Facing the Challenges of Being a Single Dad

This week's blog post comes from Daniel at dadsolo.com.  Daniel is a single father and has created dadsolo.com to give resources, experience, tips and more for single dads and parents.  Please be sure to check out his site! 

When you think of a single parent, you typically think of a young single woman working two jobs while struggling to raise two or three children. But single fathers in the world experience challenges as well. Today, single fatherhood is becoming increasingly common. Whether through divorce, the death of a spouse or having children without being married, many men are becoming single parents. They just don’t get as much attention as single moms. If you’re a single dad, here are some tips to help you overcome any challenges that life throws your way:

Find a Support Network

Single parents often feel alone. After all, they’re solely responsible for a mind-boggling array of tasks. As the only parent in the home, single parents must do all of the cooking, cleaning, laundry and a host of other chores. But that’s not all. Single parents take care of the kids when they’re sick, help with homework, shuttle the kids to soccer practice, and attend parent-teacher conferences.

When you’re a single dad, you may feel isolated even more than a single mom. You may be the only dad at the PTA meeting or sitting in the lobby of the ballet school. When you take your kids to the park, you may share a bench with mothers watching their own children play.

For this reason, single dads should reach out to other single fathers in the community. Connecting with other fathers going it alone can help you feel less isolated. Dads in your area may be able to provide you with advice or encouragement when you doubt your abilities to parent your children without a partner.

Just because you’re a single parent doesn’t mean you shouldn’t accept help with typical responsibilities. Family members and close friends can help with babysitting, chauffeuring kids to afterschool activities, and staying with children when they are too sick to go to school.

 

Realize You’re Not Perfect

Everyone makes mistakes--including single fathers. Realizing that you’re not perfect will help you have a sense of humor when things don’t go exactly as planned. If you aren’t a gourmet cook, that’s okay. As long as you’re cooking healthy meals, it doesn’t matter if they consist of simple ingredients. And if you’re not great at doing your five-year-old daughter’s hair, keep practicing. Watch online video hair tutorials. Ask a close friend or family member to give you tips on styling your little one’s hair. Kids don’t expect you to be the perfect parent. They just need to be aware of your love for them.

 

Get the Kids to Help

Teach your children how to help out around the house so that you aren’t so overwhelmed by the chores of daily life. This shows your children the importance of working together and demonstrating responsibility. And when they learn to pitch in with the housework, they develop empathy for you and appreciate all of the work you do for the family.

 

Taking Care of Yourself

As the primary caregiver, you’re always in danger of forgetting to take care of yourself. Daily anxieties of work and taking care of your children can take a toll on your mental health. But as mental health specialists point out, “It’s important to learn small ways to face that stress head-on and reduce it no matter where you are, because having effective coping mechanisms handy will allow you to get through even the most challenging times. You can use your new skills to immediately start feeling better, and to prevent the emergence of chronic mental health problems.”

Being a single father can bring you various challenges. As the only parent in the home, you are responsible for it all. It’s a delicate balance of career and childcare that isn’t easy to achieve. If you are a single father, it’s important to reach out to others for assistance. Connecting with other single dads in the community as well as receiving support from family and friends will help you juggle a myriad of responsibilities while still maintaining a positive outlook.

Photo via Pixabay

Physical Activity – The Key to a Good Night’s Sleep

Humans have several different body rhythms working simultaneously.  For sleep, we have a circadian rhythm where our energy dips down and goes up throughout the day.  We also have something called a homeostatic rhythm – what we do to burn energy and create the need for sleep.  If these two rhythms are working together, sleep comes much more easily. 

For toddlers and older children, there are lots of great activities that can help create the need for our body to sleep.  This includes hiking, running, biking, swimming, playing games in the back yard, a trip to the playground, and more.  In the US, there is a campaign called “Play 60” to get kids exercising for up to 60 minutes daily for their overall health – but I recommend at least this amount for sleep, too.  The best time of day to get this activity is in the morning.  We’re all coming off a (hopefully) good night’s rest and exercise in the morning gets the day started off right.  Be careful not to do too much activity close to bedtime as you run the risk of getting your toddler a little too revved up before bed, making it a bit more difficult to settle for the night.

And, what about babies? 

I am a firm believer that “tummy time” or floor time is crucial for babies.  It’s important to help achieve not only mobility milestones, but it helps to achieve milestones in areas of vision, hearing, talking, and more.  That’s because with more tummy time, the brain starts to make the connections to do higher level activities!

Give your baby the opportunity to explore the environment – if they can crawl on their bellies, do lots of it.  If they can creep on their hands and knees, again, do lots of it.  If you have a very young baby, just having the opportunity to be on the stomach begins to open the door to those higher levels of function.

With young babies, I encourage an EAT/PLAY/SLEEP schedule.  The first few months of life, babies sleep a lot and have short stretches of sleep at night.  Having this EAT/PLAY/SLEEP schedule creates predictability and makes it easier for their brains and bodies to learn the difference between day and night. 

What better way to play then be on your tummy?  Again, this helps to burn energy and create the need to sleep.  It’s also very good for babies who have digestive issues as well.  For babies who are still a bit irregular, it helps to get things moving, if you know what I mean.

If your baby has trouble staying on their tummy, or doesn’t enjoy tummy time, start with really short sessions throughout the day.  This allows them to become more accustomed to this position and it allows for success from the very beginning.  Even if it means it’s only a few seconds at first, celebrate when your baby has been on their tummy!  If they see mommy or daddy is happy with what they’re doing, they’ll keep doing more of it.  Gradually, the time can increase as your baby gets accustomed to the floor and as they start to figure out how to use their arms and legs.

Even a few minutes a day may be all a baby needs to get on a good sleep rhythm.  Remember, we have to work around a feed and nap schedule as well so if this isn’t reached every day that is totally fine.

So, get moving to get sleeping!  If your little one struggles to sleep well through the night look at what they are doing during the day and see what fun activities you can incorporate in your day for a better night’s rest.

Technology and Sleep - Why Sleepwalking Happens

Each day, I get daily updates on all the things coming out with regards to sleep science.  This week, one article stood out in particular about sleepwalking and night terrors.  Here's what I found really surprising: Nearly 20% of children are considered regular sleep walkers, and 5% of kids have re-occurring night terrors.  

That's a whole lot of kids!

What didn't surprise me was the cause of these issues, and that is modern technology creating sleep deprivation.  Blue light that is emitted from smart devices and screens greatly reduces the production of melatonin in the brain.  Did you know that the average household now has at least 7 internet connected devices?  I couldn't believe that until I counted the number I had in my one bedroom apartment -- the grand total was 8.  7 of which had blue-light emitting screens.

That means that kids have much easier access to these devices throughout the day.  For adults, most of us are working jobs where we are in front of our phones or computers all. day. long.  The time really accumulates! If you or your child is using one of these devices leading up to bedtime, the brain's thinking it's daytime.  Not time to sleep!  I personally find that if I've had a particularly technology-heavy day at work, I definitely have a much harder time winding down at the end of the day.

Our bodies will react in a variety of ways under stress.  Sleep deprivation is a type of stress and that causes sleepwalking, night terrors, etc.  I have also seen these happen when other "stressful" things are happening in a child's life -- moving houses, a new sibling, starting daycare or school.  But, if good sleep habits are in place, these are just temporary.  Chronic sleep deprivation itself puts other stresses on the body -- heart problems, weight issues, diabetes, or worse memory loss and even Alzheimer's in adults.

So, live by my mantra: give sleep priority!

Turn off the computer

Switch off the cell phone

Put the tablet away

And focus on your's and your family's sleep hygiene and get a better night's rest.

Does your child sleep walk or have frequent night terrors? Does you child suffer from chronic sleep deprivation? Contact me to learn how I can help!

How to End Early Morning Wake-ups

Early morning wake-ups: a tiring and frustrating situation for many parents! Even when things seem to be going great -- baby is going down on their own, they have the right bed time, naps are going well -- those morning are STILL early!  What to do?  This is an incredibly common thing that happens, even during sleep training, and there are some key tips to extend mornings:

1) Make sure the room is dark

Although we are getting into the season of shorter days, it's really important that there is NO LIGHT coming in from the windows, hallways, etc.  Our bodies are incredibly sensitive to light, and if you're baby is struggling to sleep longer in the morning chances are that the room isn't dark. How dark is dark?  If you can see your hand in front of you, it's not dark enough.  Your baby's brain needs to make that association that dark means sleep, and light means wake.  Remember, even the smallest change in light can provoke a wake-up.

2) Look at your baby's feed schedule

Many babies who wake too early do so because they are still getting night feeds when they really shouldn't be.  If your baby is of a healthy weight and over 6 months, there's no need for it anymore.  So, it might be a matter of pulling the feeds.  If not, your baby won't know the difference between a feed at 4:30am, or 2:00am and it can become a vicious cycle.  And, if your baby has a feeding/sleeping association, it will affect night time consoldation of sleep.  The more fragmented sleep is, the more likely your baby is going to wake too early. And, that feed could be too stimulating, making it harder for your little one to drift off again.

3) Look what's happening FIRST THING in the morning

When parents first voice their concerns about their child waking to early, I first ask, "What happens as soon as your baby wakes up?"

If your baby has something immediate to look forward to, they might be waking early for this.  What baby wouldn't look forward to some instant "mommy and me" time with that first feed? This is important for toddlers as well -- if the first thing that happens is that Dad takes them downstairs and plays games or turns on the TV, your toddler could be waking early to get that reward sooner.

With the first feed of the day, try to delay it at least for 10 minutes, ideally longer.   Change your baby's diaper, take them out of the room, etc.  For toddlers, be very clear that morning does not start until 7am at the earliest.  If they've been good and waited, bring them out of the room and try and start with a quiet, kind of boring morning.  

4) Check the morning nap time

If your baby is waking too early, a lot of parents get stuck because then the first nap of the day gets too early and the whole schedule starts to get out of whack.  The body clock will start to get out of sync, and we don't want that.

What's happening is that now early nap is an extension of night sleep.  If you woke at 4:00am, stayed up for a while, and then went back to sleep for a few hours, it would still be nighttime -- not a nap.  

What that means, however, is that you have to try and keep your baby up until the usual time for their nap, regardless of when they got up.  As you get into the thick of it, give plenty of snacks to boost energy, take your baby outside for fresh air, and keep them up until that first nap time.

5) DO NOT push back bedtime or skip naps

This will end up making more problems.  By pushing back bedtime, skipping naps, your throwing your baby's circadian rhythm off even further.  The thing to remember is that the more sleep your baby gets, the better quality.  Creating overtiredness will not fix the 5:00am rise time.  It'll probably make it earlier.  Stick to an early bed time and respect nap time -- it's sacred!

If you are struggling to get your baby's rise time later, contact me to learn more or schedule a free 15 minute call with me to get some answers!

Sleep For your School-Aged Child

'Tis the season...

School has officially begun for your child.

And here is my #1 tip for your child to have their best day at school:

Get plenty of sleep!

Study after study has been done linking a good night's sleep to better test scores and problem solving abilities.  Why?  Sleep is a vital process not only for restoring and growing the brain, but in the last stages of sleep, your brain is organizing itself -- it's literally keeping the important information, and getting rid of the "junk".  The brain is precious real estate!

In many studies done, there is a significant difference in performance when study participants got a full night's rest, compared to the sleep deprived people.  This information is not only important for school age children, but working adults!  Billions of dollars are lost every year due to people's poor sleep habits.

In addition to great performance in the classroom, children who sleep enough have a much lower risk of being overweight, developing Type II diabetes, and are healthier and happier, overall.

So, how do you start this school year off right?

1) Know how many hours of sleep your child needs: I recommend to parents that they try and get their children sleeping up to 12 hours total at least until 6 years of age.  Your child will need at least 10 hours of sleep until they reach their teenage years.  Even at that point, it is recommended that high school students get at least 8 hours of sleep.  

2) Set up a consistent, non-neogtiable bed time: Now that you know how much sleep your child needs, create a bed time that allows for the hours of zzz's they need.  If your child has difficulty falling asleep, this bedtime may need to be followed for a few weekends as well so that their body gets habituated to this new "shut down" time.

3) Avoid the 3 S's at least 1-2 hours before sleep: screens, sugar, and excess salt (sodium)!  Blue light emission from a tablet device suppresses the production of melatonin, a key hormone that your body produces to get to sleep easier.  Any kind of sugary products before sleep can make it more difficult for your child to settle down, so avoid candy, sodas, chocolate, etc. and opt for healthier options towards the afternoon.  For some children, a diet high in sodium can cause water retention and make for multiple trips to the bathroom at night.  

4) Try some physical activity to blow off a bit of steam: Your child, depending on their age, has spent basically the whole day at their desk.  For children that are high-energy, this can be tough.  If your child is not involved with after-school sports or activities, try and get in at least 20' of playtime after school.  This will allow their bodies to burn enough energy to fall asleep more easily.  But, make sure that this is done a good amount of time before bed.

5) Avoid stress (another S) and create a relaxing bedtime routine: some school-aged children have difficulty falling asleep because they worry about what's happening the next day, what assignment is due, etc.  One great way to get out of "school mode" and get ready for sleep is to have a consistent and relaxing bedtime routine.  Some activities include reading from a book for enjoyment (not a school book), some pre-bedtime yoga, and even using essential oils like lavender.  The bedtime routine should be the same every night -- this will allow your child to know exactly what's happening next and get their bodies ready to wind down.  

If a school assignment is forgotten, or if there's a big presentation in class the next day have your child write a reminder list for the next morning -- there's nothing can be done once you're in bed, so there's no need to worry about it.  It can wait until tomorrow morning.  This is something I do with my work every night before I go to sleep.  It helps put my mind at ease for the next day, knowing exactly what is going to happen and what I need to do.

6) Set an example for your child to follow: one of the best ways to instill change and get your child used to the new routine is to set an example for them.  It cannot feel like these are their rules exclusively.  That means, if you're trying to avoid screens before bed, or enforce a bedtime parents need to lead the charge.  If there are older siblings, get them involved as well.  Once your child sees that everyone else is doing it and it is a team effort, it will go much more smoothly.  And, that means that you might be getting a few extra zzz's too!

if you have questions about your child's sleep habits and how to improve them, contact me or schedule a free 15-minute call to learn how i can help.

Get Moving to Get Sleeping

Did you know that nearly 50% of Americans suffer from poor/insufficient sleep?

That's a whole lot of people.

If everyone followed a consistent routine and got to bed at the right time, it would be a great step in the right direction with regards to sleep health and hygiene.  But, what else can you do?

Studies have shown that moderate physical activity (150 minutes or more per week) can greatly improve quality of sleep and overall energy throughout the day.  150 minutes a week -- that's just 21 minutes a day!  This is because our bodies have two rhythms -- a circadian rhythm (where our energy levels go up and down throughout the day) and a homeostatic rhythm (the pressure your body needs in order to fall asleep).  If you're burning enough energy during the day, the need to sleep is there and the two rhythms work in sync with each other.  When your body's rhythms are not working together, this can cause sleep issues.

Like anything, this takes time -- you need to get habituated to a new sleep schedule AND an exercise schedule.  It is possible for it to take as much as 4 months before seeing big improvements in sleep.  However, think of the other benefits to an exercise routine:

- Overall mood: feeling happier and more ccomplished

- Feeling less stressed

- Improved digestion (when you move, everything moves)

- Beach ready! (Who doesn't want that, amirite?)

The best exercise for sleep is something aerobic.  Getting your heart pumping a bit is a great thing -- physiologically, your blood vessels expand and allow the most amount of oxygen and blood flow to your muscles and organs.  Although there are great benefits to anaerobic exercise (weight lifting or strength training), it may not be the best for sleep health.  Examples of aerobic exercise are jogging, biking, hiking, swimming, dancing, and more.  Check with your doctor first before pursuing an exercise routine if you have other medical problems.

Make sure that your workouts are not happening too close to bedtime either -- like with children, it may give you an extra wind and will make it harder to fall asleep.

My recommendation would be to keep your brain guessing and your body challenged -- I find that a mix of strength training, HIIT, running, and recreational sports really help to keep my body in rhythm and keeps my brain working as well.  I find that exercising in the morning sets me up for the day.  I am ready to go, feeling accomplished, and ready to take on what challenges may come my way that day.

Need more help when it comes to sleep?  Contact me to learn more, or schedule a free 15 minute discovery call!

Sources:

https://sleepfoundation.org/media-center/press-release/lack-sleep-affecting-americans-finds-the-national-sleep-foundation

https://sleepfoundation.org/sleep-news/study-physical-activity-impacts-overall-quality-sleep

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2992829/

Unlock Your Health Interview with Dr. Murthy

To listen to the full interview, please visit: http://www.uyhradio.com/episode-41

A couple of months ago, I was introduced to Dr. Vijay Murthy.  Currently located in England, Dr. Murthy is an aryuvedic doctor and trained in naturopathy, helping his patients get on a pathway to total wellness through holistic means.  I have had the pleasure to get to know Vijay better this past week, as he was with me at the Institutes in Italy, working side by side with the staff, and learning all about the Institutes' work with brain-injured kids.  

Dr. Murthy hosts a show in the UK called "Unlock Your Health" and I was very happy to be a guest on his show.  We talked about the importance of sleep, why melatonin doesn't work, and some of the first steps parents can take if they are ready to get their little one sleeping independently.

If you are ready to get your little one sleeping through the night, contact me to learn more and to get started!

Kids Age Faster When They Lose Sleep

Sleep is a vital process for getting rid of toxins and strengthening our neural networks.  During later stages of sleep, the branches that grow out of brain cells (synapses) get a chance to strengthen and help preserve new brain cells.  In REM sleep (the last stage of sleep), our brain gets organized -- it picks out the most important information of the day and stores it for the long term.  "Junk" information is forgotten.  Pretty neat, right?

When you are not sleeping well, the brain does not have a chance to do this.  When you lose sleep, there is an excess store of toxins and chances are that your short term memory is affected.  The next day, you may find it harder to reason and think clearly, and it will be difficult to solve problems that come with our usual day to day.

For kids, a research team at Princeton University has found that a chronic lack of sleep actually makes their DNA age faster.  By looking at the children's telomeres (the caps at the end of our chromosomes) it showed that with chronic sleep deprivation, the telomeres got shorter.  As you age, telomeres continue to get shorter leaving you susceptible to health conditions like heart disease, neurological disorders, and more.  

Many studies have shown that children who sleep poorly are at higher risk of performing poorly in school, obesity, diabetes and more in the long term.  For the short term, their immunity will be lower and can be more prone to frequent colds and illnesses.  Children who do not get enough sleep are more likely to have mood swings, tantrums, and just be cranky overall (isn't that the truth for everyone?)

The sleep needs for children vary from age to age.  Below are the number of hours different age groups need in a 24 hour cycle:

If you think your child needs more sleep or has sleep troubles, here are 5 tips in order to improve sleep for any age.  

If you have questions about your child's sleep and how I can help schedule a free 15 minute phone consultation with me.

5 Tips to Improving Your Child's Behavior

To be successful in teaching toddlers and kids how to sleep properly, it is important to create boundaries and reward good behavior when it comes to sleep.  As kids get older, they become experts in making deals and toeing the line.  It's parents' job to make sure that they are consistent with their expectations and to keep life as calm and consistent as possible.  

Kids do not do well in chaos, and this can be prevented by establishing rules for the whole family to live by.  The foundations of what I teach to families about sleep and behavior can be applied to just about any issue a parent might want to address -- talking back, hitting, screaming, nose picking, not cleaning up, you name it!  Here are my tips on how to best handle your child's behavior:

1) Establish your rule and write it up: when introducing a new rule, it's best that everyone be on the same page about it.  That's why I recommend that your new rule be written for the whole family to see.  This acts as a reminder to everyone.  I also recommend trying to word it in the most positive way possible.  For example, instead of writing "No hitting", try "We keep ours hands to ourselves".  It's also important to use "we" language.  This rule applies to everyone in the house, not just your child.  Once this is established, post it for everyone to see. Explain to your child what it means, especially if they are not yet able to read.  This also applies to parents and siblings.  If your family rule is that people speak to each other respectfully and Dad gets snippy, make an example and give Dad a "time out".  Your child needs to see that example.

2) Write up the consequence for breaking the rule: The fine should be just enough that it will make your child think twice, but cannot be excessive.  I usually start with time out, and recommend making it 1 minute for every 1-2 years your child is (for example, if your child is 4 try a 2-3 minute time out).  I have also used taking away the tablet, cartoons, etc. as a fine.  If you've decided on time out, make sure to establish a place in the house for it.  This place should be boring and where you can see your child.  Some parents will also call this the "tranquility corner" to give it an even more positive spin.

3) Acknowledge when your child IS following the rule: for success in sleeping independently, there ALWAYS needs to be a reward.  The night a child stays in their room and sleeps on their own, parents should always celebrate this success -- give lots of hugs and kisses, and sometimes a small treat is acceptable as well.  Parents must always reward when the child is doing well and following the rules.  Even a verbal recognition can be a very good thing for your child to hear.

4) Be immediate when a fine needs to be dealt out: if your child has broken the rule, you may give one and ONLY one warning.  Give your child the opportunity to make the right decision.  If they call you on it and break the rule again, then the fine must be dealt out immediately.  Be sympathetic when dealing out a fine -- do not get angry or threaten/blackmail.  Your child will not respond to this, and it is not respectful.  Be as calm as possible and apologetic: "I'm sorry Sarah, but you broke the rule and now you need to go to time out."  Once the fine is paid, then just move on.  Do not keep harping on it -- your child has already been given the consequence.

5) Be consistent in applying these rules: Kids do not do well with gray area -- they need things to be as black and white as possible.  Be clear with the rules -- they are applicable at all times.  The rules don't just apply within the four walls of your house.  The rules apply out at the grocery store, dance class, play group, everywhere.  If you have established this system, it has to be applied the same way each and every time.  If time out is your fine, be consistent and keep to your agreement.  Set a timer so that you and your child know timeout is exactly 2 minutes and not a second more.  If a special toy is taken away as a fine, be consistent in how long it's taken away for and when it can be earned back.  Your child will learn quickly that mom or dad mean exactly what they say.  This is the definition of establishing the boundary.

Remember, the goal is not the punishment.  You are teaching your child simply what is acceptable behavior.  I think it's safe to say that everyone gets out of hand at some point, and the beauty of this system is that it gives your child the chance to calm themselves down and regroup on their own.  It's a way of showing your child respect and acknowledging how intelligent they really are.  The kids I have used this system with often realize that by giving boundaries, we are not "suppressing" them.  They want to have limits, even if they can't exactly vocalize this.  Everyone is more comfortable when they know exactly what to expect.

Now, I've just spent lots of time talking about the WORST case scenario.  For this to work well, you must always keep the following in mind:

Focus on the positive.

If your child sees that you are happy with something that they are doing, they will just want to keep doing it.  Getting praise and rewards is something that any child will look forward to, and they will want to show off what they can do.  The reward system is not something that will last forever, either.  It will eventually phase out, but that doesn't mean they will revert to old behavior.  It is an indication of their maturity.

This system can be followed any time that a new rule needs to be established.  And, the good news is that once the first one is introduced in this way the rest are a piece of cake.  As always, be consistent in your expectations and your child will succeed.