Category Archives: 12-17 months

Effective discipline strategies for toddlers Part I

Alright, alright, let's get down to some concrete suggestions for some discipline practices that work for the younger ages. I've pulled these methods from various sources including some fabulous books (that I will list in a separate post with lots of link-love), parenting programs (both intervention and prevention programs), and wise parents around me. To be clear: I have not come up with any of these methods on my own. And when I say these methods "work," keep in mind that what I really mean is: that they work for some kids, some families, some of the time at some ages and not others. I will also clearly state that all the strategies that I advocate are non-aggressive and generally non-physical. Especially with the under 3 or so group, I'm throwing out this caveat because many parents advocate spanking (at least as a last resort) in the toddler/pre-verbal stage. When I get the strength and the time, I will finish the post I've been working on that addresses spanking, but that's for another time (in the meantime, you can go join this thoughtful discussion on the topic).

I wanted to cover some of the most successful methods for the under 2 years old group first. This is the age at which children are very limited in their verbal abilities, so they often get very frustrated because they can't communicate to us what they really want. I'd say the vast majority of behavioural issues emerge at this young age because children feel misunderstood, ignored, or just plain frustrated that they can't get you to UNDERSTAND what they want. Their RECEPTIVE language, however (especially after 12 – 18 months) is quite good. So they may UNDERSTAND you, but they just can't COMMUNICATE with you. Can you IMAGINE how infuriaDisciplineting and frustrating that could be?

Another caveat before we get to the list: I think of discipline episodes as two-sided. The first is the emotional component: All parent-child conflicts are emotional and offer opportunities for parents to learn about their children's inner lives and to also teach their children some important lessons. We want to teach our children to understand and regulate their emotions while also being able to communicate what they feel to others in effective ways. Conflicts of will that often involve applying some discipline strategy provide the most common context through which we can do this type of emotional learning and teaching with our children. The second component to discipline episodes is the behavioural one: we want to teach our children to behave appropriately, safely, with kindness and so on. Following many, many wise authors (again, links to books are coming in a future post), I think we need to acknowledge and accept children's emotions and allow them to feel them without fear of reprisal while still teaching them appropriate ways of ACTING on those emotions. I'm going to focus on the behaviours in this post and talk more about emotions and how to label and work with them in another post.

Here are some of the top strategies that could work for you and your young children. Keep in mind that some of these methods could work brilliantly at older ages too, while others may be less appropriate. Also, you'll note that these methods are ways to AVOID a power struggle. My aim (in theory, unfortunately not always in practice) is NOT to "show my kids who's boss" but to gain their compliance and teach them new skills through other means.

1. I maintain that one of the most effective strategies for avoiding coercive cycles or nasty discipline episodes is to ANTICIPATE the most commonly-occuring conflicts and find ways of AVOIDING them

2. Children under 2 can often be easily distracted. So, if a 9-month old is spitting his food all over the floor, read him a book/sing him a song/rattle a funny toy and see if his attention is diverted. If your 18-month old insists on pulling the cat's tail, start playing tug-of-war with him with your scarf instead. And so on…

3. Teach your pre-verbal child sign language. (This is kind of in the middle of the emotion/behaviour split). The link I provided (and there are tons more; go ask Dr. Google) allows you to put in all sorts of words and watch as an overly-smiley lovely young woman shows you the sign for said word. Personally, I don't really think you need to spend the money on a DVD or book, not at first anyway. Ten simple words will do at first (even less: milk, sleep, all done, MORE, banana, etc.). Babies as young as 6 – 9 months will eventually GET that the word is the same as the gesture, but most babies won't actually start USING the signs until about 1 years old or more. For those of you uninitiated, you'll be tempted to scoff. Beware the baby sign-language scoff lest you miss something that will SO WORK for you. Giving your 1-year old the ability to communicate to you that "NO MOMMY!  You have it all wrong… I want MILK, not water/a hug/my soother!" or "NO! Don't take that away, I want MORE!" can be priceless. For SO MANY children who do not have the ability to talk yet, a few simple signs can be the key to avoiding innumerable tantrums and, just as precious, the key to connecting with your child in a way that you never realized was possible at such an early age. Baby sign-language: Not just for the granola-hippie-hemp-eating mommies anymore (mmmm… granola!).

4.ATTEND like mad to positive behaviours you want to encourage and try to ignore or at least respond in a flat emotional tone to behaviours you want to discourage. (Again, this stuff comes straight out of the behavioural techniques of Skinner and those whacky pigeons he taught to press bars for food.) This is SO IMPORTANT to remember: Your attention is like crack to your baby/toddler. The number one thing your child craves is your attention, preferably your smiling, adoring attention. You can use that beam of attention to tune your child's behaviour — when she is doing stuff you want her to do, or just being an adorable, sweet child, praise the hell out of her, smile gloriously, do a little dance, throw a mini party. When she is doing something you would like her to stop doing (that is nevertheless not harming her or anyone / anything else), withdraw your attention: in response to the slamming doors, throwing food, screeching at pitches only young dogs and mothers can hear, walk into another room or pick up a book to read or start lavishing loving attention on her sibling instead. As SOON as she stops the yucky behaviour and does something more to your liking, start the happy dance, pick her up and mush her sweet little cheeks into yours, smile and clap and generally go over the top. I know… sounds ridiculous. But it is UNCANNY how well this can work if you can keep your cool and keep your eye on the goal: you want to simply stop or redirect the behaviour, NOT let her know that you won some battle of wills.

5. Focus your requests on what you DO want your child to do, not what you DON'T want him to do. Babies and toddlers have miserable shor
t-term memories so they'll remember the LAST thing you've said in most cases. If you tell Johnny: "Don't bang the glass table. Banging the glass table will break it," he will likely hear, "wah, wha, wah, bang the glass table, break it." Instead, focus on an alternative behaviour you would prefer him to do: "Don't bang the glass table. You CAN bang this drum. Come on, bang this drum with me!" Also, they may not KNOW an alternative behaviour that would be alright for you and still feel fun for them; kids need us to TELL them and SHOW them what we're ok with.

6. Related to #5, when our child DOES misbehave (for example, hits another child or grabs a toy from another child's hand), teach him the more APPROPRIATE behaviour once the situation has been diffused and PROVIDE HIM THE OPPORTUNITY TO PRACTICE that more appropriate behaviour. Oftentimes we reprimand our children for doing something wrong (for example, we give them a time-out), but then that's the end of that. Most often, we don't give them the chance to practice the more appropriate behaviours we hope they'll use next time (using their "strong" words, sharing, asking instead of grabbing for a toy). This "do-over" is ESSENTIAL for giving children the skills to deal with situations differently the next time they arise. I've heard this idea from several sources, but I'm a big fan of Sharon Silver at ProActive Parenting, who emphasizes how powerful these learning experiences can be for children.

OK, having written another novella, I'll stop now and give you a chance…  What have I missed? What works or worked best for your toddler?

When Parting May Not Be Such Sweet Sorrow

Wow! That was a lot of guilt purging last week. I hope we're all travelling a little lighter this week if only because we've been reminded that we are not alone in carrying that MOTHER LOAD of guilt. Seriously, thanks for all the sharing. Not only has it been great to hear that we are not alone, but it's been great to get to know you a bit. We aim to please…so the more you tell us, the more you can help shape this site, what gets covered etc. 

In that spirit..
Last week's group carthasis started with Bella's guilt over her departure to Europe, but someone (Paola?) mentioned that she was also interested in the garden variety of separation anxiety.  I thought I"d give a little background into the research on separation anxiety (regular kind) but then leave you with a couple of questions that, to my knowledge, are not so well covered in the research literature. The first is an issue about separation anxiety that I"ve experienced with my son (there we are in the pic in those "all important" early days). I've also heard about it from friends re: their experiences with their own children. Once again, it would be great to hear about your experience…

Here's a quick "Did you know…?" to set it all up (just some highlights mind you, the literature on attachment is MASSIVE).

Fig4 1. One of the key studies that influenced thinking on human attachment came from a study with monkeys. Infant monkeys were given a choice of a). a surrogate mom made of wire, with a plastic nipple attached that delivered food or b). a similar wire mother with no food access but who was covered in a soft terry cloth. Although they nursed from the wire mom, the monkeys preferred the cloth mum (as in, they spent 17-18 hours a day with the cloth mum versus 1 hour with the wire/nipple one), even more so when food was not at issue but the monkeys were frightened by some foreign object that entered the room. You can read more about the study here. Although this finding came from a study with monkeys and not human babies, it raised the idea that food supply may not be as central to developing an attachment to a caregiver (as previously believed) as comfort and security. 

2. Of course the MAJOR line of research on human attachment came from Mary Ainsworth's work in the lab using something called the "Strange Situation". Basically, moms and infants come to the lab and spend some time in a "waiting room" of sorts (magazines for mom, toys for baby etc.). Over the course of 15 minutes, the people in the room change. At first mom is alone with baby. Then a stranger enters. Mom leaves baby with the stranger. Mom returns, then leaves again. Then the stranger also leaves and baby is alone. Stranger returns, then mom returns. Each of these scenarios last only a very short time; less than a minute to 3 minutes max. The researchers were mostly interested in what happens when mom and baby are reunited. Based on baby's reaction to mom's return, the babies were classified as either a). securely attached, b).avoidant attached or c). anxiously attached. The secure babies (about 65% of the infants tested) got upset when mom left but were comforted and quickly re-assured by mom on her return. In contrast, the avoidant (about 23%) babies were somewhat detached, did not show much emotion, even avoided mom or acted unaffected by her departure and also her return. Interestingly, biological markers (such as heart rate and skin conductance) later showed that these babies were nonetheless in distress. And the anxious babies (about 13%), were VERY upset at mom leaving, seemed upset or even angry on her return and were not easily reassured. 

The argument goes that securely attached babies, confident in a secure base to return to, are more free to explore their environment and therefore to learn. There is evidence that they fare better than avoidant- or anxiously- attached babies on complex problem -solving tasks and that they are generally better adjusted in later childhood and beyond.

3. In case you're freaking out because you don't believe that your child would react like a securely attached baby, here's something to consider. There is evidence that the proportion of babies in the different categories varies across cultures. E.g. supposedly there is a greater proportion of "avoidant" babies in studies with German infants  (although a more recent study with a German sample showed more of a "normal" distribution of babies across the three categories)  and of "anxious" babies in studies with Japanese infants.. Makes sense if you consider that parenting practices and styles definitely differ cross-cuturally, although perhaps less so nowadays what with the whole global village, internet etc. revolution.  In that case, it would be normal, and perhaps highly adaptive, for babies' attachment behaviors to reflect the culture they are being raised to function in.

4. A student of Mary Ainsworth – Mary Main – went on to do pioneering work on adult attachment. She was interested in how your memories regarding attachment with a primary figure when you were a child compared to the type of relationships/attachments that you form as an adult (in friendships but particularly in romantic relationships). Turns out that in ~75% of cases, that early style of attachment stays with you and is similar to the types of relationships/attachments formed in later life. Although, keep in mind that it has also been suggested that certain "buffering" factors can help mediate that connection. So a rough time in childhood does NOT necessarily mean that you are doomed to repeat that pattern as an adult.  

So there you go, some points to ponder. Here's what I'm interested in hearing from you:

My son has been very attached to me, since very early on. At 18 months of age, he would get upset if I left the room to go the bathroom, even if he was in the company of his father or grandparents who he knows very well and loves dearly. A good friend of mine's child went through a phase (granted he was quite young, maybe only 6-7 months or so) where he would get upset when she bent down over the sink to brush her teeth and was momentarily out of his view. Both of these kids improved immensely, but then with no warning would show this intense reaction all over again. No precipitating event, so stressful time, no new baby, move, change of preschool or daycare, illness of loss of a family member etc. Then it would subside, only to return again. And so it went. This summer,at almost 5, my son went to a day camp for the first time (for 2 weeks). He did not know a soul, it was in a location he did not know well, first time taking his own backpack, own lunch etc. But he did not even blink. "See ya Mum". That was it. Ditto the first day of school some weeks later. So we seem to have come out the other side. It's understandable to me that there may be sensitive periods in development when kids are more likely to suddenly seem anxious about separation agai
n, but sometimes he would sail through those sensitive periods without a blip and sometimes not. 

I'm interested to hear from you about "bouts" of separation anxiety. Anyone out there have a child who would "zoom" in and out?  At what ages?  What do/did you attribute it to?

Finally, as a mum of only 1, I"m always interested to know how kids with siblings cope with things. If you have more than 1, are/were your kids similar or different when it comes to separation anxiety?  Also, do you think that how the younger one or ones handled separation from you was different to how their older sibs handled it because they had sibs – read: company – to help tide them over until you returned? 

Send me your thoughts…


What’s going on in that sweet little head of yours?

Ever look at your baby and wander what the heck is going on in that head? Ever read those articles in magazines or newspapers or hear stuff on the radio about scientific studies on human infants (non-medical) and wonder "How the heck do they know that?".  Can't exactly ask the baby. Heck, they hardly stay awake long enough to find out anything anyway, even if they could talk.

This week I thought I'd take you behind the scenes of infant research to give you a peek into how scientists get inside that head. In a nutshell? They take advantage of the things that babies already like to do such as suck, listen to and look at new things. Looking has probably been explored the most. And dude, you'd be amazed and what we've learned from theses studies.

Looking studies typically use something called "visual habituation". The set-up looks something like this:Dadandbabycb

Mum or dad wears a pair of headphones, so they can't nudge, budge or influence baby's behaviour in any way (like try to make them look especially brilliant- kidding, kidding…). Baby is given something to look at on the screen (image, video etc.). At first the baby is interested and looks intently ("Hey, what's that?!"). But eventually, baby gets bored and starts to look away – "That again, whatever…" We say that the baby has "habituated". Then the display changes and baby sees something new. If they look with renewed interest – "What the…?!" (we call this "dishabituation")- then we know that the baby detected the difference between the old and new thing. That's it.

Ho hum, you say. But get this, sometimes the change between the old and new thing can be VERY subtle (we're talking teeny-weeny). By tweaking these subtle changes – while keeping everything else in the displays the same – we've learned a whole host of things about what 's going on in that noggin'. And we're talking tiny babies (newborns, 1-month olds) right up to toddlers. 

Check out this example: In one study, 6 month olds who were habituated to displays of say 8 black dots on a white screen, looked longer when the display changed to 16 black dots. As the two displays contained the same brightness, density of dots, total area of the dots  (i.e. the amount of black), the researchers concluded that the infants must have detected the difference in number. We're talking 6 month olds here people, they're not counting (at least not the way we do)! Cool huh? 

Infant looking has been used to study everything plus the kitchen sink: we're talking awareness of spatial position, proportion, solidity of objects, understanding gravity, adults' intentions (did they mean to grab that object or just touch it by accident?), discriminating faces of the same race, sensitivity to facial expressions and even to rudimentary addition and subtraction (with some conclusions more hotly debated than others).  And get this: it takes longer for babies of depressed moms to habituate to a happy face compared to babies of non-depressed moms, presumably because it's more novel to them! 

Kinda makes you see that bundle of sweetness in a whole new light doesn't it? So what do you think? Are you surprised by some of these findings? Did you have other ideas about how researchers pried their way into the infant brain?  Wanna know about anything in particular about the baby brain? Send your q's and stay tuned to hear more about ingenious ways of getting at the inner sanctum later this week.

Babies’ brains do NOT need Baby Einstein… but moms might

Many of you must have heard by now about the big kerfuffle regarding Disney's offer to compensate parents' for the price of their Baby Einstein DVDs. Turns out that the claims made on these products were WRONG. The claims I'm primarily talking about, of course, is that these videos are "educational" or "help cognitive development" or "Help your baby learn language." Oops, that last one is really, really wrong. Not just wrong, but the precise opposite seems to be the case. In a study that came out originally a couple of years ago, researchers from the University of Washington found that for every extra hour of DVDs or videos that babies watched (specifically, 8 – 16 month olds), they learned 6-8 words LESS than kids who were not watching. I find the age-span particularly interesting, since that period is JUST BEFORE the stage that the vast majority of children get a HUGE spurt in language development at around 18-21 months. A recent study out of Thailand also found that early (before 12 months of age) intense t.v. exposure (defined as 2 hours or more per day) was associated with a six-fold increase in the probability of language delays.Baby tv gif

I have two main responses to the whole Baby Einstein thing. The first goes something like: The bastards SHOULD pay. There has NEVER been any research to back up the "educational" claims made by Baby Einstein inc. and all the videos associated with the brand. And there have been plenty of studies that have, for years, debunked myths like playing (Baby) Mozart to your child (in or out of the womb) has anything to do with the development of intellect,musicality, etc. (links to come, I can't find them now). I can kind of deal with every leggo box having a blurb on its packaging about "promoting fine-motor skills" and every wooden castle "enhancing children's imagination skills." These are sort of no-brainers (pun intended) without as much baggage associated with the claims. But what gets me all fired up is the massive industry that's been built up to prey on parents' fears, particularly the fear of not providing enough for their children's intellectual growth. The sales of videos geared at children under the age of two are estimated at over a BILLION dollars. Check out the Kaiser Family Foundation report for many more details. I remember the guy who painted our house 2 years ago urging me to start playing these Baby Einstein videos for my boys otherwise they'll fall behind and not be ready for school — he was seriously and sweetly concerned for my boys and their clueless mother. Then I went and looked at one of the videos and did a bit of my own research and proceeded to be HORRIFIED by the subtle and not-so-subtle marketing ploys made by these DVD companies (it's not JUST Baby Einstein, they're just the most popular). But my painter was not alone in his concerns: In that same Kaiser report (which is way out of date by now, given it was published in 2003),  27 percent of young children were found to own Baby Einstein videos and 49 percent of parents thought that educational videos were “very important” in the intellectual development of children.

Let me put it as clearly as possible: Scientific evidence strongly suggests that children learn language  better from native speakers in person or even from audiotapes (or whatever the cool kids are calling audiofiles and such lately) compared to learning from screens (TV or computers). For a review of these findings (and a very clear description of the state of the science in this area), just google this fellow's name: Dimitri A Christakis and the year 2009. There's a PDF document of his review article that I can't link to, but it's available for free for anyone who wants it.

So, yeah, in sum, I think Disney and that self-promoting, money-grubbing founder of Baby Einstein should pay back all the parents they lied to. It may be a tad harsh, but I think setting a precedent that stipulates that toy companies and media developers need to back up their claims with REAL SCIENCE (or just SHUT UP about any scientific claims) is a good precedent to set.

<end rant>

But I said I had two main responses and here's my (blessedly more brief) second point: Baby Einstein videos are well-designed attention-catchers (albeit VERY creepy, IMO) that can save a parent's sanity. I don't think they're evil, I just don't think they teach language or anything else particularly valuable for that matter. But they DO entertain babies. And there are so FEW things that entertain babies for more than .003 seconds. If your baby loves these DVDs (and not all babies do, btw), I'd say use them in moderation without fear of screwing up your child. If I had had one of these DVDs when I had my infant twins, it may have allowed me to, oh… I don't know, maybe SHOWER more than once per week. So many of us know that feeling of having a needy infant and desperately needing to pee, cook dinner, brush our teeth, put a load of laundry in, answer the phone, engage our older son/daughter in some playful game without the baby interfering, or just stare out the window for 5 min of uninterrupted peace. Seriously… if a DVD can give us that little bit of time we need to take care of ourselves or the gazillion things we need to do around the house, I am ALL for it. OF COURSE it's important to limit the viewing time (most babies won't sit still for more than 15 min or so anyway) and OF COURSE we should continue to do lots of cooing and gooing and talking and cuddling and singing with our babies throughout the day. It's not a good idea to use these DVDs in place of quality time spent face-to-face with parents and other loved ones… but once in a while, for mom's sake, I wouldn't fret too much over it. Since Disney's taking it on the chin anyway over all this "false advertising," maybe I should suggest to them a change in the name from Baby Einstein to Baby Hypnotics or Mama Valium (ok, shutting up now, we already know how bad at funny I am).

So… what do you think about Baby Einstein? Have you played them for your baby? Were you suprised by the "quasi-recall"?

– Isabela

Reader’s question: Seperation anxiety and marital conflict

Here's a set of intertwined questions and circumstances that many of us can relate to.  B is feeling stressed and confused about this situation. I'm going to take her email in parts. Please feel free to pitch in with your comments and support, as usual:

I'm not sure what to do, and my husband and I are kind of at an impasse
about this.  Our daughter just turned 1, and on occasion has nights where she is wide awake for 2
hrs – nothing seems to be wrong, but nothing seems to solve it. We
usually just rock her and eventually she falls back asleep.

hasten the sleep process, we've tried giving her pain meds (in
case of teething), a half bottle of milk, a sippy of water, cosleeping,
Nothing seems to work except time. We keep it quiet so she doesn't
think it's play time. But if we don't go into to get her, she cries
until picked up, so she isn't content to just play on her own in the

always kind of chalked it up to
teething pains – she is a very slow teether and usually a few weeks
after these  episodes a tooth would appear.  We went through this with
the 9 month sleep regression too though. Right now she just has 2
bottom teeth, and those came in just in late May. I'd expect more are
on their way.

problem – lately she's been
female clingy lately, and quite the mama's girl.  Last night / this
morning she screamed – and I mean hysterical screaming at the top of
her lungs – for 45 mins when my husband came in to relieve me after an
hour.  (The hour she was with me, she just laid in my arms awake and
calm). I
went back into her room after the 45 mins of scream to take her back
from my husband, and he pitched
a fit.  He feels that I'm rewarding her with what she wants (me).  I
don't see it that way at all – I feel that it's our job to comfort her
and if she feels she needs me, damn it I am going to her.  I think it's
really unfair to let her scream for 45 mins to "teach her a lesson". It
would be different if it was 5 or 10 minutes, but it isn't. That has
happened on occasion too, but she surrenders much more quickly.  I
guess I draw the line at over 10 minutes.

So, first off, your baby is likely at a good age to start to make some changes in her sleeping habits if you're not keen on how they're going. In another part of her email, B. asked how separation anxiety affects sleep. We've talked about what could be going through a child's mind starting just before 1 years old and why those changes are likely to keep a child awake at night. But the peak of separation anxiety will likely have subsided by now. That doesn't mean the baby's not sensitive to separations  — now that she's passed through the "object permanence" gates of the 8-11 month period, your disappearances will always be somewhat fraught with meaning. But she should be settling down with the understanding that mommy doesn't disappear forever. So, if you want to apply your favourite, non-CIO sleep-training method (because you say you don't want to use CIO), I'd say go for it. It sounds like these long periods of wakefulness are tiring out your baby and certainly tiring for you and your husband.

don't know who's right, and I don't know how I'm supposed to tell the
difference. I ovbiously don't want to give in to any tantrums and spoil
her, but I really think something going on.  She is usually a pretty good sleeper at night. But testerday she didn't nap at
daycare (an in home provider) – she just wanted the to be held.  She was exhausted and so I know
she isn't really staying awake this morning for fun. She's tired, so if
she is up, something is going on.

Oh yes… I so feel for you. NO ONE is right or wrong in this situation. You both are just tired, frustrated, and you both desperately need a break. If you DO decide to use a systematic approach to sleep-training, I
think it's CRITICAL for you and your husband to get on board with a
plan TOGETHER. It is probably the only way you can maintain any consistency in your sleep-training approach.
If SOMETIMES you hold the baby for an hour and SOMETIMES your husband
goes in and attends to the baby and SOMETIMES he stays there and
SOMETIMES you can't take it and get the baby from him, it's going to be
very difficult for your baby to learn new sleep habits. So… my
suggestion would be for you to sit down one night after the baby IS
asleep and pour a glass of wine for the two of you (if you're into that
sort of thing… I find it a delightful way to begin a marital
discourse on any given parenting issue ;-) Then work out a plan
that BOTH of you feel good about following. If you don't think you can
allow your husband to do the soothing part of the sleep training, then
you make the commitment to always be the one doing it. This is a
perfectly reasonable strategy if your baby is going through a MOMMY
ONLY stage. Most babies do go through this. It's exhausting and often
infuriating and it can feel awfully rejecting to the parent who is
being… rejected. But I can assure you from a developmental perspective that your baby is not being manipulative (she doesn't have the cognitive capacity for that yet), nor will you spoil her to give her more mommy than daddy time; her behaviour is simply
evolutionarily adaptive. And VERY likely, she'll so get over you sooner or later and it'll be all about Daddy and how COOL he is and what a DRAG
you are. But until then, the mommy game may be the only game in town. That doesn't mean you can't sleep-train her; again, I won't tell you what method to use, but whatever you choose, it's likely to work a whole let better now than at 17/18 months. So, if you DO decide that you want to sleep-train and you want to be the one to take
on the major part of the soothing, that's fine; that's what feels right for you. But then I urge you to also give your husband responsibilities
during this sleep-training phase. Not only because you need some help, but also because he IS a valuable part of your family "team" and he needs to feel that his efforts are valued. Those efforts, at this stage, may not be best aimed at soothing the baby when she wakes because the baby has a clear goal of mommy. But he CAN do things to help. He can take the baby off your hands when she's less needy, for example, in the day or on the weekend and let you take a nap; he can rub your
feet while you go in and out of the baby's room at night, make you dinner, and
generally be a kick-ass cheerleader for you. You get the idea here… You guys are in this together and have the same goal: to raise a happy, healthy little girl.

Her screaming kills me emotionally. I feel so guilty when I give her to DH, like I instantly regret
it. I can't sleep when she is screaming like that, so I end up questioning why I didn't just
keep her so my husband can sleep, my daughter is calmer, and the neighbors don't think
we're murdering our child? 

It used to drive me BATTY to see my husband try to soothe the babies when he was unable to do it. I just wanted him to do it better or at least let me take over when he wasn't being effective. It is so hard for us mothers to remember that the father is, and should be, a large part of this child's world and even if our partners are not as good at soothing the baby as we are, they may need to give it a try, over and over, until they figure something out that works for them. 

I'll even go further… And please don't take what I'm about to say
as callous in any way. I have felt EXACTLY how you're feeling. But if
none of the sleep-training that you personally do works to minimize how
long your girl is awake at night, and you are really at your wit's end,
then try what I did the first time my boys were sleep-trained:
Let your husband take over the sleep-training, walk to your closest
restaurant, order a glass of wine (notice a theme here?) and a
main course. This latter part is crucial. Order a full meal so that
you are forced to stay away for an hour. (I remember that I actually had auditory hallucinations in the restaurant — I believed I could hear the cries all the way down the street). Repeat for three days. For
some, this may be disastrous. For others, like our family, after the
third day, I entered a quiet home, with children sleeping and a
husband who thought he was the most kick-ass Papa in town.

I think one of the crucial parts of B's email touches on the incredible stress
that a new baby puts on a marital relationship. There's a whole lot of
research on this "and baby makes three" phenomenon. Here's a review chapter
that you can actually read in its entirety, by one of the top scholars
in this field. This line of research has established that dealing with
the new challenges of infancy can put incredible, sometimes
irreparable, damage on a marital relationship. Did I need to tell most
of you this? Did you need tens of psychologists conducting 100s of
studies to prove this to you? My hunch: not so much. So many of us have
hissed at our partners to GET OUT NOW over our wailing baby's heads.
Countless mothers have felt the competing
desires to take a blessed break from our demanding child by handing him
off to our partner while at the same time wanting to grab the baby back
because YOU JUST AREN'T DOING IT RIGHT. So many of us have bit our tongues, sat on our hands, hid behind doors, willing ourselves to give our partner just 5 more min, just 2 more min, before we can't take the baby's cries for one second longer. It is so, so hard. For BOTH partners. But it DOES get easier, if the couple is willing to talk it out and even to have repeated conflicts that have the chance to repair. Withdrawing from one another, on the other hand, is often much more dangerous for the relationship in the long run. So if you can manage it — even in the middle of potentially the most stressful time in your marriage — keep the communication channels open. The whole family will be better for it.

Reader’s question: Changing sleep habits at 12 – 16 months

Here's a question from someone that I can finally feel good about saying "Go for it!  This is a GREAT time for making some changes!" After that volatile period of 8 – 11 months that we've talked about at length, there's a relatively peaceful window between around 12 and 16 months (with the caveat that some kids do start walking around this age and for SOME kids, this can be very disruptive for sleep… but for most, this is a nice, stable stage).

My son is 11 months old and up until now has been breastfed and co-sleeping.
At the moment, I'm trying to wean him off of night feedings, he's
been pretty good about it, b/c he's sleeping with my mom and I'm in
another room, but he can't sleep unless someone is beside him. I really
want to put him in his own crib/bed but I thought night weaning should
come first. I'm not sure how to go about making the shift from
co-sleeping to alone sleeping. Also, when is a good time for this? How
long does it take for him to learn to put himself to sleep when he
wakes up in the middle of the night? How long before I can start
sleeping in the same room with him?

First off, I think it's a great idea, if you can do it, to night-wean before making big changes with the co-sleeping situation. It's not necessary, but it sure makes it a lot easier. To answer your question about when is a good time to go from co- to alone-sleeping, you're just about to enter one of the best windows right now.  Why?

Sleep training at this stage gets a boost from the toddler’s sense of autonomy, he has a new-found interest in the nonsocial world, he's relatively independent and secure, and he's developing a real sense of connection and social power through the beginnings of language. Most children some time during this stage begin to walk and they are SO INTO getting around and exploring… which makes them a little less into you. Many kids this age can bounce back from emotional challenges, they don't need to cling desperately to the image of a recently departed parent. However, sleep training at this age is also hampered by the 1-year old’s savvy. This kid has just emerged from a phase of relatively intense separation distress. Separations are no longer neutral. They are associated with feelings of loss, anxiety, sadness, and frustration. Although the peak intensity of separation reactions has passed by now, such reactions have not disappeared. Not at all. For the rest of his life, the child will never be entirely free of the potential for pain and anxiety that comes with being left alone and the sense of helplessness that goes with it.

As a result, the 12-16-month old toddler may defy your efforts to change his bedtime routine. He WILL whine, or yell, or cry to get you back, aware of the power of his voice to bring you back. Introducing a new stuffed animal into his "new" crib might help. Music to keep him company while he's trying to fall asleep may also help. Bedtime rituals, consisting of stories or songs that emphasize his connection to you and to the world may also be a great way of bridging his day and night. This child, so autonomous an hour ago, needs to connect with you, needs to know that you are still within range. He needs to know that separation is not permanent, and that you’re going to come back of your own accord. He needs to feel your love and your care, to know that he is the object of your attention and concern, and that he can call to you when it’s time for reassurance. When he calls for you, at least at first, it's a good idea to let him know you'll be right there. He's used to you being with him every moment of the night (or with your mother). So, if you can feel the confidence and independence that your child is feeling through the day and trust that he can go through the night with minimal intervention from you, then transitioning him to his own crib is likely to work. As I've said before, the method that you choose to make this transition is up to you.

Many of the pitfalls of sleep training at this age emerge from your child’s spirit and his intelligence. His hands will find a way to make contact with every object on the dresser—that tube of cream, the box of tissues, the baby wipes, the pictures on the wall you thought were out of reach.  Whether on his way to the crib or once in there, he will use every opportunity to play and explore rather than acquiesce to sleep. And he may be clever enough to capture you in his play (I remember the ridiculous game that BOTH my boys got into of throwing their stuffed animals on the floor, one by one, each time screaming "oh-oh mama!" each time forcing me to come back up and toss the animal back. TEN. THOUSAND. TIMES. a night). You may see this as bedtime, but for your toddler it’s just another episode of play time. But whatever the obstacles you encounter, 12-16 months is a far easier time to initiate the shift from co-sleeping to sleeping on his own than either of the periods surrounding it. You just came from a stage of peak separation reactions combined with social referencing,  and you’re about to enter a stage when the toddler’s whole social-emotional world is turned on its head, when defiance and autonomy compete with abject neediness and insecurity.

In terms of the specifics of how long will it take for him to learn to
put himself to sleep and how long until you can sleep in the same room
again, I can't give you a definitive answer. There are huge differences
among kids who transition from co-sleeping to sleeping on their own.
Some have NO PROBLEMS at all, much to the shock of their parents. Some can take more than a month to make the transition slowly. And still others don't make the transition during childhood at all, if the parents decide the change isn't worth the stress and tears. Some kids are most amenable to the more gentle, gradual approaches (for example, you first move the child to a pack and play right next to your bed and hold his hand or rub his back through the night, then move the p & p a bit farther from you every day until the baby is essentially across the room, in his crib). While other children find those techniques ultimately frustrating and confusing, but respond beautifully to a straightforward Ferber-like method of checking in on the child in the crib at increasing intervals.

GOOD LUCK!  Anyone else have good or bad luck sleep training during this stage? What worked or didn't for you?