poor child up)
… consistently forget to send diapers, changes of clothes, or other necessities
… are inexcusably late picking up a sick child
… send a sick child to daycare

I’ve seen all those, and yes, they’re annoying to one degree or another. But the thing that really, really annoys me, possibly because it’s the thing I see the most frequently, bar none…

Are the ones who expect me to pick up their napping slack. The ones who say that they’re SURE their child doesn’t need a nap any more. They’re sure, because if the child has a nap, the child “just won’t go to sleep” at night.

Which, on the surface of it, sounds reasonable enough. There does come a certain point where a child no longer needs a daytime nap. For some children, that can be as young as 22 or 24 months. (Not often, but occasionally.) Some children are still needing naps at four. (Not often, but sometimes.)

A lot depends on patterns at home, of course. A child with an early bedtime (6 – 7:30 or so) will be able to give up the afternoon nap before the child who’s up till 9:00. Only makes sense.

If I have a family who has always encouraged sane and sensible sleep patterns with their child, I am always co-operative. In fact, only last week, I was the one suggesting to that parent that her daughter probably didn’t need a nap any more. Mum was describing bedtimes which have become steadily later over the preceding weeks, greatly extended periods of chat and activity before sleep finally arrived. I know this family has always had a consistent bedtime. I know the child’s sleep quirks. She’s not a perfect sleeper, but she falls well within normal, and her parents have always responded sensibly, as they are now.

“Let’s try dropping the nap for a week, and see what happens,” I said. This is her fourth day without a nap. Mum, Dad and I are working together, noting changes in night-time sleep patterns, daytime energy levels, mood, appetite… all those things that can be affected by sleep. I suspect she will only need occasional naps from here on in.

So, though I do enjoy my quiet oasis of nap time, I don’t put my quiet hour or two above a child’s genuine need. Emily hasn’t napped in about a year; Tyler naps some, but not all, days. Child-free naptimes are WONDERFUL, but if a child genuinely doesn’t need a nap… well, they don’t. I deal.

I’m not talking about that kind of parent, though. I’m talking about the ones who have never managed to establish consistent, age-appropriate sleep patterns. Year-old babies go all weekend without a nap. Fifteen-month-olds go to bed at ten at night. Eighteen-month-olds are waking multiple times most nights. Bedtimes vary by as much as two hours, wake times are similarly unpredictable. These children arrive on Mondays with dark shadows under their eyes, irritable, whiny and either lethargic or in manic overdrive. They are obviously, chronically, consistently sleep-deprived. I hate this as much as I’d hate it if I knew a child weren’t being fed properly, and was malnourished. It’s not about convenience, it’s about health.

And, very often, sometime in the second year of these children’s lives, their parents get the brilliant idea that the reason their child won’t go to bed at a decent hour is not because of any of those things. No! The problem originates elsewhere. This poor, weary, sleep-deprived urchin makes bedtime a misery because they’re getting TOO MUCH sleep! And if I would only agree to skip the naps, everything at home would be perfect.

Bugs the ever-living crap out of me.

I don’t say so, of course. “You people are making me crazy!!!!” That would be unkind, rude, unprofessional, and unhelpful. I want this problem fixed. I just don’t agree that their solution will result in a well-rested child. And that’s what we all want, right?

So, instead of laughing in their faces and out-right refusing, I suggest that I would be open to eliminating naps if I had a better idea of what their current patterns are. Which is only true, and only sensible. “We can’t effectively alter the sleep patterns until we know what they are.” I mean that. I may believe that their current problems are only the result of a year or two of poor patterns… I may believe that, but I could be wrong. It’s been known to happen.

Therefore, I ask parents to keep a sleep log. I provide the charts to fill. They keep one and I keep one, for three weeks. At the end of three weeks, I say, we will combine our charts and see what they tell us.

A blind experiment, I call it, where neither side sees the data the other has, so expectations don’t skew perceptions. (And to prevent, as happened on one memorable occasion, the parents fudging their charting to get the results they wanted. Here’s a tip: It’s silly to lie about something like that when your regular evening babysitter is your childcare provider’s daughter…)

With the charting in hand, we usually spot the problem easily. And usually — not always, but usually — it’s nothing to do with daycare. The first time I did this with a family, they called me on the weekend at the end of the second week. “We don’t need to keep up with the charting. We thought we had a consistent bedtime with occasional exceptions. The chart’s shown us that it’s his bedtime that’s the exception!”

That was nice. Moreover, they were appreciative of the exercise. That was nice, too.

Because it’s not intended as a trick to trip them up. Truly, it’s not, though I suspect some parents see it that way, as a test they can pass or fail. It’s not a test. It’s information-seeking. I want to know what we’re dealing with here, what the baseline is so that we can evaluate if our actions are resulting in the desired changes. If you don’t know what your starting point is, how do you know how far you’ve travelled? If you don’t know what the current situation is, how can you plan your strategy and evaluate its efficacy? Has the situation changed? If so, by how much? If not, why not? How do you answer any of these questions without information? You need DATA.

But do you know what? When I suggest the charting, about 80% of the contenders drop out of the race. Keeping a sleep log for three weeks is too much work? Or they know in their hearts the data wouldn’t support their position? Or it’s that fear of failing the test? I dunno. I just know that my suggestion, which is made quite sincerely, almost always results in the issue being dropped. I genuinely find that odd.

(Gratifying in some instances, she chortles evilly, but odd nonetheless.)

I want the child to be happy and healthy, and part of that includes being well-rested. I will work with the parents to achieve that. I will not, however, do the work for them.

It genuinely distresses me to see pale, weary, unhappy sleep-deprived children. If a parent’s strategy for getting their child to sleep at night is to drive them to the point of bleary-eyed, blithering exhaustion… well, don’t expect me to co-operate.

And if they expect me to make such changes without any data, and only on their say-so?

It won’t happen.

Period.

July 15, 2011 Posted by | parents, Peeve me, sleep | , , , , , | 22 Comments

A bit of a mystery…

Lily comes in wailing. She’s been doing that for the last little while. The sudden reversal, however, is not the mystery. It’s not unusual for a previously chipper child to suddenly evidence reluctance, even outright distress, at drop-offs. Parents love to speculate why this happens — a visiting gramma, a cold, some disruption of the routine — and sometimes they’re right. Very often, however, it’s just another of those inexplicable vagaries of young children. Something set them off, obviously, but we will likely never know what it is. This particular one usually goes away by itself in fairly short order, so long as all the adults stay calm and upbeat in the child’s presence. Don’t make a big deal of it, and it won’t be one. It will pass. As so many things do.

The more I work with young children, the less I worry about the ‘why’ of things. Sometimes it’s obvious, and I’m happy when it is, but mostly we have to respond to things without knowing the ‘why’. And you know what? It works. You hardly ever really need to know why.

Why do we want to know why? Because it gives we adults a feeling of control, or, in this case, competence. If we know why something is happening, we’re three-quarters of the way to solving it, right? Weeellllll… maybe… Thing is, you’re never going to be totally in control (which is not an excuse for out-of-control children, ahem) and, more importantly, knowing why has essentially NO correlation to competence. You can be 100% in the dark about why something is happening, and still be a very competent parent.

I am a competent caregiver, and sometimes I have only the foggiest inklings of why something is happening. But I am also a very experienced caregiver, which means I don’t sweat it. My own curiosity would looooove to know what on earth is going on in that wee mind, but if I never find out, it doesn’t mean I’m one whit less effective and competent as a caregiver.

Kids are weird, is all.

Just like the rest of us…

So. Lily. Coming in wailing. In fact, I do have a theory: she’s tired. She comes in wailing, and stays whiny as long as she’s awake. She needs 100% of my attention. I must hold her at all times. If I so much as look at another child, the low-level whine ratchets up a notch. If I set her down, she moves up to full-bore wailing. If another child inadvertently bumps into her, in the bumper-car way of a semi-coordinated, oblivious toddler, she wails louder. If I serve apples for snack and she wanted Cheerios, she wails. (She ALWAYS wants Cheerios, and, sadly for her, I serve them only intermittently.)

In short, she is one miserable little camper. Miserable in herself, miserable to be around.

But put her down for a nap, and, after some initial wailing, she settles in for a substantial snooze. And when she wakes? Lily’s Evil Twin has left us (praise be) and Delightful Lily is back. Delightful Lily, let it hereby be related, is the cutest, funnest, nicest, just the most damned engaging child you’d ever want to meet. I adore Delightful Lily. The Evil Twin… not so adorable. At all.

The contrast between Tired Lily and Rested Lily is dramatic. Doctor Jekyll had nothing on this kid.

So I’m pretty sure I know the root cause of this particular behaviour. Even better, Lily sort of gets it, too. For the last week or so, when she arrives, wailing, she will lie her head on my shoulder and say (in a long, drawn-out, truly annoying whine), “Naaaaaaaaaaaaaaap!”

Well, okay then. Good to know we’re on the same page, sister.

Here’s where it gets weird. So I put her down, for the nap she asked for. I give her her soother, tuck her in and say, “Have a nice nap. When you wake up, you will feel SO MUCH BETTER!!” Because she will.

And Lily? Now that she’s all settled in for the nap she demanded?

She cries.

Wails.

Sobs.

So I go into her room. “Lily, do you want to have a nap?”

“Yes.”

This seems clear enough, but I’m canny enough to know that it often pays to ask the opposite question. If I get a “yes” to it… well, it’s just not so clear anymore, darnit.

“Do you want to come upstairs?”

“No!”

That seems clear enough. Let’s double-check.

“Do you want to play blocks with Rory?”

“No! Nap!”

Okay, then. She doesn’t want to come upstairs, she doesn’t want to play, she wants to nap. All-righty, then. Napping is good. We can do that. So I leave the room, and…

she wails.

Is that not so weird?

Toddlers are weird.

And this one is also tired, so… I walk away. We both know what she needs, but I can’t do it for her. And in a few minutes (5? 10? 15?) all is quiet.

Ninety minutes or so later, she wakes, cheerful, happy and ready for her day.

But what a noodle. She’s tired, she knows it. She doesn’t want to be up and playing, she wants a nap. So I give her the time and space and comfy spot to have that nap, and she OBJECTS!

Weird.

December 6, 2010 Posted by | Lily, sleep | , , | 6 Comments