More on Independent Playtimes

Posted September 20, 2008

Dear Kitty,

My twin boys are 16 months old and have become little trolls. We have maintained the same sleep schedule for months now. Bed time is 7:00 – 7:00 nap at 9:00 for 2 hours and nap at 1:00 for 2.5 hours. They almost always sleep for an hour in the morning and the afternoon nap is random. Sometimes they don’t sleep for one second and sometimes they sleep for 1.5 hours. They have become very demanding and fuss all the time. They cry through breakfast. One of them has a melt down for every little thing. I don’t pick them up every time I just walk away and hope they will find something to distract them.

Every day I sit on the floor with them and try to play and there is always a struggle. What ever one boy has the other one wants. If one is sitting in my lap the other is angered / jealous. I want to give them each the opportunity to stack blocks and read books but all we do is struggle. It is not fun for any of us. One is always bullying the other. My little one never has the chance to learn new skills because the big one takes everything. One afternoon I sent one to Grandmas and kept one at home. This worked well but I can’t do it often enough to make a difference. I want us to sit and play together but I don’t know what or how to do it. I am worried about my little ones development.

They don’t seem to be teething and they are not ill. We don’t go out and don’t have visitors often. They eat at the same time every day. I have no idea what is happening. I don’t know how to get them to sleep more. I believe I am giving enough attention without picking them up all the time. They are just not happy. Please let me know what you think.

Your sleep schedule sounds excellent. Since they are between 15 and 18 months, we can expect the morning nap to be 'extra' at some point in the next 2 months. When you wish to try them on one nap, you could have it be from 11-2 at first, then 12-3 and eventually settle on 12:30 to 3:30 which would be the permanent time (whether they sleep for the whole 3 hours or not) until they are over 3 years.

However, if they still sleep easily in the morning, it may not be time. I'm glad you are leaving them the full 2.5 hours every afternoon, whether they sleep for it or not. It certainly sounds like some of their behavior is sleep-related, even though you've done so well with their schedules.

In addition to the above, I think you may be sitting and playing with them too much. In fact, any at all can be too much. I'd rather you'd think of yourself as the facilitator of their play and put most of your effort and creativity into designing a rich environment for them, which changes cleverly through the day -- rather than think of yourself as a playmate. That role just doesn't work well for kids because they begin to vie for you attention and the number of misbehaviors will increase when there is too much adult attention. Besides, it can be very boring for an adult.

In my seminar, Setting Healthy Limits Age 1-5 Years, I point out that parents should purposefully ignore almost all of the things siblings typically do to each other (hair pulling, biting, shoving, etc.) 'unless you see blood running across the floor.' I say that a bit facetiously but the truth is that the more often you intervene in their affairs (as a referee) the more aggression they'll show toward each other, in order to continue to hold your attention. Once you succeed in not even watching most of their arguments and leaving them to settle their disputes, the number of incidents will decrease, due to your lack of attention.

Sibling strife never stops completely because it is built in to their living situation, especially with twins. Most parents of twins will report that there have been very rough times between their children but that improvements were noticeable when the parents stopped refereeing. To help you pull this off, I suggest you play music, turn on a radio, hum some favorite tunes to distract yourself for 30 minutes at a time while they begin to learn to play together, bumps and bruises included. One will cry and they'll both watch for you to arrive. When you don't, the one will recover and eventually both will find something else do until the next incident occurs.

If you look again in "What Would Kitty Say?" after you log into ParentsNet, check out the section on Play, and scroll to independent play. I believe these structured independent playtimes with a door or gate closed are particularly useful with twins because you can rotate each one in and out. An example: after breakfast, they could both be out together for 30 minutes with you busy reading your newspaper. Then one could stay out while one goes for a 30 minute exclusive playtime in their bedroom with a good snack. You are still busy but your 'out 'twin has access to the toys without competition.

By now it's time for their nap, and then at 11 am when they get up you could have them both out together until lunch time, or you could go for a walk.

After their afternoon nap, you could trade who gets to play in the bedroom with a great snack and who gets to be out with the other toys, for 30 minutes. And so on...
This way you are never faced with a whole day of them together in the same space, fighting with each other, not sharing, etc.

Readers: Independent playtimes are recommended for single children as well, particularly for children who have a hard time playing on their own.

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Filed under: Play

Temper Tantrums

Posted September 1, 2008

Dear Kitty,

This question is about my son. He is 4 and 1/2 and is on the whole a pretty good boy, but lately has been having weekly temper tantrums - which don't last long because I know how to be detached and consistent, but is this normal? He hasn't had too many tantrums in the past, but lately he seems to explode when he can't have his way or gets upset. Your opinion matters. Thanks.

While I wouldn't expect him to have them every day at his age, I'm not a bit surprised he has them weekly, especially when his expectations of himself or of you are probably on the rise due to new independence interests. If it seems to be over the same thing always, maybe you can negotiate some new rules which give him a little more autonomy on that particular issue. Otherwise, continue with your purposeful ignoring and remember, this too shall pass.

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Filed under: Discipline

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