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Bedtime struggles ~what do you do when your toddler just doesn't (want to) go to sleep?

post #1 of 8
Thread Starter 

DS is 29 months old and in the last month or two bedtime has become a problem for us. It's one of the many areas he says he doesn't want to and starts to fight it. I think many nights he genuinely isn't sleepy, or has tricked his body into it through whatever psychological factors (overstimulation, feeling lack of power, etc). He is simultaneously going through a nap transition, namely dropping it....but unfortunately his preschool sort of forces this quiet time where he has to either sleep or be quiet (they have mixed results, but the worst case for them is that he doesn't sleep and is active ~it's never a struggle there like it is at home though). Occasionally when he hasn't napped he will fall asleep pretty easily around 8:30, but sometimes even when he hasn't napped and is showing other signs of tiredness, he still fights sleep and bedtime. We have a solid regular routine and try to get him in bed by 8 or 9 depending how it looks, but he often is not asleep til 10 or later even. An earlier time is not a possibility as my hubby often cannot get home from work earlier than 7. Wake up is usually around 7 but he is usually up around then anyway we don't have to wake him.

BTW I am constantly reading sites like Hand in Hand or Dr. Laura for gentle discipline advice, and I know that staying connected and helping the child feel empowered are great helps. I know he feels very disempowered lately. It seems that 2.5 is this transition and he is not the same as he was just a month ago. So many struggles around food, sleep, frustration, whining, and general all around resistance. We are trying so hard to connect and play power games, etc....which does help somewhat but usually short-lived before the next struggle, and DH and I are limited human beings and we are getting tired of this, not only most days but now most bedtimes as well.

At the end of the day you can't force a child to sleep but what are we supposed to do here? I sometimes do set a limit and go out of the room for a few minutes just to take a break because I have reached my own limits, and he sometimes can play on the bed alone (with only the nightlight on), but usually does want me there. I would not leave him crying but he'll call me and I keep saying "I'll be right back" and reassuring him and then I go back in. The times I set limits and say "ok after this book we are turning out the light" (we do use the nightlight but I find I have to set a limit on that too as he continues to be active and say "get up, get up") he often cries a lot and while a little crying in my presence doesn't bother me, and even may be necessary to express some of his general frustration, I wonder where the healthy limit is with that, since I don't want bedtime to become associated with this massive struggle and crying and that he falls asleep crying every night, ya know?!


Any tips or sympathy appreciated. Thank you if you read that whole thing!!

post #2 of 8
Nightlights can be too bright, and send the body 'time to be active' signals. Maybe a nightlight in the hall would work better, although not all homes have an outlet in the hall. I saw a flickering candle in our supermarket. It is battery operated, led light, and cycles between 8 hours on and 16 hours off. Perhaps something like that would work better.

My own son would get wound up when overly tired, but it sounds like you're already sensitive to that potential problem. I wish I had better advice. Good luck.
post #3 of 8

We use a pillow pet that puts stars on the celling, just enough light to function. 

We are in a similar place with our 26 month old. We end up holding him while he cried about bed time, singing to him (that will keep him calm long enough to fall asleep), or co-sleeping. I only bring him in our bed if it hits midnight and he still fighting it. When he comes in our bed I make it totally dark and he sunggles up and passes out. 


But we are having the same kinds of struggles here. We will count down the stories, and when we are done he will scream, NO SLEEP, ONE MORE BOOK. Or somthing to that extent... rarely does he peacefully climb into bed and just sleep. 

post #4 of 8
Thread Starter 

Thanks for the replies so far!

BTW we are still cosleeping and that is not a problem at all, and once he falls asleep he almost always stays asleep all night.

post #5 of 8

Is he still waking at 7 even on nights when he didn't nap and went to sleep at 9 or 10?  Because it sounds to me like part of the problem might be getting the numbers to add up right for his sleep totals now that he's dropping naps.  I know how tough that is - my daughter is the type that has an internal, unchanging wake-up time, so we can only make changes on the going-to-sleep end of things.  And it sounds like you have constraints there, too, which makes it even tougher.  FWIW, my DD just...doesn't get to see her dad at all most weekdays.  It's lousy, but it's the only thing we can do to make sure she gets enough sleep (generally 11:45 or so). 


I think if I were you I'd start with the nap issue.  Can you try to arrange with his preschool for them to encourage quiet time but not sleep?  Because it's so hard to deal with night-time issues if napping is inconsistent.  It might be better if you just let the nap go. 


Then for bedtime...I've been thinking about this a lot lately.  My daughter (31 months) has been solidly on the same bedtime routine for ages and ages.  She still goes to sleep drinking a bottle in the rocker with me every night, but I KNOW from recent experience that she does perfectly fine without the bottle.  So I'm expecting a big change to come soon - a change to a new, big girl bedtime routine with no rocker and no bottle.  Possibly even not mommy the whole time.  I suspect that she's ready for this and I'm the one who's holding back on the change.  In terms of your issues, I think I'm trying to say that even though you have a regular bedtime routine, it may be time for a total revamp.  I wish I had something more concrete to give you, but alas, it's new to me, too. 


And about the crying - I hear you on this, because my daughter doesn't like for me to leave her either, at bedtime or any other time, for that matter :)  But her crying is the worst when things are inconsistent or unexpected.  So, if my absence is part of a regular routine that she expects, she'll be okay.  It sounds like right now things are up in the air with bedtime and whether or not you stay the whole time, so maybe your LO is getting upset more easily when you leave because he doesn't know quite what to expect. 


Good luck, P.J.  Hope you get some good advice!

post #6 of 8
Thread Starter 

Thanks for the advice Lizzy. Yes, he is the same way as your girl in that he wakes up early no matter what. There have been nights he went to bed super late, like 10:30 or 11, and then I had to wake him up at 8, or let him sleep til nearly 9. But usually he is up bright and chipper between 6:30-7, even if he went to bed late. I start to wonder if he needs only 9 hours a night...????


Unfortunately the preschool (it's Waldorf) is pretty inflexible about this. They won't force anyone to sleep but they are supposed to lie there silently. I think it's absurd and it's my only complaint about the preschool. But I have considered an earlier pickup before the nap....although that would be a big sacrifice on my part and I need to really decide if this is worth it...or if it would even help.


As for his Papa, I could request that he just come home later at night but I know it wouldn't fly because a.) he adores his son and would not want to miss him every evening like that and b.) it would mean he'd have to occupy himself and stay away from home for up to 2 hours in the evenings because I would definitely not want him walking right in as we're doing the bedtime routine, ya know (it's a big house but DS would hear any peep and use it as an excuse to get all riled up again). Not only that, but I was alone with DS last night and it went all wrong with bedtime and that was what prompted me to start this thread. Having Papa come home around 7 does make it hard but even if Papa isn't home that evening this still happens. irked.gif


Anyway your ideas about consistency and what he expects are good, and we may need to come up with a totally new routine....


Thanks for your reply. I know how much you have struggled with sleep issues.....

post #7 of 8

My daughter is the same, if she goes to bed late she wakes up at the same time, so we put her to bed early and again, wakes up at the same time. I dont think it means they need less sleep, I think it means they are sensitive to light.routine/ etc. Putting her to sleep earlier almost always means a better day the next day.

post #8 of 8

Seems like every couple of months or so, we have issues around bedtime.  Bedtime seems to require more tweaking and fine tuning than anything else...don't know why.  I think part of it is just part of the ride between 2-3 where so much is going on developmentally.  Sometimes it's wonderful, and sometimes it's totally frustrating.  (Kinda reminds me of a mini preview of adolescence in terms of the whining, but thankfully without all the hormones...oy!)


Usually helped me get through some of this was to respect the increasing desire for independence by increasing choices throughout the process, while staying well within the parameters of the existing routine.


For example:  "Do YOU want to turn off the lights, or do you want mama to do it?"  "Do you want 1 blanket or 2?"  Small little things like this really seem to move the process along.  The order of the bedtime ritual never changes, but adding opportunities for independence seem to make a ton of difference in terms of getting through the process smoothly.  The catch is that as he gets older, I have to revise things a bit because his needs evolve a little bit, and it's not always easy to figure out what that will look like.  It takes a bit of experimentation, but eventually I'll hit on something that works and it'll click, and voila, bedtime goes smoothly again--for a little while anyway. 


The other thing is I have started doing countdowns when I detect "stalling" behaviors popping up...when DS is deliberately dragging some aspect of bedtime out.  Since he HATES for me to do something for him that he can do himself, I tell him, "You got 10 seconds to wrap it up, or mama is going to do it for you."  Don't know why but that works pretty good.  It's hard to remember sometimes but kids naturally suck at transitions, it's something they have to learn and get better at as time goes by.


Most of the time this approach seems to help (at least it doesn't seem to make things any worse), even though we go through phases where bedtime gets hairy.  Usually after a particularly rough night, I'll look back and realize that the reason for the rocky behavior was probably obvious--a major change in routine, a day where the nap didn't quite happen right, illness/teething, or something else that's out of the norm that is easily accounted for.


Kids sure keep you on your toes, that's for sure.  If parenting starts feeling easy, beware!!!

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