How I got my toddler twins to sit through a wedding quietly...

Let me start by saying this post is not meant to mom-shame or make anyone feel bad about their parenting choices. It was born of a desire to help. I get asked about my parenting a lot, because apparently well behaved two year olds are becoming rare. And well, a pair two year olds who sit through a whole wedding ceremony while listening quietly (without a toy in sight) really makes people stop and ask questions. I don't claim to be an expert, after all I'm only 2 years into this whole mom business. But I must be doing something right to have been asked so many times nearly everywhere we go. Take it or leave it. My parenting philosophy can be summed up with this, "Do what works for ALL of you" (not just you and not just the kids, but the whole family).

1. It all starts with healthy sleep.

Did you know that many toddlers are chronically overtired? Fact is that overtired kids are misbehaving kids. My 2 year old twins sleep at least 12.5 hours per day and that's about average (toddlers need 11-14 hrs. per day). My boys sleep about 11 hours at night (without waking) and take a solid 1.5-2 hour nap. Believe me I have sacrificed a lot to ensure my boys sleep this consistently well. We had them on a schedule from Day 1 (thank you NICU nurses) and sleep trained them starting around 4 months adjusted. We had many hiccups along the way (think stubborn reflux-ers and having 2 babies share a room) but they started consistently sleeping through the night at 11 months.

I know sleep training and schedules can be quite controversial, especially if you breastfeed (like I did) and most especially if use the Baby Wise method (like we did). But most of the controversy comes from a misunderstanding about what sleep training and schedules entail and from horror stories of parents who didn't use common sense. But here's what it boils down to: always feed hungry babies; know the difference between hungry babies, tired babies and bored babies; teach babies to self soothe; and avoid sleep props like nursing to sleep, rocking to sleep, etc. Nothing crazy there, right?

Is sleep training right for everyone? Probably not. Was it crucial to our success? I'd venture to say yes. This mama is a lot, A LOT less patient when she lacks solid sleep and my babies are exactly the same. We are high sleep needs people.

Bottom line, do your best to set your kids up for healthy sleep. Provide them with a quiet, restful space for sleep. For us that means blackout curtains, white noise, comfortable temperature, and nothing in bed but a lovey and blanket (after 1 year...follow your pediatrician's advice to avoid SIDS and suffocation risks). We try to wake up at the same time, nap at the same time, and do bedtime at the same time each day. We make exceptions for certain occasions but exceptions are few and far between, or we all suffer the consequences (more on that later). And when things don't go as planned... Early wake ups mean early and longer naps and late bedtimes mean sleeping in, because we always do our best to make up for missed sleep. Sleep is everything around here.

2. Healthy food is a close second.

I don't know about your kids, but mine do infinitely better when they eat healthy and complete meals. Our biggest meltdowns are usually on days they've had fast food or a bunch of junk. Our other meltdowns typically occur when they don't finish meals and are hungry before its meal time again. In our house full bellies = happy kids. But even so, snacks are small and infrequent in our house. The majority of our calories are eaten at meal times. And if there is a snack, it's a small healthy one after nap by request.

But honestly a full belly often isn't enough, what's filling that belly is just as important. We are by no means perfect, quick meals of fast food are sometimes a necessity. But 90% of the time my kids are eating home cooked, unprocessed foods. Are they all organic? Honestly we can't afford to live like that. Does it take extra effort on my part? Definitely, cooking for 4 people, 21 meals a day is a ton of work (which I understand not everyone has time for, heck I'm a SAHM and sometimes I don't have the time). But the effect that convenience food has on my kids and their health is worth all the extra effort. There are plenty of studies showing the correlation between declining health, especially among kids, and the ingredients found in most convenience foods. The big ones we avoid are: High fructose corn syrup, high sugar foods (including undiluted fruit juice), MSG, and GMOs when possible. Just do your best to feed them the healthiest options that you can afford.

I won't lie my kids often don't eat the veggies I offer to them. But I've learned how to sneak them in, smoothies and sauces are a great way to hide pureed or minced veggies. Often when the veggies I make for dinner are rejected, I puree them, throw them in a reusable pouch, and boom they get eaten. Sometimes it’s the texture or even color of veggies, not the taste that turns kids off. So hiding them is always worth a shot. Also feeding them exactly what's on my plate and daddy's plate helps loads by making them less apprehensive of new foods. Using adult utensils and dinnerware, also makes them feel included and teaches responsibility. And if at first you don't succeed at introducing a veggie try, and try, and try again, kids opinions change with the wind. If you continue to offer a food without forcing it, eventually they may decide they actually like it. Baby-led solids (aka Baby-led weaning) worked great for us, they ate almost anything. The toddler years have proved a little more picky for us (asserting their independence is totally normal), but they have a much more varied palate than most kids their age. Bottom line, their taste buds are molded by what they eat, so do your best to have them eat a wide variety of foods. Give them lots of healthy choices.

3. Let them learn to entertain themselves.

I think as moms, we've placed undue pressure on ourselves to give our kids the perfect childhood. One that is engaging, entertaining, educational, and full of activities. But what gets lost on us is the fact that kids learn best through self-initiated exploration and discovery. That means they need to have space to discover and explore their surroundings without someone directing and prompting. 

When I step back and just watch from a distance I'm amazed at how well my boys can entertain themselves and I'm even more surprised by the learning they do. Consider this... my boys sat quietly through the wedding ceremony without a single toy. They entertained themselves by observing the ceremony, the people around them, and their surroundings. They quietly asked "what's that?" and that was all not a single whine from either twin. 

How did that happen? Well each day I've made sure to include a period of unstructured independent play. The length of time has increased with age, my boys can now happily play while I shower and get ready. But initially it was short, like a trip to the bathroom short. I always make sure that my boys are safe, the area where I leave them is baby-proofed and age appropriate, and they are either within sight or visible on the monitor. Initially that mean in their cribs or a Pack 'n Play. Now at 2 I can trust them to play in their room with the door shut, because I've toddler-proofed it. At first, I would add 2-3 toys to their crib, and over time I started to give them choices. Now I let simply let them play in their room while I get things like dishes and laundry done. I'll only shut the door if I need to like to fold laundry without it being knocked over by my helpers or if they indicate they'd like it closed. 

This practice has taught them to entertain themselves, not to depend on me. Sure we do structured play and activities. We read and practice our letters. They even get screen time on occasion. But every day we practice independent play, it’s as crucial for me as it is for them. I get things done, they learn to entertain themselves. 

4. Practice, practice, practice.

Even if you are doing everything else right, things tend to fall apart if you fail to practice a new skill before putting it to the test. Did I jump from independent play straight to the wedding ceremony? No way, that would have been setting my kids up for failure. The fact is we've been "practicing" for over a year and a half. When we started to venture out of our preemie cocoon (around 4 or 5 months), we were already practicing. First it was things like going to the store, where it’s polite to use "indoor voices" but things won't necessarily get too ugly if your baby is crying. Eventually we began to step up the expectations, as they got older and showed they were ready. We took baby steps, increasing either the time span or decreasing the acceptable volume (outside voices, then inside voices, then whisperers, and eventually to no talking). 

The best practice by far, has been bringing them into church service with me (their daddy plays the drums, so mama is usually solo). Initially we only stayed for the worship portion and left the sanctuary if there was any sign of fussiness. The music did a great job of covering those initial whines that indicate a baby meltdown is on its way. Eventually we worked up to being able to stay for part of the sermon -- at age 2 staying for the whole service, at 1.5 hours long, I feel is asking too much. As they get older, they'll be ready to stay longer and longer. 

People are always impressed at how long my boys are content to sit through the worship and part of the sermon. They don't fuss or whine anymore, but instead tell us ''all done" when they're ready to get their wiggles out. So we quietly excuse ourselves to a spot where we can view the sermon on a video feed while they get those wiggles out. Eventually we may put them in Sunday school after they're "all done", but I'll keep them in the service with me as long as they're happy to stay. Eventually they'll need to sit and pay attention for long periods of time (think school), so practicing now once a week gives us a head start. And it's especially great practice for things like wedding ceremonies.

I totally get that not everyone attends church, and that there are even some churches that won't let kids into the service with parents... All that means is that practice will look different for your family. Where and when you practice isn't the important part, taking the time to practice regularly is the important part. So if that means sitting quietly at library story time, waiting politely in line at the post office, eating respectfully in a restaurant, or watching an older sibling/friend play a sport-- seek it out and practice. Model the behavior you want to see, gently correct and redirect as needed, have age appropriate expectations for their attention span and need for wiggle breaks, and most of all start small and progress slowly. It's never too late to start building this important skill! Your kid's future teachers will thank you!!

Hopefully that didn't come off as preachy, that's not my intent. I simply seek to share what has worked for us, to help those who are seeking it. In the end, we all must do what works for our own families. <3

Have any great tips of your own? I'd love to hear them in the comments below!


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