by Kim Cameron-Smith (this article is adapted from one written for my family blog, www.firstheralds.com, on January 28, 2012)
I mentioned in this post on my family blog that, according to Dr. Gregory Popcak, the primary goals of toddlerhood are:
- Continuing to lay the foundation of basic trust (started in infancy)
- Beginning to take independence
- Developing physical competence (mobility/toilet training)
- Exercising the will
In this post I’ll focus on the first goal: continuing to lay the foundation of trust. This foundation was initially established in infancy when Mom and Dad were responsive to baby’s cues, Mom breastfed baby, wore baby close to her during the day, and slept close to baby at night.
As baby has grown into a toddler, she’s becoming more independent. She can spend longer periods alone and away from Mom. Dad can begin having an important role as the toddler learns to trust many adults in her life.
Although the toddler is becoming more independent, we don’t want to push it on her. You can’t really force independence anyway; it just happens naturally. We have to continue to read the cues of the child, and not what some chart says. If we push the child or force the child, it’ll backfire.
You’ll find no dearth of opinions on when a child should be weaned or when she should move into her own room, but trust common sense and the guidance of the Holy Spirit. Each child is so different in temperament, living in different circumstances and experiencing different challenges. Illnesses, moves, deaths in the family – these sorts of upsets can delay a child’s readiness to wean from the breast or to move into her own room.
Some kids are ready far before we expect it. My Dominic was such a kid. At 10 months he preferred to sleep in his own bed in our room. He would roll over and go right to sleep. Shocking! But Aidan slept with us until he was 5. During those 5 years, we had moved 3 times, I had attended law school, and we had a new baby. He needed reassurance and he got it partly by this night closeness. (He’s now a very independent, interesting, loving 13 year-old.)
Part of the equation is what Mom and Dad need as their toddler is becoming a bigger kid. If you are ready to wean, but the toddler is not, there are gentle methods of gradual weaning that take into account the legitimate needs of the child. I read in Dr. Sears’ “The Baby Book” that weaning is not a negative thing. It’s a ripening, a coming of age, a transition into a new stage of life. It means something good is coming to end, but let it end in a loving way.
You can aid the transition by allowing Dad to do the night parenting as you withdraw the breast at night if you are still doing night feeds. Stay busy during the time of day when your toddler usually nurses. You can fingerpaint, go to the park, craft, or have a playdate. Don’t offer the breast, but don’t refuse it either. Gradually, the number of nursing sessions reduces and then you can wean altogether.
If you are ready to move your toddler into her own room, but she’s hesitant or scared, you can find a gentle middle ground. Try placing a crib mattress at the foot of your bed and allow her to stay in your room provided she goes to sleep quietly. Eventually you can move the mattress closer to your door, then into her own room. Let your child help you paint and decorate her room so she’ll be excited about going into her big bed. But don’t expect perfection. Even we adults need comfort and nurturing at night some times.
Finally, if the parents and child are all content to continue nursing and co-sleeping beyond toddlerhood, that’s fine! Mom & Dad should be confident in their choice. Let us love and support one another as we seek to obey God and live grace-filled lives.
Kim Cameron-Smith is CAPC’s founder and webmistress. She homeschools her 4 children in Northern California where enjoys a family-centered life with her husband, children, chickens, and dog. She is a licensed attorney and serves as a legal advocate for homeschooling families through a California non-profit organization. Kim keeps a family blog at www.firstheralds.com.