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It’s time to go back to the basics! Do you battle with your kids when it comes to eating and sleeping? Tune in to today’s episode for some practical advice from Dr. Leman himself.


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Doug: Are you tired of the bedtime battles? You put the kid down, the kid cries. You lay down, you fall asleep next to the kid and you think, “How in the world is this ever going to happen? How am I ever going to be able to sleep in my own bed without my child?” And worse, how do I get them to eat anything but peeled grapes? This eating thing is driving me nuts. I’m trying to figure out how the heck I’m going to live my life. If those are questions you’re asking, you get to hear the answer from Dr. Leman today.

Doug: Hi, I’m Doug Terpening.

Andrea: And I’m Andrea.

Doug: And we are so, so glad that you are with us today, to add that parenting toolbox and if this happens to be your first time, welcome, welcome, welcome. And we want to let you know that this is for your education and entertainment purposes only. If the subject matter raises any concerns for you or your child, please go seek a local professional for help.

Doug: So, Dr. Leman, I was on a plane last night and I was watching Incredibles 2 and the moms off doing their thing and the dads there and the kid keeps getting out of bed, keeps getting out of bed, keeps getting out of bed and the kid wants cookies, cookies, cookies, cookies, cookies. And it made me think, “Hey, we’re doing parenting basics. We should talk about one of the biggest questions that we get is: how the heck do I deal with eating and sleeping battles?” Help us.

Dr. Leman: Well, they are two of the biggest, and again, if you’re a newbie to us, a dog and Andrea are parents. They’re good parents, they’ve learned a few things, they got four kids. We try to be practical on our podcast and I don’t know what could be more practical than tackling eating and sleeping because those are areas that parents get way sideways with their kids over.

Dr. Leman: And you have to think about this parents, what is more natural: That a child, a human being’s, desire to have food, to eat. Nothing. It’s one of those naturals. And sleep is something that we all need. We all crave. We want it. So why is it such a big deal?

Dr. Leman: Well, your bringing that little 19 and a half incher home from the hospital and you’re in awe, as the Terpenings were and the Leman’s were, when our little firstborn came home and you realize, “Wow, this is on me.” And the lactation nurse has disappeared. Your pediatrician is at work in his or her office and there he are. What do you do?

Dr. Leman: Well, your little child is going to develop a little time clock and you’re going to get to know that child like nobody else. As I say, you’re the best teacher to your child. So, we begin with some kind of a schedule. Now not going to tell you, “Here’s the schedule.” Because it doesn’t work that way. Your kid will have a rhythm, a schedule, and you tune into it and once you get ahold of it, you make sure there’s a routine. A routine. A mundane routine in that child’s life. That’ll get you off to a good start.

Dr. Leman: The other thing that will get you off to a good start in all areas is after a couple of weeks of that child being on this earth, you and your spouse go out for a dinner. Get a babysitter, give yourself permission to be away from the child. I know you’ll worry and all that, but that baby’s going to be fine. You’ve got a good babysitter, maybe grandma or grandpa, but a trusted person. You’re in good shape. Go and enjoy yourself.

Dr. Leman: Now to get to the point of eating, watching a baby go from a formula or mother’s milk to real food is always fun because you’ll see it on the kid’s face. Food is foreign to them. They make faces. It takes them a while to adjust to the whole food thing. But the point is that you’re going to develop our relationship with your little son or little daughter and you’re going to be pretty good at figuring out, “Okay, now it’s nap time. Now it’s feed time.”

Dr. Leman: And as the child gets older and we get into the breakfast, lunch, dinner routine, you have to take this on carefully. If you make a big thing about eating and your frustration shows to that child, that child just being a few months old, will take their cues from you and they’ll fuss and they’ll feel your displeasure and your excitement, your emotion, and we get off on a bad foot.

Dr. Leman: The kids are going to eat. They’re going to eat. Now, let’s jump forward to the three year old to try to be as practical as we can here. And you learn as a parent that it’s okay to give a kid a choice. What is not okay is to give a kid 10 choices. So again, you know your child, they like cereal, they like cocoa puffs, which are loaded with sugar by the way, or some of you do those little waffles you put in the toaster.

Dr. Leman: Whatever it is, you give them a choice. “Honey, do you want cereal or do you want scrambled eggs?” And whatever that choice is, I would make sure from the very beginning that that is what they end up eating. So if a kid says he wants scrambled eggs, he’s going to eat scrambled eggs. In other words, he’s not going to be offered other things.

Dr. Leman: That’s what gets you off on a good start. If a child said, “No, actually, I don’t want scrambled eggs.” No. You’ve already scrambled the eggs. “I want cereal.” Well, honey, cereal’s off the menu now. We have scrambled eggs. You put it down in front of them. “I don’t want that.” And he swats it. Okay, what do you do? If you want to pick it up and put it back on a plate and put it in front of him, I’ll tell you what he’s going to do. He’s going to flip it again.

Dr. Leman: Well, what are you suggesting, Leman? I’m suggesting that breakfast is over. For a three year old? Yes. For a three year old. Now we have a wonderful teaching opportunity for a child. Okay? Let the reality of the situation be the teacher to the child so the child learns right away through what? Through hunger, that swatting away the scrambled eggs was not the coolest idea they ever came up with. Even at age three. And you’re sitting there and you’re having your English muffin and your cup of tea or cup of coffee and he’s just sitting there and he starts whining, getting miserable. More miserable by the minute. Put him down from his highchair and let him do what three year olds do. In all probability, he’s going to be at your ankle doing some ankle biting cause he’s very unhappy because he didn’t get his way.

Dr. Leman: Now there’s a new invention called a playpen. There’s also inventions called children’s rooms. And if a kid becomes too much and you can’t enjoy your muffin, pick him up, put him in his room, close the door, and have your tea and crumpets. So there’s lesson number one.

Dr. Leman: So, we’re going to have routines. Kids are going to have a choice. Give them two choices. Crispy Critters or Cheerios. And he says Crispy Critters and you go get the milk and put it on the Crispy Critter and now he wants Cheerios. If you want something to chuckle at, you can’t re-crisp a soggy critter. So, once the choice is made, you hold them accountable for it and you will end up with a good eater.

Dr. Leman: As kids grow older, I wouldn’t put food on a child’s plate. What do you mean? Let them take it with a serving spoon. Well, they’ll spill it. Yeah, they might. It’s not the end of the world. But let them take from serving dishes and put on their plate. You’re going to find your kids a better eater that way. Don’t make a big thing about everything under the sun. Some kids just eat spaghetti with only butter sauce on it. All kids have their quirks. They will not die. Check with your pediatrician. And as far as eating junk and too much sugar, ask yourself, who does the shopping. Your four year old or you?

Dr. Leman: So again, I don’t know, Doug and Andrea, you’ve been parents of four. I’m sure you had battles with kids, trying to get them to eat and all that. But what I’m saying is there’s a natural need for the child to eat. Don’t overdo it or you’re going to end up in a power struggle. And if you end up in a power struggle, you’re going to lose it.

Andrea: Dr. Leman, I love all of this. I love the basicness of this, and I want to go back to the beginning where you mentioned the importance of a routine and setting a routine and figuring out the flow of your child’s day. What is the importance of that?

Dr. Leman: Well, it’s a great question because parents today are just way over the top with worrying about their child’s self esteem. Kids garner security and self esteem by feeling comfortable and identifying with a home. The home is their safe refuge. So, routines give kids comfort and that’s why it’s important to have nap time at a certain time once you figure out what that child’s rhythm is.

Dr. Leman: And little two year olds need naps. Some kids by the time they’re three, they’re outgrown naps. But not to the pleasure of most moms that I’ve talked to, they wish they were still taking naps. And sometimes smart moms will just say, “Well, we’re going to have quiet, honey. You don’t have to go to sleep.” I think that’s a great suggestion for any mom. “Honey. You don’t have to go to sleep. We’re just going to have quiet time.”

Dr. Leman: I’ll come in just an hour and get you. Half the time they’ve fallen asleep. Give them a book to look at, put some music on. But part of the thing with the nap is you need time for rejuvenation. The dishes are still there and it’s two o’clock in the afternoon and you’re thinking about what are we going to do for dinner?

Dr. Leman: So, I’m just trying to be practical with people and let them see that it’s a double win. It’s a win for you mom and dad, but it’s also a win for your child because he does need that downtime and he does need that connection. His room, his gold fish, his church, his school, his preschool. A child’s world is very small and so that’s a wonderful way to give psychological comfort to your child by being predictable.

Andrea: So, what you’re inferring by this is that the child is not sleeping in my arms while I nurse it to sleep, or I’m having to hold it while it’s napping.

Dr. Leman: Yeah. So, who gets mom in trouble? Mom does. Because she decides this is great just to nurse my baby and let my baby fall asleep in my arms. It sounds great till you lay the baby down and then they go wild. Or you say, “I love the comfort of having my little one snuggle in bed with me.” Well, there’s great comfort you can give to a kid during a thunderstorm, for example, when a kid comes into bed with you. I don’t have a problem with that at all.

Dr. Leman: But when the thunderstorms over, they go back in their bed. And so kids do not belong in your bed and you say, “Well, Dr. Leman, we can’t help it. He comes in in the middle of the night.” Lock your door, dummy. Lock your door. They might curl up outside your door where their blankie tucked under them. It won’t kill them. But they don’t belong in your bed. Now if you want to try to make that work, good luck because I’ve heard thousands and thousands of stories over my lifetime and they don’t work.

Doug: Just to pick up on that, why would I not want my kid to be in my bed? What’s the negative part of my having my one year old, two year old snuggle in bed with me?

Dr. Leman: It takes away from the individual identification of the child that that’s their room, that’s their toys, that’s their bed, that’s their pillow. Kids don’t belong in there. It’s a parent need that’s being fulfilled here, I’m telling you.

Dr. Leman: So, parents use your head. You’ll eliminate so many problems if you can tackle nap time, bedtime, and again follow the birth order on this. Put the youngest to bed first. I know some of you have physical problems and that you have three bedrooms and four kids. That creates a problem when I suggest things like that. But be as innovative as you can and grant the birthright to the oldest child. Whether you know it or not, your oldest resents the younger children to some degree and so giving that firstborn priority is really a very good thing.

Doug: We’ve done, this is episode number 305, that you and I have recorded together plus countless conversations plus all sorts of other things. And I just had an aha moment from what you just said about my question. That putting the kid in my bedroom until he’s two, three, four and we’ve heard all the way up to crazy numbers, is for my sake. And by actually having my kid in their own room, in their own bed with their own routine, is for their sake. But when they’re in my bed, it’s for my sake.

Doug: And I just sitting here thinking through my parenting real briefly as you were talking, but I was listening to Dr. Leman, I wasn’t zoning you out. But I was like, “Oh my goodness, he’s right. So many of these things I have done that have backfired on me for my sake and not for my child.” And then you said it would help my child develop if they have their own spot. Did I hear that correctly?

Dr. Leman: Right, yeah. Let me be a three year old for a second, or a four year old. Now, would you rather sleep in your own bed by yourself or would you rather sleep between these two warm bodies? It’s pleasurable for a kid to cuddle up next to mom and dad. The kids getting some things out of this as well.

Dr. Leman: But I’m telling you, parents, starting off on the right foot, it’s like building a foundation on a home. If the foundation is not right, your building’s not going to be right. And eating, sleeping, and going potty are three of the basic areas that parents just invariably goof up. They don’t get it right. All those things are very natural things. They’re going to happen sooner or later and if you’re smart in how you attack these three areas, your kid is going to profit a lot from your allowing them to have their own bed, their own food, their own privacy going potty, learning to do all those things you do when you do a potty in life. If you start forcing potty, good luck. Start forcing food, good luck. Start forcing going to bed, good luck.

Dr. Leman: So, bedtimes need to be specific. I think they should be different for different kids. And routines are important. The brushing of the teeth and all that, the drink of water because once a kid … Again, kids are con artists. Once they’re in bed it’s, “Water! Water! I need water!” They’ll think of anything. “I’m afraid. There’s a monster under my bed. There’s a monster in the closet.”

Dr. Leman: “Honey. No, actually there’s not. I put the monster in the garage and he’s locked in for the night. Can’t get out.” I used to suggest to parents of kids who were fearful to get a one of those old perfume bottles that has a little puffer on it and put a little colored water with some perfume or cologne in it. And it wards off dragons and beasts and wolves and anything. But it gives the kid a little idea of control, one puff and the monster goes away kind of thing.

Doug: Okay. Before I get to some role playing and some more, I want to ask question, after this, is what do I do if I’ve already started down the wrong path? How do I change?

Doug: But before I do that, I have to ask a favor of everybody listening to this. And that is that Baker Books, right now we’ll let you get the book, Have a New Kid by Friday, for $2.99 from now until March 31st of 2020. $2.99. And I’m telling you, this is the book that I’ve said multiple times that launched us into changing our parenting. It’ll give you confidence. I literally read things, highlight them, and in those days I had to call my wife and be like, “This guy is nutso, but I think he might have some really good ideas.” And we read it and reread it.

Doug: And the reason I’m encouraging you to read is we’re talking about eating and sleeping battles and you want the confidence that what he’s saying, you can do. Get the book and you will have the confidence. You will know, “Ah, this is why I have to do that. Oh, this is how I can do it.” And you will laugh as you’re doing it. I’m just telling you for your sake, get the book. It’s a simple read and it will change the way you do parenting. So, between now and March 31st of 2020, for $2.99, go get the book Have a New Kid By Friday.

Doug: And now, a no nonsense parenting moment with Dr. Kevin Leman.

Dr. Leman: Parents, one of your best friends when you’re rearing kids is the weekly allowance. And Dr. Leman, that’s easy for you to say. We can’t afford allowance. Hey lady, I got news for you. You spend money on your kid anyway. Just give them some money so they have some dominion over it when they’re at the store and they want a simple candy bar or a can of soda pop or you name it, they can buy it themselves.

Dr. Leman: Let that be a teachable instrument that you use in the home. Many of you who followed my books know when jobs aren’t done around the house, what do I suggest? I suggest you hire a younger sister or brother do go in and clean that kid’s room or do the chore you’ve asked the child to do without fanfare and pay for it out of that older child’s allowance. Once that kid figures out, “Hey, wait a minute, this isn’t good. I’m losing money to my kid sister or brother.” They’ll pay more attention to the simple requests that you make.

Doug: Okay, Dr. Leman. Let’s talk about the fact that I didn’t read Have a New Kid By Friday and I didn’t read any Leman’s books and I’ve got this three or four year old. I’m not sure what age we should choose and I haven’t quite done it the way I want to. So, let’s take eating for example. I’ve got my three year old, they’re at the table and their favorite game is to take two bites and then flip the food on the floor. And I’ve been trained to pick the food up and put it back on his plate.

Doug: You’re the mom now and I’m Johnny. What would you say to me? Well, you’re the dad. Sorry. You can be a dad. I always make you a mom, sorry. But you’re the dad. What would you say to me?

Dr. Leman: I would say, “Oh, I see breakfast is over.” And I would take anything that’s in front of him away and I’d take him out of his high chair and I’d wash off his face and his hands with a washcloth and he would be free. If he happens to pick up some food off the floor in that split second before I go and sweep it up, more power to him. But breakfast is over.

Dr. Leman: Now again, when you realize that you haven’t done things right and now you’re going to start changing things. Whether it’s laying kids down for a nap or getting them in their own bed, you’re going to have what I call a fish out of water experience. It’s like watching a game fish flipping on a dock. He’s going to give it as best shot to get off that dock and get back in the water. So, you’re going to see the worst of your child because you’re now changing the rules of the game. Because we played this game, his or her way.

Dr. Leman: So, expect that and when you see that, say, “Good. Leman said that’s step one in winning the battle.” Because they’re going to do that. They’re going to flex their muscles. They’re going to let you know they are very unhappy and don’t overreact to it. Go about your business.

Dr. Leman: And are you saying to ignore them? Well, as best you can. But there’s times when it’s hard to ignore them. They’re just being obnoxious, coming after you. That’s when you pick them up, put them in their room, and hold the door. Whatever you want to do to just say, “Hey, you’re going to settle down. And when you settle down, you can come on out, be a human being again.”

Dr. Leman: But again, you’re taking the authority you have as a parent. Not as an authoritarian. You can’t make the kid eat it. You can’t stuff the food down his throat. It’s not going to work. So, let the reality of the situation become the teacher to the child. And the hunger, think of it, if the kid doesn’t eat and we’re talking 8:00 o’clock in the morning, what’s he going to be like at noon? Four hours later, the kid’s going to be ravenous. He’s going to eat anything you put in front of him. I don’t care what it is. Celery sticks. So, the food is a great reinforcer. Let that work for you. Don’t work it against you.

Doug: So again, I know you said it, but let’s say that you’re kindhearted and a compassionate mom and all of the sudden I come out at 10:00 o’clock and everybody, or dad, “Daddy, Dr. Lemony, I am so hungry. Please. Just a little just. Just two Cheerio’s please? I think I’m going to faint.” Right? This is my 10:00 o’clock snack that I want. What would you say to me?

Dr. Leman: You describe the mom as compassionate and loving, whatever. Let me add another one. Stupid. Dumb. Not clearheaded. If you want to change behavior and you realize it’s unwanted behavior, it’s unhealthy behavior, then you’re going to have to man up or woman enough to do some things that are difficult. Is it hard to see a little guy who’s hungry craving for food? Yeah, they’re con artists. Again, they’ll work you. They’re going to give you their best shot. But the nice thing about these ways of dealing with kids is that quite frankly, you don’t have to do these things very often. Once or twice and lesson learned. Kids going to learn, “Hey, I got to come up with another dog and pony show because that’s not working.”

Doug: So, let’s go to that point, to your bed, right? I’ve let my kid, up until age two, sleep in my bed. And now you threw out the crazy nutso suggestion that I closed the door and lock it. How many times will my kids sleep outside my door or how long will they bang on that door demanding that I let them in?

Dr. Leman: That kid, when he figures out that door is locked, he’s going to go ballistic. He’s going to kick the door, he’s going to pound on the door, he’s going to cry, he’s going to throw himself on the floor. If you had a video, it would be sort of cute. Again, he’s going to give it to fish out of water temper tantrum.

Dr. Leman: And what his behavior is saying is, “I am very upset that you guys are no longer playing the game the way I want to play it under my rules.” Well, if you want to create a powerful child who has little regard for other people’s thoughts, feelings, ideas, then let that kid back in the door. Then you teach the kid that all you got to do is throw a hissy fit, scream loud enough, and mom and dad will give in. And parents cave in all the time. That’s why I say warnings are disrespectful to kids.

Doug: Yeah. So, while you were saying that, Andrea’s face looked like she was about to cry.

Andrea: Oh yeah. I was just sitting here thinking of all the things that could happen. He’s going to hurt himself or what if he goes down the hall and starts throwing things and I’m in the bedroom? I have no control over what’s going on out there.

Dr. Leman: It’s the hardest thing in the world to keep your mouth shut. And again, my admonition to parents, you’re sitting there in bed, you’re laying in bed, you’re trying to get to sleep, and there’s your little four year old pounding on the door. The temptation. 99 out of 100 parents are going to say, “Don’t you pound on that door. Stop kicking that door.” And all that does is reinforce the kicking. So, as hard as it is to bite your tongue and clos your emotions down, you have to do it. Is it tough? Very tough. But the good news is you only have to do this a couple times with most kids. They learn that that’s the new sheriff in town and they’re going to have to stay in their bedroom.

Doug: So, we’ve been doing this podcast for five plus years. And the reason I asked that question every time is because most of the response I get is, “I don’t know if I could handle that.” And you have said that kid will pound on that door for two nights, maybe three, and that has been proven so much by our listeners that have followed this advice.

Doug: So, for all you parents out there that you’re like, “I don’t know if I emotionally could handle that.” We’re only talking a couple of nights and by the third night it’s going to be a pathetic display of angst to get in there and he’s going to give up or she’s going to give up and end up in her bed. So you can do this, parents. You can do this. Our next podcast we’re going to talk about the fact that you have four Aces and that you can do this for your kid’s sake.

Doug: So, thank you. Thank you, Dr. Leman for helping us with some of the basics again, and a reminder for your sake, please go get the book Have a New Kid By Friday now before this ends for less than a Starbucks, I know it’s an overused phrase, but for $2.99 between now and March 31st of 2020. I will accept thank you notes that you read the book and you’re so grateful for how it helped you if you’re skeptical and you question it, read the book. It’s super easy to read, very funny, for your sake.

Doug: So, it was great to be with you and we love hanging out with you and we look forward to the next time we can be with you to help you add to that parenting toolbox so you’ll [inaudible] those kids more and more.

Andrea: Have a great week.

Doug: Hope you have a super time with those kids. Take care. Bye bye.