Category Archives: 3. The Toddler

From 18 months to age 3.

Seasons of Change: Helping a Child When Work Takes a Parent Away

By Pam Stone, co-leader of API of Merrimack Valley, New Hampshire

**Originally published in the Summer 2007 Secondary Attachments issue of The Journal of API

Pam and Sophia
Pam and Sophia

Our week begins when I first utter the phrase, “Daddy’s coming home this sleep!” to our three-year-old daughter Sophia. Our “weeks” vary in length. Sometimes, they are as short as four days. Other times they are as long as ten days. This variation creates challenges for developing a true “routine,” but each week flows through four “seasons.”

Spring: The Anticipation of Daddy Coming

The family dynamic instantly changes as we smell the first hints of the week’s spring air. I repeat the phrase “Daddy’s coming home this sleep!” often over the next 24 hours, and we play a fun game of words where she’ll ask slyly, “When is Daddy coming home?” just so that I must say it again and we can sing and dance and run happily around the room. She asks me to call him on the phone, and if I can catch him between flights she’ll ask him, “Daddy, when are you coming home?” and then giggle wildly when he says “This sleep!”

It’s hard to settle for bed this night knowing the excitement the next day will bring, and we don’t get nearly enough sleep. If his flight doesn’t arrive until the afternoon, the morning is a difficult struggle to understand why we can’t leave “RIGHT NOW!” and we often leave several hours early for the airport, running every errand I can conjure “on the way.” Continue reading Seasons of Change: Helping a Child When Work Takes a Parent Away

Help Your Toddler Bond with the New Baby

By Naomi Aldort, author of Raising Our Children, Raising Ourselves

**Originally published in the Spring 2008 New Baby issue of The Journal of API

Siblings“Mommy, why do you need another Yonatan?” asked my first-born, looking at my growing belly. I hugged him and said, “I do not need another Yonatan. There is no other Yonatan. You are the only ‘you’ there will ever be, and I love you so much.”

No matter how much we explain and include a young child in welcoming his new sibling, he will not comprehend this concept any more than you would welcome another lover for your spouse.

In an extended family, the situation is a lot easier, as mom is not the only caregiver. In the nuclear family, a seven-year-old would happily welcome a new baby as a wonderful addition, but a toddler or a young child who is still seeing himself as the needy one will have a lot of inner turmoil and needs your reassurance that he is still your darling child. Continue reading Help Your Toddler Bond with the New Baby

Sibling Spacing: Five-Plus Years Apart Means More Time with Each Child

By Amy Carrier O’Brien

**Originally published in the Spring 2008 New Baby issue of The Journal of API

Owen, Liam, and Aiden
Owen, Liam, and Aiden

Aiden was seven and a half when Owen was born, and almost ten when Liam was born. He had already been with us through the many adventures that had created the foundation of our lives. We didn’t set out to have our first two kids seven years apart; it just worked out that way.

Spacing Children Around College

We were undergrads in college when Aiden was born, with both Jim and I having full class schedules and part-time jobs. Aiden was there with us through college, relocating to what is now our hometown, and navigating through our first “real” jobs. He even went to work with Jim during our first summer out of school.

When Aiden was four, and our feet were firmly planted in our jobs and new house, we considered having more children. Just when I had become attached to the idea of having another child to love, I got the opportunity to go back to school for a master’s degree. Other than us wanting another child, it was the perfect time to go, and my employer would pay for it. Continue reading Sibling Spacing: Five-Plus Years Apart Means More Time with Each Child

Sibling Spacing: Two Years Apart and Getting Easier with Age

By Melissa Hincha-Ownby, API Resource Leader of Arizona, API’s Technology Coodinator, and API’s Forum Administrator

**Originally published in the Spring 2008 New Baby issue of The Journal of API

Melissa's son and daughter
Melissa’s son and daughter

One of the most common questions that parents ask themselves when they are considering expanding their family is, “What is the ideal spacing between children?” There is no right answer to this question, as what is ideal to one family may make no sense to another.

The answer for our family was two years. My sister and I are three and a half years apart, and while we are the best of friends now, the age difference left us both alone in high school. Based on my personal experience with my sister, I knew that I didn’t want my children quite so far apart.

Although two years was on the maximum end of what my husband and I were hoping for, fate stepped in and had other ideas. Ultimately, my daughter was born when my son was two years and three months old. In hindsight, the 27-month difference has turned out to be great. However, in the early years, at times, things were definitely tough. Continue reading Sibling Spacing: Two Years Apart and Getting Easier with Age

Where Children Learn to Communicate

By Dr. James MacDonald, founder of the Communicating Partners Program

**Originally published in the Fall 2007 Special Needs issue of The Journal of API

Teaching girl to readIt is now clear that a child can learn in every social interaction, anywhere. The more a child interacts, the more the child will learn, communicatively and cognitively. The key factor is for the child to have many one-on-one partners who act and communicate in ways the child is capable of and interested in.

While this is true for typically developing children, the exciting finding is that it is also true for many “late-talking” children such as those with Autism, Down syndrome, apraxia, and other delays.

What is Apraxia?

Apraxia is a speech disorder in which a person has trouble saying what he or she wants to say correctly and consistently, and not due to weakness or paralysis of the speech muscles. Developmental apraxia of speech (DAS) differs from developmental delay of speech, in which a child follows the typical path of speech development but more slowly. Children with DAS may have difficulty putting sounds and syllables together in the correct order to form words, or may incorrectly use the varying rhythms, stresses, and inflections of speech that are used to help express meaning.

Many parents and professionals act as though a child, especially one with delays, will only learn to talk with trained professionals in therapy and school. This is a myth that can keep a child from his most important teachers – his family.

Even if a parent has only one hour each day of one-on-one time with his or her child, she still has about 11 times more interactions with her child than professionals who see the child for only one session per week or are managing a classroom full of children. The difference is much more pronounced in the early, most vulnerable years, when parents often have much more than one hour each day with a child. The difference is even greater than 50 times more than direct contact than with professionals (given several hours of contact at home a day). And since children can learn to interact and communicate in every one-on-one interaction, parents clearly have an enormous advantage over professionals in having developmental impact on children.

Even so, many parents believe their child will learn to communicate in the tiny proportion of time they spend with professionals. They will fight hard for an extra half hour of therapy and yet ignore the power they have in their many hours with the child.

Parents usually have very little training as to how they can effectively help their children socialize and communicate. Consequently, it is clear that professionals will have much more developmental impact on children when they educate parents in effective natural teaching strategies.

Modified Demand Feeding and the Weaning Toddler

By Deborah Bershatsky, PhD

Weaning ToddlerAt two years old, my son Ezra was a happy child, who seems to handle the frustrations of becoming socialized and civilized with amazing ease. If things got to be too much for him, he sought out momentary comfort at his mother’s breast, his tears were dried, tantrums were avoided, and hurts were healed.

At that time, he began the night in his own bed, and when he awakened to nurse, we took him into our bed for the rest of the night. He nursed once more before he awakened at 7 a.m., unless he is teething or ill, in which case he may nurse several times more.

By the time a child is two years old, it is appropriate to consider the approach of modified demand feeding, a technique that allows the child to nurse on demand but also allows the mother to gently nudge the child to feed on a schedule. Twos are ready to begin learning the truth that we cannot always have everything we want exactly when we want it. A child’s wants are no longer necessarily his needs.

A Budding Ability to Wait

At two and a half years old, Ezra could finally understand it when I said at 3 a.m.: “I need to sleep; no more nursing now.” Most of the time, he would roll over and go back to sleep, but occasionally his need was greater than mine and he insisted. I relented and let him nurse, but slowly I began to see that the ability to wait was developing in this little person. I recognized it as a first step toward weaning.

The Truth about the Terrible Twos

It is the struggle over learning the protection of infancy and facing the real world that has earned this age the name of “terrible twos.” It is terrible to a two-year-old to realize how small and powerless he really is in the world. If it comes upon him too suddenly or intensely, he will fight against it with his whole being and his behavior may indeed be terrible. But if his parents work with him, allowing him to regress at times and setting limits with love, and if he can find refuge in his mother’s arms when he feels overwhelmed, two can be more terrific than terrible. The two-year-old who still nurses has a wonderful way to ease the tensions and difficulties of growing up.

Also at this age, the child has more sophisticated needs of his mother. In addition to nursing, it is important that she distinguish his need to engage her in play or work from the need to merge and be close. A tired mother may be tempted to offer her breast to a toddler who wants her attention, just for the chance to have a few moments off her feet. It would be unwise to do this too often since we do want to help our children to begin the process of gradually letting go of babyhood.

Weaning Gives Way to Other Types of Bonding

Many mothers of toddlers who still nurse wonder whether they will ever wean. All children give up diapers eventually and use the toilet, babyhood, and all that goes with it. Nursing slowly gives way to early childhood, and one by one, baby needs are abandoned in favor of more mature pursuits. However, if a mother wants her child to be content with less time at her breast, she must be willing to give more of herself. A weaning child needs more, not less, of his mother’s time and attention.

If a mother wants her child to be content with less time at her breast, she must be willing to give more of herself. A weaning child needs more, not less, of his mother’s time and attention.

Discipline Begins at Birth

By Rita Brhel, managing editor and attachment parenting resource leader (API)

Rita's oldest daughter when she was a year old
Rita’s oldest daughter when she was a year old

My youngest daughter is turning one year old this month. It’s amazing how much she’s changed since she was born – she’s learning to walk, waves bye-bye and says “yeah,” and is getting her fingers into everything! She’s also learned how fun it is to pull her sister’s hair.

Each time my two-year-old cries from the hair-pulling, I come over, gently pry the baby’s hands out of her sister’s locks, and say, “No, no…We don’t pull hair. Pulling hair hurts.” Does it work? No. But that’s OK because she’s only a baby. She isn’t old enough yet to know what “no” means, to know the difference between yes and no, to know what it means that something hurts.

The best way to get the baby to stop doing something I’d rather her not do is to remove it from the picture – if I don’t want her to take all the DVDs out of the cabinet, I put a lock on the doors, and if I don’t want her to mess with the on/off button on the TV, I tape a piece of cardboard over that button and rely on the remote.

The difference here is that I can’t remove her sister from the picture. I also need to remember that I’m teaching fairness. I want my two-year-old to see that I’m treating her and her sister fairly when it comes to hair-pulling, even if her baby sister is just a little too young to know what “no” means. I don’t want jealousy brewing, and I don’t want my toddler to resent her little sister. What is she learning if I say “no” to her when she pulls someone’s hair but not do the same when the baby is the one pulling her hair?

Changing the Spanking Mindset

When my toddler was this age, I was struggling with whether to begin discipline or what kind of discipline I should do. I grew up in a household with spanking. I didn’t know that spanking wasn’t really a form of discipline until I found Attachment Parenting International.

Before, I thought discipline and punishment with synonymous, and I thought spanking was a normal reaction of angry and frustrated parents. That was something I didn’t want to do, but yet, I didn’t want my children to be spoiled and selfish, either. I didn’t know what to do. I didn’t want to spank, but I didn’t know any other way.

It took a lot of willpower and a lot of studying and reading, before I found my “brand” of discipline, what I call the individual way each parent disciplines (within the parameters of positive discipline, that is). I learned that discipline and punishment were two very separate things: that discipline was meant to be loving while teaching the child, even when children push the limits and do hurtful things, and that punishment didn’t really teach the child to do anything but fear his parents and fear “getting caught.” I didn’t want my children fearing me; I wanted their respect. There is a difference.

Eliminating Anger

Lastly, I had to go through the very difficult process of removing anger from my life, not only when I needed to discipline but when I was irritated at my husband or frustrated with life in general. Interestingly, it was while trying to apply the techniques from Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlish’s book How to Talk So Kids Will Listen and Listen So Kids Will Talk that I learned how to take anger out of disagreements with my husband. The skills I was building had spilled over to the rest of my life.

Once I took the anger out of the equation, it was easy not to spank. There was no need! I learned to get my child’s attention in a different, non-violent way. I prefer to have her look at my eyes while I explain why we don’t do what she did, and if I sense a tantrum coming on, I take her to her room to do the same and for her to have a quiet place to release that emotion. Often, when upset or frustrated, she chooses on her own to run to her room and then, in a minute or so, comes out when she’s calmed down. Sometimes, I follow her; sometimes, she seems to prefer to control how she calms down, and that may mean without me.

The Power of Reconnecting

I can’t say I didn’t slip up and revert back to that default playing in my head to spank my child. I did…many times unfortunately during the first few months of trying to change. But I learned a wonderful tool from Pam Leo’s book Connection Parenting that I simply refer to as “reconnecting.” I apologize to my daughter, hug her, and let her know that I know I slipped up and that I am working on it.

Reconnecting allowed me a way out, so that I didn’t become consumed by guilt and frustration. Then I regrouped myself and started over.

Another interesting note: My husband and I have started to do the reconnecting in our relationship by holding hands and looking at each other to block out distractions, including our children at those times, to take the time to apologize and say “I love you.” This technique has greatly improved our connecting during tense moments.

Understanding the Real Reason for Acting Out

I have also found that many of the most challenging times occur when either my toddler or I need a nap. Dirty diapers, late lunches, illness, boredom, and not enough one-on-one time certainly can play a part, too. This was an eye-opener for me: My toddler wasn’t acting out because she was intentionally trying to push my buttons, but because she was physically or emotionally uncomfortable. She tends not to tell me that her diaper needs changing until it’s very full, and at the end of the day, she gets anxious for her daddy to come home from work, and sometimes, she just wants to go run in the backyard instead of playing in the living room.

Baby See, Baby Do

Learning how to change my discipline-oriented programming wasn’t easy, but it was well worth it. Discipline is no longer stressful, and deciding when to begin disciplining my second child really isn’t even a question.

Since discipline isn’t punishment and is actually teaching, we’ve all been disciplining since birth – by teaching what to do or not do by how we live our life right from the beginning. Teaching by example is the most powerful discipline tool I’ve come across, even more so than positive reinforcement.

My toddler hugs and kisses the baby like Mommy does, and she plays with the baby like Mommy does. Both of my children are learning what is normal from what I do, and if I handle my frustration in a way that promotes attachment, they surely will learn that, too.

Since discipline isn’t punishment and is actually teaching, we’ve all been disciplining since birth – by teaching what to do or not do by how we live our life.

Battling the Monsters

By Rita Brhel, managing editor and attachment parenting resource leader (API)

As a child, I was terrified of the dark. I still am, to a lesser extent. In order to move around my house at night, I must turn a light on in whatever room I’m in, even if I’m just going the 10 feet down the hall to the bathroom.

I shared a bed with my sister when I was younger, and even though she was always near, I would lay in bed listening to the hangers in the closet banging together or stare at the unrecognizable blobs made by familiar toys in the dark. My feet always had to be covered up with a blanket, even on the hottest nights, for fear that something would reach up from the end of the bed and “get them.”

I remember one night, when I was about seven years old and my five year old sister woke up screaming about an alligator living under the blankets and that it had come up and bit her on the finger. Even though our parents assured me it was a nightmare, I was sure that the ghost of a very mean alligator was living in our room. After having a similar nightmare myself, involving a python wrapping itself around my wrist and trying to pull me underneath the bed, my parents bought us a night light.

A Common Sleep Issue

Being afraid of the dark is a common sleep problem of young children, even those raised with AP.

The article “Seven Ways to Help Your Child Handle Fear” on explains what is so frightening for preschoolers: “Children do not think like adults. Most of the world is unknown to the child, and children, like adults, fear the unknown. The preschool child cannot reason through each new experience and decide what’s OK and what’s threatening. As if the real world were not scary enough, the ability to form mental images, which develops from two to four years, opens the world of magical thinking with its consequent fearful fantasies.”

These fantasies can turn real things into scary creatures.

“The ability to imagine monsters without the ability to reason them away as imaginary creatures results in a developmental stage where little persons are likely to have big fears,” according to

Help Your Child Handle Fear

Helping your child cope with his fear of darkness may be stressful to parents, especially if the child was previously sleeping soundly through the night. But, this challenge also provides opportunity for parents to strengthen their child’s trust in their relationship, by helping them to accept their changing world and overcome their fears.

“Fear is one of the earliest emotions, and with a little help from caregivers, the child can turn this unpleasant feeling into an opportunity for emotional growth,” according to “Learning to deal with fears is one of the child’s earliest lessons in dealing with emotions and using outside help. Understand and support your child during these times, and the closeness between you will grow.”

Here are some ways you can help your child overcome her fear of the dark:

  • Help your child explore her fear – On The Parent Report Radio Show’s article “Fear of the Dark,” at, psychologist John Munn suggests asking your child questions to help her understand her fear on her own and to let her know that you care about her feelings.
  • Help your child understand the real root of her fears – As explained on, one case of fear of the dark was “cured” by explaining to the child that his imagination was growing. Once he learned that there was a reason for his sudden fear of the dark, it seemed to help him relax at night and work through his fear.
  • Co-sleep with your child, or have your child sleep with her siblings – Just having another person nearby can help make the night less scary.
  • Lead by example – According to, young children learn how to be afraid of something just as they learn how to do everything else: By watching you. If you act afraid of the dark, so will your children tend to.
  • Use a night light – Because the fear of darkness is actually the fear of what can be imagined is out there when we can’t see, a night light lessens the engulfing feeling of a pitch black room.
  • Give your child a flashlight – Empower your child to conquer the darkness by giving her a way to shine a light on a scary object or a dark corner anytime during the night.
  • Play night games – advises parents to play games at dusk and in the dark, like tag and hide-and-seek, to help lessen children’s fears through exposure.
  • Help your child explore the dark during the day time – Keyes advises parents to talk with the child about her fears when it’s daylight and what in their room looks scary at night. Parents might want to consider moving furniture, large toys, or other items that create frightening objects in the dark. Let your child help to “redecorate” her room; children who are more comfortable with their surroundings have less fear of the dark.
  • Turn off the TV – Get rid of scary images for a preschooler’s imaginative mind by limiting your child’s exposure to television shows and videos, especially any program or movie rated for older children and adult viewing.
  • Watch out for phobia – Most children are afraid of the dark, but this fear doesn’t turn into a phobia. Signs of a phobia, say Munn, include: increasingly being afraid to go into their bedroom at night, with the lights turned off; increasingly being afraid to go into a darkened basement or outside in the dark; if their bedtime fear of the dark becomes increasingly more difficult for the child; or if the fear of the dark doesn’t go away as the child grows old enough to be able to understand what goes on in his world.

Helping your child cope with his fear of darkness provides opportunity for parents to strengthen their child’s trust in their relationship, by helping them to accept their changing world and overcome their fears.



The Age of Gentle Discipline

By Rita Brhel, managing editor and attachment parenting resource leader (API)

Ensuring safe sleep and striving for balance are among the trickiest of Attachment Parenting International’s Eight Principles of Parenting to follow, but probably the most challenging in many parents’ minds is practicing positive discipline.

For one reason, many parents are trying to change past parenting behaviors, including spanking and using sarcasm.

For another reason, a parent is never completely sure that how he’s disciplining is “working,” especially when the child is young. Toddlers just have a knack of pushing the limits.

What is the Right Age to Begin Disciplining?

Another challenge many first-time parents encounter is deciding when their child is old enough to begin teaching him not to touch something, rather than just moving it to a higher shelf.

Unfortunately, the advice found in books, magazines, and Internet articles do little to pinpoint this so-called ideal age. Some sources, such as, say crawling babies are old enough to hear “no.” Other sources, such as, say 18 months is the right age to introduce verbal instruction.

Talking to parents can be helpful, but confusing, too: Tom, a single father of three teens, told me he waited until his children were three or four before setting limits; Crystal, a married and pregnant said she began saying “no” to her toddler at nine months old.

That’s why Attachment Parenting International recommends parents to go to an Attachment Parenting (AP) source, such as an API Leader or an AP-friendly professional, for advice. AP sources are less likely to pinpoint a specific age to begin disicpline; rather they explain how practicing AP since birth gives babies, and their parents, a gradual transition to setting limits.

AP Naturally Leads to Gentle Discipline

In the article “Ten Ways Attachment Parenting Makes Discipline Easier” on, strengthening the parent-child bond is the natural precursor to less stressful discipline because the parent and child know each other so well that they’re able to easily communicate their feelings to each other. So, the parent can be proactive in helping her child redirect behavior and the child knows what behavior the parent wants from him. Through AP, children learn to trust their parents and, from there, to care for his parents. This, in turn, makes the child want to please his parent.

Alfie Kohn, in his book Unconditional Parenting, agrees: “…the kids who do what they’re told are likely to be those whose parents don’t rely on power and instead have developed a warm and secure relationship with them. They have parents who treat them with respect, minimize the use of control, and make a point of offering reasons and explanation for what they ask.”

Interesting, considering many parents’ natural inclination is to use power, such as spanking or timeouts, yelling, and threats. It’s difficult, at first, to reason that to get respect from their children, parents must first give respect through a close personal relationship – instead of by force.

The parent who has a strong connection with her child will gradually begin to discipline as the child grows: As the baby begins biting while breastfeeding, the mother changes her technique to discourage biting; as the baby learns to crawl, the parent baby-proofs the home; as the baby grows into a toddler and begins to have tantrums, the parent learns how to head off these tantrums or how to resolve feelings of frustration in the child. Through AP, the parent gets to know her child as well as she knows her spouse or a dear friend, and to anticipate feelings and reactions from her child to various situations.

The difference between a parent-child relationship and an adult-adult relationship is that limits must be set with the parent-child relationship, which is why it’s even more important for parents to be sure to get to know their child on a deep, personal level.

The True Essence of a Discipline Program

Through discipline, parents are striving to pass down their morals and values, trying to help their child develop self-control, and hoping to give their child skills to succeed in life. According to the article “What is Discipline?” on, “discipline is based on building the right relationship with a child more than using the right techniques.”

Happiness in life depends heavily on an adult’s emotional health and to establish and maintain close, loving relationships. As suggested by Robert Karen, PhD, in his book Becoming Attached, the parent-child connection is the child’s first model of what is normal in relationships and therefore the foundation of emotional health development in that child. All parent-child interactions, especially those related to teaching and discipline, work to shape the child’s perspective on future relationships.

The Challenge of Coming to AP Later

But, what if you’re a parent who didn’t AP right from birth? Perhaps, you’re just learning about AP and the Eight Principles of Parenting. You don’t have that security of a bond with your child. Does this lack of a strong parent-child connection change the perspective on discipline?

Certainly at first.

Parents can attempt to discipline without having a secure bond, but for discipline to be effective, the parent-child connection created through AP is essential. So, if a parent doesn’t turn to AP until his child is three years old, the reality is that there are likely to be many challenging moments as the parent and the child re-learn patterns of interacting with one another but the good news is that it’s not too late to develop a strong emotional bond. The wonderful thing about AP is that working to create and strengthen the bond between parent and child can begin at any age.

Limits must be set with the parent-child relationship, which is why it’s even more important for parents to be sure to get to know their child on a deep, personal level.

Medical Reasons for Fear of the Dark

By Rita Brhel, managing editor and attachment parenting resource leader (API)

Being scared of the dark is a widespread nighttime issue for young children, and in the great majority of the time, the root of this fear is grounded in a very active imagination with only a budding, limited ability to reason. But, in some occurrences, the fear of the dark can actually point to a more serious, chronic medical reason requiring the attention of a health professional.

Medically significant sleep disorders in preschool and school-age children, and teens, include:

  • Earaches – Sleeping is uncomfortable with an ear infection because the change in position creates increased pressure.
  • Asthma – A nighttime cough is a common symptom of asthma, as is if your child wakes up crying and unable to breathe normally.
  • Parasites – Pinworms, which are tiny and thread-like worms on the bottom, are active at night and cause itchiness.
  • Obstructive sleep apnea – Sometimes, enlarged tonsils or adenoids in the throat partially obstruct the airway, causing the child to stop breathing temporarily.
  • Bed-wetting – Children as old as 12 can have difficulty not wetting the bed at night, due to physical development of the bladder and bladder muscles as well as immaturity in the part of the brain that communicates when it’s time to empty the bladder.
  • Restless legs syndrome – “Creepy,” crawling sensations may affect the legs or the arms.
  • Periodic limb movement disorder – Usually affecting the legs, there is an overwhelming feeling that the limbs must be moved several times throughout the night, as often as every 30 seconds.
  • Stationary night blindness – An inability to see at all in the dark, the eyes never actually adjust to the dark.