I have a 20-month-old daughter who always has had a temper & always been independent and stubborn. (Example: starting at 9 months, she would not let me feed her; she wanted to do it herself, even though she could not do it.) She has always been an early riser. She goes to bed at 8 p.m. and is up at 5 or 5:30 a.m. Sometimes (though not always) you can tell she could use a little bit more sleep, but once she is up, she is up and refuses to go back to sleep. She takes a 2-hour nap at day care (and also at home on the weekends although she fights it). No more than that.
In the last month or so, she has started resisting going to bed at night. Everything from refusing to go into her room after her bath, brushing teeth, changing diaper, putting pj's on, reading books, turning light off, and getting in her crib is a major fight with tears, sobs, and frustration on everybody's part.
This is not necessarily new for us; we have a 3-year-old and are used to tantrums. But the intensity of her reaction is something I can't even describe. She has vomited and is basically like she is going to have a heart attack. We have a well-established bedtime routine and since I weaned her at 13 months, my husband has been in charge of her routine (he said he felt left out during that time). I do my 3-year-old son's bedtime routine. They sleep in separate bedrooms.
About 3 weeks ago, my husband became extremely frustrated with all of this, so we decided that I would do her bedtime routine and he would put my son to bed. The first night they were not happy about the switch, but adapted. I started "sleep training" her again with the chair method (I guess I was trying to be more gentle than the leaving and returning). She was not happy about this and that's when her reaction become even more extreme. Now we are at the point that with all the fighting to get her dressed, trying to read books, crying, and screaming, she ends up not falling asleep until well after 9 or 9:30 p.m. She is still pretty much on the 5 to 5:30 a.m. wake-up, so she is getting even less sleep.
Upon rising, everything is more difficult than before (I imagine because of less sleep). She wants to screw on the lid on her sippy cup herself, even though she does not have the motor skills to do this and does not want me to help her. So she is frustrated because she wants to drink her milk, but she also wants to screw the lid on, which she can't do. It's insane. Same thing with many other things she can't do herself yet.
Developmentally, during this time, she is starting to string some words together and her vocabulary has been expanding. Her receptive language skills are very good and we can a conversation with her and she can respond with yes or no. Through this, we have found out that one reason she is so upset about diaper changing is that she wants to wear underwear like her brother. I am buying her some underwear and will start potty training, but I don't really think she is there.
Since this whole bedtime saga, her day care teachers have told us she is "touchy" during the day. They have always described her to us as "feisty," by the way.
I'm sorry for the long story, but basically I want to know how to get her back on a better bedtime experience, get her to wake up a little later, and have more enjoyable daytime interactions with her.
From: Frustrated & Confused, Newton, MA
Dear Frustrated & Confused,
I'm going to go out on a (not very big) limb here and say that your child is what psychologist and author Linda Budd calls the "active, alert child." In other words: temperamental. Or, back in the day, difficult to parent. The tip-off is the intensity of her behaviors and of how entrenched she gets in them.
I reached Linda by phone the other day and here's some of our conversation in response to your email.
Linda: Through no fault of her own, this little girl has gotten out of schedule. And with a temperamental child, it's always better to keep her on schedule.
Barbara: So you agree this sounds like an active/alert...
Linda: From this perspective, yes.
Barbara: Help these parents understand that.
Linda: Sure. These kids are difficult to parent because they get stuck on a behavior. While other kids can move off an idea, these kids get overly-focused and they don't know how to get unstuck. What would work with other kids -- distractions, say -- make them more entrenched. They spiral out of control. When this child gets over-tired, it just gets worse. She gets more stuck, more stubborn, more difficult.
B. Doesn't sound like fun.
L. It's not.
B. So what do you do?
L. The long and short of it is, you pick your battles. Some battles are worth fighting and some aren't. Every parent might answer this differently: Which struggle is worth the battle? I'd say the food battle might not be worth it. When she's hungry enough, she'll let you feed her.
B. You have a new book out ["The Journey of Parenting"] ...
L. It helps parents understand this child needs to be protected from herself. She's not doing this to upset everyone; she just doesn't know what else to do. She wants to be like her 3-year-old brother? Figure out what you can let go of and in what ways she can do that safely. Step away from her. Tell her, "When you're tired, when you're ready, I'm here to help."
B. So what specific help can you suggest with this sleeping pattern?
L. A child like this forces herself to stay awake. I suggest talking to the pediatrician to give her a small dose of melatonin to get her back on schedule.
B. Hmmmm. *
L. Yes, I don't say this lightly, and never without the pediatrician. It's to consider when behavioral therapies don't work. This family seems like a candidate. I also recommend Mary Kurchina's book, "Sleepless in America."
The author is solely responsible for the content.