Ok, I have been reading some threads about 3yos and sleep and feel a bit better because it seems quite common for kids this age to not really want to go to sleep/bed, but I was wondering if anyone could chime in about our specific situation.
My daughter turned 3 a month ago and I am pregnant with #2, due in April. We nightweaned and then weaned completely in October, and since then, getting her to sleep has been a stressful affair. For the first weeks, we tried to do other things to help her sleep in place of nursing but it didn't work. We ended up taking her for a walk in the stroller most nights, where she would fall asleep, and then we´d transfer her into the bed. (She will fall sleep in the stroller sometimes hours earlier than she will eventually fall asleep without,) While this worked and still does work, it hasn´t helped the bedtime routine as it doesn´t address her issues with not wanting to "turn off" and go to sleep. (When she nursed she would go from 60 to 0 in a couple of minutes, some nights.)
So, following her cues, we have successfully instituted some more structure into the evening (teeth brushing, stories in the big bed, sometimes saying goodnight to her animals/iPad/etc). But if she doesnt fall asleep reading, she fights like hell to stay awake. Stalls with food and water and everything under the sun. If we try to set limits, she freaks out. The calmest nights (other than when we give up and get her into the stroller) are when she admits, "I am ready to sleep now" and then she turns over and goes to sleep. I don´t know what makes those nights happen, oh how I wish I did!!!
Add to this that we are moving in 2-3 weeks. We figure it COULD be a good opportunity to have her pick out a bed/institute new traditions/routines in the evening. I am scared that the move might set her back even more. I am not actually that stressed about this, more just sad for her that she has such trouble falling asleep. DH is pretty frustrated.
Anyway, thanks for any thoughts.
Pretty darn crunchy mama to Kiddo (2yo, DD), wife to Hubby, SAHM/aspiring writer/amateur sewist/lover of reading, traveling, music, natural parenting, unschooling, dogs, nature and more. Working on mindfulness and living in the present. Settled in Norway.
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Hi there! We are in a similar position with our 3.5 year old. He is also going through a weaning process, and just gave up nursing to sleep. We just recently saw a really big improvement in his ability to fall asleep -- bedtime reduced from after 10:30 to about 9 or 9:30, and much less struggle. Now he is usually asleep after about 30 minutes with lights out. This is what has worked for us:
I changed my work schedule so I get to work early and get home at 4:30 instead of 5:30, so we have a solid hour to play before dinner. It is awesome, and I think a big factor in his improved mood in the evenings and a better bedtime, though I appreciate it's not possible for everyone.
We always read at least one story in bed before lights out, and often a long complicated story. We take it slow and talk lots about whatever it is we are reading. He can ask any questions he wants. He will usually be pretty sleepy by the time it is done.
When we finish, I dim the light. I don't turn it off all the way, but it is really really dim. (It's on a slider switch.) Right after I've dimmed the light, within the first few minutes, he is pretty restless. He usually wants to go to the bathroom, have a sip of water, and get out of bed to get a stuffed animal, or two or three. In the first 5-10 minutes after the light goes out, I let him do these things, but I remind him gently to keep his energy level low and to walk slowly and speak quietly. (I explained to him that we have "momentum" that carries us toward sleep, and when we do things that are too energetic after we start relaxing, we lose our sleep momentum. He seemed to get this and like this explanation because we also talk about momentum in other context like biking.)
Then after these activities he gets back in bed and we turn the lights out. If he tries to go for his toys instead of getting back into bed, I give him a chance to get back in himself, then I quietly count. He will usually get into bed on his own, but I will lift him in gently if he doesn't.
When I dim the lights, he often whines and says he wants it brighter, but I explain that he has special sleep chemicals in his body that help him fall asleep, but that they won't work if the lights are on too bright. I also don't let him do any ipad or iphone in the hour or two before bed, giving the same explanation (their bright screens chase away the sleep chemicals).
I also started giving him a "magic sleep medicine" which is just homeopathic Camilla (chamomile water) for baby teething. I told him it is a wonderful medicine that helps kids relax and fall asleep. He loves this. (Placebo effect in action, but not a total lie because chamomile is relaxing.)
After about 5-10 minutes, the only thing I let him do is sit up in bed to have a sip of water (which I keep by the bed), or go to the bathroom. No getting more stuffed animals. No snacking whatsoever after the light is out, no matter how little he ate that day or how much he whines. (I try to offer him a (no sugar) snack right before bed, and if he declines, then I know he can't be that hungry.) No getting in bed or playing in bed, or kicking me. If he does any of those things, I do restrain him gently in bed. If he keeps talking to me, I stop answering and just say, shh, go to sleep, over and over.
He knows I will always stay with him until he is asleep. I don't want to create any anxieties or vulnerabilities around bedtime. If he is having trouble falling asleep, I express sympathy for how hard it is, and ask if I can help him in any way. If his request is reasonable, I try to do it (like a back rub); if it is not reasonable and just a delay tactic, I politely decline. If it is taking a really long time for him to fall asleep, I do express frustration without yelling. I explain how tired I am, and how difficult it is for me to work and play with him the next day when he stays up so late. He will usually apologize, and try harder after that.
During this time, I am usually sitting in bed next to him with my back against his head board, or laying in bed on my back, half propped up on pillows. If he is really struggling and it seems like my presence is distracting him, I sit at the foot of the bed. (I often fall asleep during this process, even before he does, and I think when I fall asleep he quickly follows suit, though I try not do, because it is so disorienting for my own bedtime!)
Anyway, this is a process we have developed after months of struggling and have just finally started to see some improvement. I think the most important things are to talk to them about the process of falling asleep, how it is done, and to set firm but gentle limits around that process.
Good luck to you! I hope it improves!
I should add that he did freak out the first time (and second and third and fourth) time I said no to food after the lights were out, but I held the limit gently. I said I was sorry he was hungry, and I would make sure to give him a very big breakfast, but I didn't give in. It was hard but I think worth it. He knows the rule and doesn't get upset anymore. I think he likes having the definitive limit. I got the confidence I needed to set and hold the limit from a parenting group, HandInHandParenting.org, which teaches about "stay listening" - which just means setting a limit and holding it, and listening to your children's emotions around it sympathetically without giving in. I highly recommend it.
Bedtime music helps too. Just talking about the day is becoming more important, like a chance to unload thoughts. I like the idea of talking about how our bodies go to sleep.
I see some changes in our future as far as getting a kid bed, if only to have a snuggly place to go while kid #2 is getting put to bed. . . Instead of amping things up and disturbing that momentum.