Dealing with Ella: Powerful Tools Positively Applied

In Features, My Piece of the Sky, Opinion by Amy Blanchard

Well, everyone, I can hardly believe it, but Ella has already succeeded in conquering a couple toddler hurdles.

She accomplished these goals with the help of some very interesting tools and techniques. By employing some friendly peer pressure, the silent treatment, and even good old-fashioned bribery, Ella has quickly gotten used to some very new ways of life.

First off, Ella is now actively enrolled in organized daycare. She attends “school” 2 mornings a week. At the time of this writing, she has just completed her first week. She did great! Her written report from her teacher mentions how well Ella has adapted and how much she likes to play in the center’s activity area and with the home living toys. She’s even made friends with another little tyke who started on the same day as her.

My husband and I really weren’t surprised that she took so quickly to her new surroundings.

We were pretty sure she would happily settle in, as we’ve been talking to her about school for a while now. We took her for a brief visit a few weeks ago so that she would know exactly where she would be going. And I’ve taken her on a virtual tour of the facility via the center’s website.

But what was shocking to read of the teacher’s report was “what a good eater!” Ella has been.

Most nights we have to fight with Ella to take even 2 or 3 bites of her dinner. Okay, more to the point, bribes of ice cream, cookies or chocolate for dessert are often offered to her in return for a few healthy bites of dinner. With this in mind, when we dropped her off on that first day of school just in time for breakfast, I warned her teacher that she’s not much of an eater.

So, imagine our surprise when my husband and I read this report saying how well she’s eating!

I am confident her chowing down has a lot to do with peer pressure. Seeing all the other kids in her class sit down to eat breakfast and lunch makes her want to join in as well. This pressure, plus the simple structure of routine – it’s time to eat, and that’s that – is working wonders for her.

We only hope the same holds true in the coming months for potty training.

The other great thing that Ella has mastered surprisingly quickly is the ability to go to sleep at night all on her own. Yep, that’s right. I no longer have to sit by her side, alternately draping my arm across her or not, depending on her whim, until she drifts off to dreamland. Now she simply hunkers down with her teddy and wishes her daddy and I a sweet goodnight – most of the time not even opting for a quick bedtime story before “lights out”.

How did we do it? Well, I took a cue from T.V.’s “The Super Nanny”, adapting a bedtime ritual I’ve seen her demonstrate to more than a few bedtime-challenged families.

Starting just a few nights before Christmas, I told Ella that at bedtime that night when I turned out her light I was going to sit on the floor by her bed and not directly next to her as I usually did. I also told her that once the light was out I couldn’t talk to her, I couldn’t “sleep around of” her, and I couldn’t hold her. I’d be there if she really needed me, but I wasn’t going to interact with her.

Well, who would have thunk it, but she went for it! Oh, I think I did have to say some very brief words to her once the lights were out that first night, but all very relaxed, comforting and quick. Within about 10 or so minutes I crept out of her room and she stayed put. I’m sure she didn’t even realize I had left.

Each successive afternoon I told Ella ahead of time what the plan was for that night – each night I would sit just a bit further away from her and not talk to, sleep around of or hold her.

Now I’m to the point were I’m waiting around the corner from her room for just a few minutes before I quietly head downstairs to join my husband.

Not that things have gone perfectly smoothly with this routine, mind you. On a few occasions she has ventured out of bed, testing me on whether or not I was really where I said I’d be, only to find that I’ve already left her room.

Because of this, my husband and I found ourselves quickly adjusting the original plan in order to squelch our little wanderer’s curious behavior.

Basically, we’ve found that a little silent treatment goes a long way in nipping her escape act in the bud.

On those few instances, my husband rushed to the scene. He quickly scooped her up and placed her back in bed, all without saying a word. Yes, she’s ended up crying herself to sleep afterwards. But at least she stays in bed upon being put back – a success in my book any day. Hooray!

My husband’s help during Ella’s nighttime “tests” has been absolutely crucial to her continuing success towards bedtime independence. Simply his ability to pick her up and deposit her back in bed is much more than I’d be able to handle on my own.

Since I’m not able to lift and carry Ella, if I had to manage her nighttime defiance on my own, my only option would be to talk to and reason with her to help me walk her back to bed. And because her bed is the last place in the world she wants to be at these times, my talking to her would almost certainly only serve to agitate Ella more, making her that much more upset about having to go to bed.

It’s for this reason that I feel the not talking to her portion of this plan – and my initial routine with her – is key. The more you tell a child “no” and the more you verbally fight with him or her, the more fuel the child has to verbally fight back. Both parties get more and more riled up and nobody settles down very quickly at all.

However, if the parent doesn’t initiate any dialogue, then the child has nothing to fight against and will settle down much more quickly. That’s been our experience, anyway. We even found it to work for us earlier this summer when, still in her crib, Ella realized one evening that she was able to climb right out.

After enduring one frustrating night of yelling and screaming at each other for her to stay put (and she ultimately didn’t – all we could do was go to bed ourselves and hold her down with us until she fell asleep), I knew there had to be a better way. That next night we employed the silent treatment method. Pretty miraculously, my husband only had to place her back in her crib a few times before she gave up and cried herself to sleep. She never climbed out again.

Currently, Ella is working on the next step – staying in bed for the entire night (as opposed to waking up in the middle of the night to sneak into our room, and bed, for the rest of the night – something she’s often done so quietly that we don’t even realize until morning that she’s there).

As far as this is concerned – so far, so good. She knows that every night she stays in her own bed all night, she’ll get a sticker on her special calendar in the morning. And after several successful nights in a row, she’ll get a bigger treat from the store.

We’ve only just begun this process, so she hasn’t earned her big prize yet. But she’s working on it. In a few days we just might have to head on out to the store with her.

Who would have thought that peer pressure, the silent treatment and bribery would work so effectively toward establishing good behavior in a child. The very things you work so hard to teach your children to not give in to or practice are the very things most effectively used to teach them good habits.

I guess that just goes to show you how powerful these practices can be – and exactly why they need only be used for good, not evil.

Hmmm – that’s the lesson here, isn’t it? Know the power of your words and actions to help make a positive difference in your own life and the lives of others.

What a very good lesson for all of us.