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“…how a pretoddler behaves during the time he is awake often depends on how well-rested and well-fed he is” (On Becoming Pre-Toddlerwise, page 43).
It always amazes me to watch parents with their children when I am out late at night. It will be 9 PM in the grocery store. The child is crying. The parent is saying something to the effect of “Why are you crying?” or threatening the child’s life if the behavior doesn’t stop. Now, I would be willing to bet that if the child were at the store at a time of day when the child should be awake, there would be a lot less crying.
If you are having behavior issues, it is always wise to first stop and think about food and sleep. Is it time for your child to be asleep? Or is your child not getting enough sleep? Is it time for a meal or snack? If you are saying yest to any of these questions, then rather than considering what discipline tactics you need to try next, put the child to bed or feed her.
I have said this in the past, but a tired child needs sleep, not discipline. A hungry child needs food, not discipline.
These simple facts are a huge reason why most -wise children do really well behaviorally most of the time. Most -wise children get enough sleep at night consistently as well as naps regularly. They also get regular meals and snack time each day.
Think about yourself. How well do you function when you are tired? How patient are you? Any mom who has had a toddler and a newborn at the same time quickly recognizes that a tired mom is a grumpy mom. I don’t like taking naps myself, but when I had a newborn in the house, I forced myself to for the sake of my family. I was a more patient and happy person when I had my sleep.
And how well do you do when you are hungry? How patient are you? Some people handle hunger better than others. I know that when I am hungry, it really has little impact on my mood. I will get quieter, but not less patient. My husband, however, has less patience when he is hungry. I see variances in my children. Brayden’s behavior is not highly impacted by hunger, but Kaitlyn is really like a different person when she is hungry.
Our church is currently at 9. At 10, I give Kaitlyn a small snack so she will be able to remain happy until the end of church. I do this as a courtesy to her primary teachers and the students in her class. Brayden, however, doesn’t need a snack at all to get through the morning. He does just fine without it. So get to know your child and plan ahead if your child is one for whom food is an important consideration. Carry snacks with you.
A final thought, just because the child doesn’t necessarily need discipline when food and sleep are a factor, it doesn’t mean the child should be allowed to behave with fits. Use your judgement. I say things like, “I know you are tired. I am sorry you are tired. But that doesn’t mean it is okay for you to be throwing a fit.” Or more often, “I know you are hungry, but that doesn’t mean you get to scream and cry. I am getting you some food and I need you to be patient.” I don’t do anything more than that.
Children need to learn to control themselves even in the face of hunger and fatigue, but keep in mind they are children, not perfection, and it will be very hard for them. Controlling oneself even in the face of discomfort is a great skill to gain, but it will take much time and also maturity to achieve.
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