Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Bedtime Sweet Talk

Janie, asleep on the couch 10 minutes after waking up because she woke up too early
Janie is officially 2 and 1/2 this month.  Like most "middle toddlers" (24-36 months), she struggles with unexpected changes and thrives on routine.  She likes things just so and will question or even correct us (especially little Walt!) when we don't "do it right."  Although she's still very flexible with meeting new people, trying new foods, and going new places, she wants the rituals of her day-to-day life to remain the same.  For example, Janie has to hold one tooth brush while I brush her teeth with another.  Then, she brushes her teeth on her own when I'm done brushing for her.  If I dare change that sequence, things get emotional. 

In those moments when she gets frustrated with unexpected change or thinks that things aren't done right, she gets reduced to tears.  Remembering the lessons I learned from Dr. Karp's The Happiest Toddler on the Block, I start speaking "Toddler-ese."  

Most parents already speak "Toddler-ese" when their toddler does something that makes them happy or proud.  We use short phrases, use repetition, and mirror their emotions to show them that we are connecting with them.  For example, when Janie went down the slide all by herself for the first time, like most parents, I said, "Weeeeeeeee!  Wow!  Janie is sooooooo big!  Janie went down the slide all by herself!  Mommy is so proud of you!  Good job!"  It seems so natural to do that when she does something that makes me happy and proud, but it took practice for me to use the same short phrases, repetition, and mirrored emotions when she gets scared, mad, or sad.  With a lot of practice (and a willingness to sound like a dingaling on the neighborhood playground), I'm learning to use "Toddler-ese" in those emotional moments.  Several times an hour, I say, "Janie is saaaaaad!  Janie is sooooooo sad!  Janie, use your words.  Tell Mommy why you are sad.  Use your words.  Mommy can help."     

It's tough being a toddler!  You're smaller and weaker than everyone else, you're not easily understood by others, and the world is a big, confusing place.  Janie's two-and-a-half-year-old brain shuts down when she gets upset, and she doesn't respond to reason.  When I use short phrases, lots of repetition, and mirror Janie's emotions to hit her emotional sweet spot, she moves through her tantrums much faster.  When she calms, she is able to try verbalizing what is upsetting her.  "I want purple dress, not green dress!  Pleeeeeeeeease?"  

By day's end, especially if it's been a hard day for Janie, nothing soothes her sweet little soul more than our evening routine.  Usually, we do baths, put on jammies, read a few stories, tell Janie to "pick a friend" (stuffed animal) to bring to bed with her, tuck her in, and say our prayers.  Tonight, I added "bedtime sweet talk" in before prayers.  I have a feeling it will become a regular part of our bedtime routine.  

"Bedtime sweet talk" is yet another gem that Dr. Karp introduces in The Happiest Toddler on the Block to encourage good behavior in your toddler.  It's a chance to show your toddler that you appreciate all of the good things that she did during the day and preview the exciting things that could happen the next day.  At the end of a long day, it's an opportunity for the tired tot to "drift into sleep feeling smart, loved, and like a winner."  

Dr. Karp says to keep your voice "gentle and understated--more like a candle than a sparkler."  Basically, bedtime sweet talk is an opportunity to go through the day, retelling your toddler all of the good deeds she did and describing how happy the events made you.  Then, to help your toddler look forward to tomorrow, mention a few of the things that may happen--something as simple as getting to help Mommy water the flowers or seeing a buddy on a playdate. 

The last several weeks have been especially difficult for Janie, so it was nice to have a sweet ending to our day.  Once Janie was all tucked in with Puppy (her stuffed dog) and her favorite blankie, I got down on the ground next to her toddler bed.  I stroked her hair while I used a soft voice to start my "bedtime sweet talk."  I went through our day, telling Janie how happy she made Mommy and Daddy.   I got as specific as possible to show her that I noticed her good behavior.  I talked about how well she ate the different foods at the different meals, the toys that she shared with Walt, the places we went, how nicely she played with her friends on a playdate, what a great job she did getting in and out of her carseat, the stories we read, etc., etc.  After recapping the day, I told her why tomorrow is going to be a fun day, too.  I talked about going grocery shopping and, if she is a good listener, getting a cookie from the bakery at the end.  Then, we talked about taking Monty on a walk and going to the park with Daddy when he is home from work.  

Janie could not conceal how much she loved our bedtime sweet talk!  She relished hearing me retell the good things she did today and how happy they made us.  As an added bonus, it was an opportunity for me to reflect on the day and remember all of the really good things that happened that I might have otherwise forgotten.  Civilizing a toddler is a lot of work, and taking the time to remember all of the good things she did throughout the day is a motivator to do it all again tomorrow.  Also, it showed Janie that I saw and heard the different good things she did that made "Mommy and Daddy so happy."

Once I finished the "bedtime sweet talk," we said our bedtime prayers like usual.  Janie showed me how much our time meant by holding on extra long to my goodnight hug.  "I love you, Mama.  Night, night!"  I could still see the grin on her face as she rolled onto her side while I shut the door behind me.               


  1. I've been doing a similar thing with my 2 1/2 year old of reviewing her day, but I like the idea of using it as a time to focus on her good behavior!

    1. This has morphed into a thankfulness journal during our family prayer time. We have a family prayer binder, and I keep pages of looseleaf in it. Each night before we pray the Rosary, we go around the table, asking each family member what made them happy that day. I try to be really specific about the special things we did as a family or the ways they made me proud/happy. It's been a fun tradition!

    2. Great idea! I like how you phrase it as what made you happy - hoping it will be easier for my toddler to respond to then what are you thankful for.