How can I break my toddler of habits she's too old for?

Q: After a move out of state and brief transition between having our own place to stay, my 2 year old daughter is now using her bottle again and won't fall asleep without me in her bed with her. How can I break her of these habits?

A: Change is hard for kids.  Life is comforting and predictable when things are always the same (how else can you explain why your child tortures you by wanting to hear the exact same bedtime story every single day of his life) If there has been a big change in a child’s life, he may cling to things that bring him comfort, and there are ways that a parent can help.

1)      Help your child find age-appropriate sources of comfort  Soft toys and comfy blankets and pillows to hug and hold can be very comforting.  However, different kids like different things, so parents should just experiment and see what works.

2)      Make it so that a child can not engage in undesired habits  For example, if there are no bottles in the home, a child who is too old to drink from a bottle simply can not drink from one.  If a mother doesn’t lay down with a child (but instead gives the child a soft cuddly toy to hold), the child will eventually learn to sleep without the parent.

3)      Don’t give in to tantrums  While initially this may unfortunately result in a child’s having even bigger tantrums as he tries harder and harder to get you to give in – it is what we psychologists call an “extinction burst”, because we like to come up with really neat names for things –eventually, if a parent sticks to not “giving in”, the child will soon learn that tantrums don’t work.  It is very hard to do, but in many cases you just have to “wait out” tantrums and not give in (and keep in mind that if you give in even sometimes or only when the tantrum gets really bad, it actually can make things even worse, because the child learns that if he sticks with it eventually tantrums work).

4)      Praise and reinforce “Big Kid” behaviors Catch him when he does “Big Boy” behaviors (“What a big boy; you put your toy away”) and give him opportunities to learn and master age-appropriate “big boy” skills (such as helping mom carry something).  


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