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I Ask: How Can We Get R’s Kid To Sleep?

My friend R emailed me last week and since my son and daughter are sleeping on the floor of my room and have stopped sleeping through the night again, I thought y’all would be more helpful than I. Or at least make her feel like she’s not a total nut. Probably.

We’re all doing pretty well overall but have had a recurrence of some major sleep issues (with our 2.5 year old)…at times lately I’ve felt like we have a newborn again, which is not a situation I want to be in WHILE PREGNANT! I was emailing a friend about this, and she asked what our pediatrician had said, but of course, I haven’t called him. He and I have some philosophical differences in this area, and I’m too tired to look for a new pediatrician at this point. Plus, I suspect I know what he’d say already. But it did seem reasonable to seek out a medical viewpoint, so if you have any thoughts or suggestions, I’m open!

This has been going on since November or so. Prior to that we thought our sleep issues were over (ha ha), and he was basically just getting into bed at 8-ish and falling asleep, sometimes with one last request for milk or a hug. Since then, we’ve had several variations:

– not wanting to go to bed and running out of his room
– wanting to sleep in our bed (even if we’re not in bed yet–this worked for a minute but now he’ll just jump around on our bed)
– waking up in the middle of the night (fully or partially) sometimes with hysterical crying
– not falling asleep until very late (1:30 a.m. the other night & 11 p.m. last night).

He still naps well and doesn’t often seem tired, even if he’s only slept 8 hours or less. In other words, an amount of sleep that is definitely not enough for me.

At this point we’ve tried several variations:
– no nap
– shorter nap
– earlier nap waking time
– later bedtime
– earlier bedtime
– nightlight
– sleeping in our bed &/or on a sleeping bag next to our bed

Of course, a lot of this coincides with it being too dark/cold for us to be at the park until dinner, which we used to do every day, and with B realizing, at least in some form, that I’m pregnant.

He definitely has nightmares and will say he’s scared, but it’s inconsistent and doesn’t seem to be the main issue. Other than that, we haven’t varied our bedtime routine (dinner, bath, books in the glider) since he was a tiny baby.

So, any thoughts? My husband has wondered if there could be some medical explanation, but there’s nothing I can think of that we wouldn’t see in other areas. I’ve wondered if giving him sugar (esp chocolate) in the afternoon makes a difference but, though we’ve backslid a LOT on the sugar issue, it’s definitely not a daily thing for him to eat candy.

Right now we’re trying to have a calmer evening and an earlier bedtime (7ish instead of 8 p.m.) and one of us lying down with him til he’s asleep or close to asleep. Which seemed to work for a day.

Oh, and we’re trying to survive.

We’re open to any books, ideas, props (music, white noise, fancy nightlights), but I don’t think that my husband can handle him sleeping in our bed because he has so many sleep issues already, and I can’t handle anything that involves B screaming while pounding on his door (we tried that, too).

I need y’alls help. Mostly because I was told that no one believes anything we say about sleep anymore because we are just crazy outliers. I contend that we are just crazy.

So I ask: How can we get R’s 2 and 1/2 year old son to sleep?

Answer that R picked after telling me that it’s getting better by magic. Probably. Ginger Park wrote:

Ugh…sleep is like an obsession as a parent. You are never getting enough, your kid is never getting enough, or sleeping how you want them to, and everyone is exhausted. One book that worked for me with my first was “The Sleep Easy Solution.”

My daughter was finally napping and sleeping well until I became pregnant w/ our second and she was close to 2. I finally figured out that she was pretty scared of all the impending changes. Nightmares and screaming started soon after we had all the new baby furniture delivered. We were also starting to discuss what happens when Mommy has to get the baby out of her tummy. I realized that part of her waking up was the fact that she was scared that I would not be there in the morning. We had been discussing the neighbor coming to watch her. Since the nightmares started when I was about 7 months along…we realized that me telling her at night that “Mommy will be there when she gets up.” helped. We also started taking turns as to who put here to bed….Hubby, then me, one of us reassuring her that one of us would be there when she woke up. Our neighbor, who was the designated baby sitter when I went into labor, also agreed to come over and start putting her to bed or babysit every two weeks working up to the birth. These steps seemed to really help her anxiety.

She was also fairly new to the toddler bed. So, we put a potty in her room to use in case she had to go, and then we put a safety knob on the the door knob to keep her from going out of her room in the middle of the night. We also told her that we didn’t care where she slept in her room; the bed, the floor, her chair, the closet. (although we preferred the bed) but expected her to settle down when the “moon” came on. I bought the “Goodnight Light” online and programmed it for 8:00 (her bedtime). When it turned on, it was bedtime. We also play music for her and told her that once the music stopped she needed to go to sleep. This seemed to work okay.

With both our kids, I did not allow them in our bed from the get go. Why would they sleep alone if you let them in your bed? Mommy and Daddy are a comfort. But I did have comfortable chairs in each of their rooms to cuddle w/ them.

Alex Iwashyna

Alex Iwashyna went from a B.A. in philosophy to an M.D. to a SAHM, poet and writer by 30. She spends most of her writing time on LateEnough.com, a humor blog (except when it's serious) about her husband fighting zombies, awkward attempts at friendship, and dancing like everyone is watching. She also has a soft spot for culture, politics, and rude Southern people who offend her Yankee sensibilities. She parents 2 elementary-aged children, 1 foster baby, 3 cats, and 1 puppy, who are all Southern but not rude. Yet.

19 thoughts on “I Ask: How Can We Get R’s Kid To Sleep?

  1. This sounds like a real challenge, but not Mission Impossible! Sleep issues are so common at this age – we get at least 3 calls a week for toddler sleep challenges. It’s hard to believe how much lack of sleep can impact a family, that is until you’ve been there, which I have – 3 TIMES!

    One of our Family Educators, Susan Brown, would likely have some tips, or help determine if one path or the other might work better. If R. isn’t local, have her give Commonwealth Parenting a call – we can always give telephone support.

  2. Not getting sleep makes solving sleep issues nearly impossible.

    One thought..I’ve learned the hard way that I can’t force my kid to sleep but I can tell her when it’s timetoo be in her room.

    So I decide when she goes to bed. She decides if she falls asleep or reads books, when to turn out the light or leave it on, etc. Something about this autonomy has helped her own her bedtime. We still snuggle and do books etc but after that she is on her own time. First few nights she was up late. After that she was asleep within 30 min of me leaving the

    For what it’s worth…

    1. Hi! I was curious what age she was when you started to do this? It sounds like it might be worth a try for my almost two year old girl. Thank you!

      1. My daughter was probably early 3 when we started. But take that with a grain of salt because I’m a “late bloomer” as a mom and probably could have started this far sooner. 🙂

  3. My second child is, well, let’s say, “ACTIVE”. Very active. Run mile-wide circles around you kind of active. He’s gone through several stages of this no-sleeping crap, and had a huge one at about the same time as your son. We would double gate, rock it in the rocking chair, pray to just about any deity, think about benedryl, etc. He would wait until midnight to fall asleep. And then be up at six. And not nap.
    Even in the winter, you have to tire these kids out with some physical activity. We found a great place with an indoor playground that didn’t charge (and wasn’t McDonald’s) and that helped immensely. Also, when we couldn’t go there (like when I was sick with the flu, or writing a grad school paper) we set up an entire obstacle course in the basement for his perusal. I figured– hey, the basement is always going to be a mess, anyways, right? Might as well have it work to my advantage! Lots of the obstacles were created with dirty laundry piles (did I mention I was in grad school at the time?) so no worries about injuries.
    Don’t know if this will work for you, but it’s worth a shot! I have to tell you this as well– we noticed that our son had a pattern of odd behaviors that would occur before any major growth spurt. The sleeplessness was part of the pattern. Your child could be getting ready to grow. I would suggest you start looking for new shoes if you then notice excessive sleeping, ravenous eating, and a strange glint in his eyes…

  4. A small girl is sent to bed by her father.
    Five minutes later…. “Da-ad….” “What?
    “I’m thirsty. Can you bring drink of water?”
    “No. You had your chance. Lights out.”
    Five minutes later: “Da-aaaad…..” “WHAT?”
    “I’m THIRSTY. Can I have a drink of water??”
    “I told you NO!” If you ask again, I’ll have to spank you!!”
    Five minutes later…… “Daaaa-aaaad…..” “WHAT!” “When you come in to spank me, can you bring a drink of water?”

  5. Ugh…sleep is like an obsession as a parent. You are never getting enough, your kid is never getting enough, or sleeping how you want them to, and everyone is exhausted. One book that worked for me with my first was “The Sleep Easy Solution.”

    My daughter was finally napping and sleeping well until I became pregnant w/ our second and she was close to 2. I finally figured out that she was pretty scared of all the impending changes. Nightmares and screaming started soon after we had all the new baby furniture delivered. We were also starting to discuss what happens when Mommy has to get the baby out of her tummy. I realized that part of her waking up was the fact that she was scared that I would not be there in the morning. We had been discussing the neighbor coming to watch her. Since the nightmares started when I was about 7 months along…we realized that me telling her at night that “Mommy will be there when she gets up.” helped. We also started taking turns as to who put here to bed….Hubby, then me, one of us reassuring her that one of us would be there when she woke up. Our neighbor, who was the designated baby sitter when I went into labor, also agreed to come over and start putting her to bed or babysit every two weeks working up to the birth. These steps seemed to really help her anxiety.

    She was also fairly new to the toddler bed. So, we put a potty in her room to use in case she had to go, and then we put a safety knob on the the door knob to keep her from going out of her room in the middle of the night. We also told her that we didn’t care where she slept in her room; the bed, the floor, her chair, the closet. (although we preferred the bed) but expected her to settle down when the “moon” came on. I bought the “Goodnight Light” online and programmed it for 8:00 (her bedtime). When it turned on, it was bedtime. We also play music for her and told her that once the music stopped she needed to go to sleep. This seemed to work okay.

    With both our kids, I did not allow them in our bed from the get go. Why would they sleep alone if you let them in your bed? Mommy and Daddy are a comfort. But I did have comfortable chairs in each of their rooms to cuddle w/ them.

  6. One summer evening during a violent thunderstorm a mother was tucking her daughter into bed. She was about to turn off the light when she asked with a tremor in her voice, “Mommy, will you sleep with me tonight?” The mother smiled and gave her a reassuring hug. “I can’t dear,” she said. “I have to sleep in Daddy’s room.” A long silence was broken at last by her shaky little voice: “The big sissy.”

  7. We sat by my first born for a long time. In the dark. Every night. For years.

    You cannot make them sleep, and with schedule changes it often took two or three weeks to see the results. Good luck!

    I have no failsafe advice, nothing sage to say.

  8. My stepbrother had a similar problem with his kid when he moved into a regular bed. So he started using this clock/nightlight that he swears by. It turns a certain color when it’s ok to get out of bed. I think they had to shut his door to get him used to it and if he started pounding on the door they would tell him to check to see if the clock was yellow (or whatever the color was) yet and if not then he had to go back to sleep. I imagine it was really difficult in the beginning but now his kid knows that nobody is going to come get him until the clock turns yellow and doesn’t try. Of course, you also have to be consistent and attend to the kid at exactly the right time. I looked it up and found a link- not sure if this is the exact one but it seems like it does the same thing.

    http://www.americaninnovative.com/products/teachmetime.php

  9. A friend of mine who taught our parenting classes explained to me that kids usually (again all are different – usually) have developmental spurts around year birthdays and 1/2 way marks. So far with our son The Roo we have seen this to be true. And how do these spurts show themselves? In SLEEP! ARGH! However, we just keep putting him down and being patient. The Roo had a few of those same sleep issues as your R (waking up crying, not wanting to go to bed, looking like he was dropping his nap, and not falling asleep until 10 pm at times though in bed at 8). Here was the advice we got and it worked for us. Be consistent. Keep putting him down at the same time. Put water in a sippee on his nightstand. No t.v. before bedtime and carefully monitor (which we do, but still just passing it along). Comfort when he cries at night but then reassure and leave. If he gets out of bed keep returning him to bed, consistently. Keep putting him down at naps and leave books on his nightstand to read but he must stay in bed. Keep him active during the day.
    Honestly, it took 2 wks of doing this but he snapped back. I was pregnant during this also (it was actually about a year ago exactly). Hang in there! Hope this helps. And keep in mind, HE’S TOTALLY NORMAL! And you guys are too.:O)

  10. My son goes to a therapeutic preschool and they would explain this as sibling rivalry. They would encourage lots of narrating about the pregnancy and reassuring your son about how you will still love him. Change is really scary and the little guy probably doesn’t know what to expect and may be scared, jealous & confused.

    I have a book called See How I Grow that my 5-yr old son loves. It, age appropriately, explains the process. An author to explore is Terry Brazelton. He writes about the emotional development of children and gives great examples of how to talk them through various situations.

    I hope this helps.

  11. I know you tried to anonymize this, but is this R someone I know & love?? If so, congratulations, R!!!

    My then 3-year-old was in the bed all the time when I got pg with my second. First we put a little mattress at the foot of the bed, which worked for a while, but then he started climbing in with us again.

    I’m not a big fan of stick/carrot parenting, but we instituted the “Sleep Fairy” after everything failed, including the pricey Good Night Light. We told him that if he slept in his own bed all night, the sleep fairy would bring him something, and put stickers, etc under the pillow in the morning if he slept in his room all night. It worked, but to this day, he complains when the sleep fairy doesn’t bring him something. I don’t know if there’s a big difference between 2.5 and 3 in understanding this system, but it was a relief to not have the thrasher in the bed all night.

    Good luck, “R” 🙂

  12. We have struggled with sleep for almost all of our daughter’s nearly 3 years. She never slept well from the start, always needing a lot of mama comfort. It had gotten to the point where she wasn’t napping and wasn’t sleeping at night. I have always taken an attachment parenting approach, though co-sleeping never worked well for any of us. So, I was getting up several times a night to comfort her back to sleep, and no one was getting good sleep at all. (she was also waking up at like 4:30 or 5 am) I used the Sleep Lady method, and I was *stunned* at how gentle and effective it was. Within a week, our daughter was putting herself to sleep and sleeping through the night. It really was a miracle! We had more difficulties after she had surgery this summer and suffered recurring UTI’s (obviously). But after that was all cleared up, she was still sleeping poorly. We took her off of all of her medication (she had been on allergy medicine and meds for her reflux, plus a low-dose antibiotic for the UTI’s), and she started sleeping again. I am still in disbelief that after so much struggle and exhaustion, that we are all fairly well rested now. I cannot recommend Kim or her methods highly enough.

    Good luck!

  13. I don’t believe there is only one answer, but I can offer my experience with my son. He was about the same age when he started acting like bedtime meant we would be removing all of his arms and legs. He would get hysterical and never wanted us to leave the room. It would last for hours and went on for weeks. He also learned that if he threw-up he could make the excitement last even longer. Joy. We tried ignoring until he wore himself out, returning him to bed 6 dozen times (without talking, which, I think actually freaked him out even more), reward systems (he’s one of the least materialistic kids I’ve ever known, which makes bribery ineffective because he doesn’t care!), even discipline for trying to leave his room. Of course there were nights we stayed until he fell asleep because it was the easy way out (and I didn’t feel like cleaning up throw-up), but I was against that from the start (unless he was sick) and we didn’t feel good about anything we were trying even if some of them worked every now and then. It dawned on me one day that one of the things we were saying to him frequently during these episodes when he would scream for us to come into his room was, “It is time for you to go to sleep. I’m going to say good night and close the door and I’m not coming back in here until it’s wake-up time.” I realized he was hearing, “I’m not coming back…I’m not coming back…I’m not coming back…” I would be worried to hear that too if someone left me alone in a dark room. The next thing we tried was so simple I felt foolish and guilty for not figuring it out sooner…for his sake (some days his voice was so hoarse) and for mine (who wants to wash “throw-up sheets” daily?). We simply told him when we left the room, “I’ll come check on you in a few minutes.” Then I set the oven timer for 5 minutes so I wouldn’t forget. If he was still awake when I went to check on him, I’d repeat, “I’ll come check on you in a few minutes.” This time the timer was set for 10 minutes. And if needed, the next time the timer would be set for 15 minute increments from then on. By the 3rd night, he fell asleep within 10 minutes. For him, this worked because I realized the root of his insecurity. Because each child is so different and communicates at different levels, it can be so difficult to find those roots! He still has sleep issues, but they are almost always coupled with growth and development changes. And he can still will himself to throw-up if it’s convenient for him. (another issue altogether and I hope I’m not alone!) I still can’t believe the solution was right in front of us for weeks, we just weren’t paying attention to our own behaviors and how he was perceiving them. Again, every child is an individual case and a little puzzle to be solved. =) Best wishes to your friend!!

  14. The answer to this problem is far less complicated than most would have you believe. Here it is:

    1) Schedule. If you are trying all of these things mentioned above with no regularity, you are not on a schedule. Do just ONE of those schedules for a couple of weeks.

    2) Be consistent. Children sleep better when they know what to expect. If you say it, mean it, and do it. Even if there are tears and kicking and screaming and boogering fits.

    3) Stop giving in (usually because you are feeling guilty) because it causes you to violate rule numbers one and two.

    That’s it.

    I have three very headstrong boys. Bedtimes have never been an issue because I have always adhered to the above rules, pure and simple. It doesn’t MATTER what schedule you choose, so long as it is consistent and you don’t give in.

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