Friday, August 3, 2012

Ask Dr. Momsie: Showering

Dearest Darlingist Dr. Momsie,
Please help!  My 16 month-old will not let me shower.  When he was taking two naps a day, I could easily get my shower in during his morning nap.  Now that he is down to one noon-time nap, my hygiene is seriously suffering!  I've asked friends, family, and even posted on my blog.  Everything I try is useless, he just screams and fusses or plays peek-a-boo as he opens and shuts the shower door.  Will I ever get a peaceful shower again?
Stinky Momsie

Well, Stinky, it's time for you to think like a psychologist. ;)  It sounds like you need to be a little more firm.  Why are you allowing your baby to open and shut the door anyway?  Let me share two of my foundational Dr. Momsie parenting principles. 

First, set your child up for success.  What is the best trick you have up your sleeve for entertaining your child?  Certainly you don't play with him all day long!  Is it coloring?  Books?  Musical toys?  Goldfish crackers?  What is it that he becomes most interested in?  Whatever it is, set him up for success by bringing so many intriguing and rewarding things into the containment area that his tears quickly fade into playful laughter.  If you leave him without adequate distractors, when he's hungry, or when he's just plain crabby, you are creating a difficult environment for any baby.

Whenever you are having a behavioral problem with a child, always ask what you can do to provide a supportive environment for success.  If there is a stressor or temptation you can remove, remove it.  If there is an incentive or support you can add, add it. 

Second, set up firm and consistent boundaries.  Consistent.  Consistent.  Consistent.  It's so important, but so stinkin' hard to do.   Inconsistent boundaries teach children to just keep trying and maybe mommy or daddy will give in.  We call this "partial reinforcement," which creates behaviors that are most resistant to change.

There are three types of boundaries, as I see it.  "Sidewalk chalk" boundaries are loose and flexible.  These are the type of boundaries you set that are temporary, for relatively insignificant rules.  Let's say you want your toddler to not eat any more crackers today.  You set a "sidewalk chalk" boundary of no crackers, but tomorrow baby might be able to eat crackers again.  These types of boundaries aren't useful for household rules or for creating behavior change - too inconsistent.

"Picket fence" boundaries are more firm and pretty consistent.  They are those loving rules we set for a child's "own good."  For instance, bedtime at your house might be 8:00 p.m.  A child might not want to go to bed at eight o'clock, but you know as a parent that it is best for a child to get a good night's sleep.  You are fairly consistent with this rule, only breaking it for very special occasions.

"Electric fence" boundaries are absolute and extremely firm.  These types of boundaries are set to avoid injury, harm, or a huge mess.  Don't dig in the trash, don't touch the hot stove, don't play in the dog's water, etc.  These are still given in love, but they may be reinforced with a more strict approach.

Stinky, you probably need to set a "picket-fence" boundary here.  Hold the shower door closed and clearly tell your baby "no-no."  Verbally direct him to his toys.  Let him cry a little.  Soon, he will realize that mommy needs just a few minutes and it's really more interesting to eat his crackers then to whine at the door. 

Dearest Darlingist Dr. Momsie,
Finally!  A beautiful morning shower!  I pulled out all the stops - crackers, books, music toys, and a fun bag to pull them all out of.  I also decided to allow him some more room to roam by opening the bathroom door to our master bedroom (which was adequately baby-proofed.)  Then, I said, "Mommy's taking a shower.  What's in your bag?"  He cried a little at the shower door, but I held it closed and said, "Go find your crackers."  Soon, he was playing and tearing up the bedroom like a good boy! 

*Please help me from having to post my own silly problems.  It's a bit strange giving advice to myself, though it worked in this case.  Please submit your Ask Dr. Momsie questions here!

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