What to do with an over-tired, temperamental child?

Posted by Barbara F. Meltz  August 3, 2011 06:00 AM

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Barbara,

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.

Thanks.
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."

* This is not an endorsement of melatonin for kids. ALWAYS consult with your pediatrician about whether whether melatonin is safe and effective for treating a sleep problem in your child.

Read more about melatonin at Medline Plus and the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality .


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18 comments so far...
  1. I strongly recommend reading "Parenting Your Spirited Child". Our daughter is very similar in nature, but the techniques used by other parents outlined here have helped us avert almost all of these battles in the end.

    The best and brightest way to start is to stop referring to her as "tempermental". She may be, but she's not broken and many children like her will start to feel that way early on if all of the phrases they hear in reference to them have negative connotations. As a "spirited child" myself, I can totally attest to that.

    Posted by phe August 3, 11 07:48 AM
  1. Two book recommendations:

    Weissbluth: Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Child.

    Kurchina: Raising the Spirited Child.

    I'm actually surprised that you didn't suggest trying to put the child down earlier for bedtime. 8 pm is on the late side, esp. if she's waking so early. Being overtired, can make going to sleep difficult b/c of all the stress hormones circulating in the system and it's counter-intuitive, but it can also make one wake up earlier. Try dialing the bedtime (gradually) back to 7:30 or even 7:00. Don't wait for her to start showing signs of being tired. If she's rubbing her eyes and yawning, it's too late. Put her down BEFORE she starts doing those things, and preferably with a consistent, calming routine. This is all explained in the Weissbluth book. It seems to me the problem isn't that she's forcing herself to stay awake, the problem is she's so overtired that she CAN'T sleep. Sleep begets sleep. Well-rested children sleep well.

    Raising the Spirited Child will help you learn to deal with the "behavior issues" in a constructive way and help you begin to see them in a positive way. Kurchina describes several traits that one sees in "spirited" children and how to create an environment where these traits are celebrated and embraced rather than feared and avoided. I have a "spirited" and a borderline "spunky/spirited" child and things are much more peaceful in our house since we've incorporated some of her techniques and suggestions into our parenting styles. One thing she talks about is how much more important sleep and a reliable sleep schedule is for these kids.

    As for melatonin, that really seems like the very last resort here. There are so many other simple fixes and parenting techniques that can be tried and incorporated that are likely to solve the problem. Drugging a not-even-two-year-old when there is no evidence of an actual medical problem just seems wrong and unnecessary and setting this child up to depend on a drug for sleep. A much better long-term solution is to teach her to go to sleep and to sleep well on her own. If you try everything else and nothing is working, THEN, of course consult the pediatrician and let him/her determine if there is an actual problem that warrants using melatonin.

    Posted by Danielle August 3, 11 09:34 AM
  1. How is her diet? Check that there are not too many treats or sugar in her food -- anything ending in "-ose" can be sugar, so read the food labels. Also, is it possible there is a dairy allergy or any other food allergy? Just seems like diet is one of the things to look at before going to dosing her with melatonin.

    It helped my spirited child to know what was going to happen and why, even before he engage in a conversation. I agree with tossing out negative labels, too. The same qualities driving you crazy right now can be positives in our kids' lives when channeled correctly.

    When my child would get in a crying jag, I'd let him cry for 15 minutes and then tell him he was all done. That he'd cried long enough to express his feelings and it was time to stop and go to sleep. He almost seemed happy that someone told him it was time to stop. I did this without emotion; I just was very calm and matter-of-fact.

    Hang in there. It gets easier.

    Posted by Larissa August 3, 11 01:50 PM
  1. I hate the Melatonin suggestion. Maybe if the situation continued like this for three more years and at the end of it the girl was still a stubborn 20-month-old then I'd consider it.

    Do offer choices as much as possible: "Do you want to put your pajamas on, or would you rather brush your teeth first?" "Which books do you want to read? Go get them!"

    We have soothing bedtime music that we put on every night (with a sleep timer). I think it helps calm down and soothe both child and parent.

    I agree with the "pick your battles" advice. Hey, you can put underpants on her over the diaper. That might fly.

    BTW, I knew from your first two sentences that you also had a 3-year-old. No mystery there that she wants to do everything just like her big brother. These are the times that you will be nostalgic about when you are older and the kids are grown.

    Posted by geocool August 3, 11 03:03 PM
  1. For heaven's sake, give the child some things that she can do instead of saying "She's not ready." This kid is going through a developmental leap stage. The fact that 20 months is a bit early for this probably indicates that this kid is vary smart and incredilbly frustrated that everyone is still treating her like an infant. She's getting plenty of sleep at daycare, and would probably do better if she could skip the naptime enitrely. But you know how inflexible those daycare centers can be!

    Posted by Merlusine August 3, 11 03:39 PM
  1. This very smart baby is getting her ideas from her older brother. I'm not sure about assigning her to any textbook pattern, because she is giving loud and clear messages that are being ignored. And when intelligent babies are ignored, they respond intensely.

    So you adapt. For example: A nine month old baby certainly won't eat much food using a spoon. But if you serve them cooked fruit and veggies cut up, they will eat very neatly and efficiently. Sippy cup? Give her the bottom to hold while you add the lid. Diaper? give her pullups if they fit .

    Use the principle of INCLUSION because she is obviously capable of knowing when that is being honestly offered. I am VERY concerned that this little girl has heard "no you can't" when she sees that her brother sure can.

    And it sounds like she's waking up at sunrise Eastern Time. Try blackout drapery lining on the curtains in her bedroom, so she can sleep longer.

    Posted by Irene August 3, 11 04:51 PM
  1. I parented a spirited child, so I know that it may take testing many suggestions before you find the ones that work. But I soooooo relate to the "everybody so tired and frustrated" scene. What really helped us most was to decide what our goals really were. Take bedtime for instance. We choose: child in his room by 7:30 or close to it, and some quiet (mostly) uninterrupted time for adults. I don’t say that what worked for us will work for you, but I’ll outline it to give you some ideas.

    We started the bedtime ritual at about 6:30 (an hour before we wanted him actually in bed) because he seemed to need time to think about his choices. We set a timer on choices: 3 minutes for each choice. We used an egg timer and had him turn it over. Then we let him have some down time between choices. We limited his choices: "Do you want your superman PJs or your spiderman PJs" or "Do you want to read "I'll Love You Forever" or "Green Eggs and Ham" etc. When he thought up a third choice (No, I want “Goodnight Moon”), if possible we let him do that. Then we turned on the white noise machine together, got him into bed, put the nightlight on and told him that if he couldn't sleep that was OK - but he had to stay in his bedroom. He could play *quietly* but he had to stay in his room.

    OK, sometimes he slept on the floor. We all got over it. Sometimes he slept in play clothes instead of PJs. OK. We all got over it. Sometimes he went to bed with a dirty face. OK. We all got over it. Etc. As everyone seems to be saying, choose your battles.

    I don't say it's easy, because I know what you mean when you say "intense reactions." I know what you mean about your child being so insistent on doing things she’s really not able to do yet. We saw a plenty of that, and it was a lot of work to head it off and come up with "do-able" choices.

    But it really does get easier.

    Posted by gadgetnut August 3, 11 05:14 PM
  1. What I dislike about these columns is the prevalent misunderstanding of gifted children. This child sounds like a typical gifted child. She's articulate. Intense (check out Dabrowski's overexcitabilities), stubborn, and strongly self-motivated to learn things before expected or physically able. Also, she sleeps less than the general population.

    I agree with the "Spirited Child" book - it's a lifesaver for these kids.

    Importantly, please understand that the more negative attitudes and approaches one uses with these children (or any children for that matter), the more liable these children will experience life-long issues with trust and anxiety. First, it's melatonin recommendations, then later it's ADHD medications and so forth. When will over-medication stop?

    Posted by KM August 3, 11 06:50 PM
  1. I had a toddler like this and if it's any help for you to hear, he has grown up to be a happy, responsible and loving young man. I found it was important for him to have a regular schedule (and,man,I stuck to it or paid!) and also to have a lot of outside play, every day, even in winter. Dinner was early, about 5 p.m. and the bedtime routine started at 6 p.m. I only worked part-time days, so this was possible for me - it may be tougher for you. Another thing I found to be relaxing for him was bathtime - a nice warm bath with a few good bath toys helped him settle down. Of course, I stayed in the bathroom with him. After that, story time and sleep- which didn't always come right away. My bible was "The Difficult Child" by Stanley Turecki. Good luck and know that it gets easier!

    Posted by Katvantas August 3, 11 09:03 PM
  1. Merlusine, the issue is not the day care center, it is state regs which require a 2 hour naptime each day.

    Gadgetnut, I wish I'd had you for advice when dealing with my own spirited child.

    Posted by Holly August 4, 11 09:04 AM
  1. I agree with Irene and KM. Clearly, she's a super-smart kid and you have to start treating her that way. Teach her anything she's willing to learn. And I don't necessarily agree that she needs more sleep. Could be; you should at least try some of these sleep schedule suggestions. But if it doesn't work out, try the other way. Let her stay up half an hour later. Both my kids do fine on less than the average that's recommended. They both fight bedtime with a vengeance, just as I did (ah, your past comes back to haunt you). And when I actually let them go to bed later, they fall asleep much faster. No worse for wear the next day.

    Being touchy, moody, those could be due to a by number of things, not solely tiredness. The teachers at the daycare could be underestimating your child and her abilities as well. That would frustrate anyone!

    Good luck. You'll be needing it when she can outsmart and "out-logic" you at age 4!

    Posted by momof2 August 4, 11 09:44 AM
  1. Just one book for you, Raising the Spirited Child. It has been a life saver for us and our own very spirited daughter! We now (notice that we have not always appreciated this because we didn't get her like we do now) love her independece, advance communication, ideas, spirit, imagination, endless questioning and energy and all those amazing qualities that make her spirited to start with! It has not being easy and some days I wish we had a non-spirited toddler but then we wouldn't have half the fun we do most days ;)

    And, please, give more credit to your daughter who is independent (one great characteristic that we love in adults but hate in kids, why is that?). She probably can do a lot more things that what you are crediting her for! Our DD was eating by herself at 9 months. Yes, it was messy but we were all happy letting her try and she was getting all the nutrition she needed. She could dress herself before 2, tie her shoes by 3 and was potty trained by 18 months because she wanted to. Whan she wants to do something she keeps at it until she gets it. She was picking her own clothes by 2 (we do have the last say on what she wears though). Did I think she was ready for all this "responsabilities"? Not really but with spirited children is a good idea to help them succeed instead of fighting them all the way. Trust me, she will surprise you everyday! We learned to value and cultivate her independence and I hope she keeps at it!

    And Barbara, I hate, hate, hate the idea of the melatonin. Believe it or not, some kids dont' require as much sleep as we would like them to have. Spirited children especially fall in this category. My daugher was never a good napper and since age 1 she had barely taken any naps. At 4 she is the only one that has "rest time" but without sleeping in her day care center and it has been this way for I'll say a good 2 years. She only needs 9 or 10 hours of uninterrupted sleep (late going to bed and not an early raiser but we've gotten use to that because there is no point on fighting a child that refuses to go to bed at 8 like we would like! It's really a loosing/frustrating battle that makes things wost). If waking up at 5 doesnt' work for you, get her to go to bed later instead but be consistant with it. Spirited children need a lot more consistency than non-spirited ones.

    Get yourself to the library or download/buy the book. Whatever you can do but Raising the spirited child will make your family life a whole lot easier and enjoyable... pinky promise :)

    Posted by Eve August 4, 11 10:11 AM
  1. We found it really helpful to pick our battles, yes, AND to find things our 'fiesty' girl could do by herself, rather than constantly telling her (or assuming) she couldn't do things. Sippy cup an issue? You can hold the cup while I screw on the lid, we can give you a cup and lid to practice/play with on your own rather than fight over your drinking cup when you're hungry. Want underpants? You can wear them over your diaper. Don't want to wear a coat when it's 10 degrees outside? You can wear it backwards. Want to wear a tank top when it's 10 degrees outside? You can wear it under your sweater. And as she got older: want to spend half an hour trying to buckle yourself in the car because you HAVE to do it yourself? You practice that while I sit on the porch with a magazine because we sure can't do that when we're in a rush to be somewhere! It doesn't go away - but it can make other things easier.... Done with the binky (as it goes flying across the room)? Sure. Don't want training wheels? Ok.

    I will add: we now have a very capable and independent girl (if I may say so). My husband and I laugh that it's only because we didn't know any better (what do you mean, she's not supposed to be able to do that?)

    Posted by 12buckleshoe August 4, 11 10:26 AM
  1. Having my own "spirited" child, I reccommend "Parenting your Spirited child". 9 moths old feed her self? Yes, when my son was 8 months old he refused to let me feed him, so I gave him soft cut up fruit and cooked vegies. And he figured it out. By 2 he was insisting on using an adult fork. We did (supervised). By 5 he could eat so well with a fork and knife that people in resurants would wonder at how neatly and properly he ate. 20 months potty train? Yes - my son started at 18 months and by 2 1/2 he was fully potty trained including dry at night. Sippy cup? Try giving her one to play with (maybe in the tub) she will figure it out. One thing which was key with my son is sleep. I too have the issue of no matter how late he goes to bed, he still gets up at 6. At that age, I found in bed by 6:30 worked well, and if I did not stick to it I paid. The later it got the more wired and harder it was to get him to sleep. Intense reactions? One time when he was 18 months he got so mad at my husband and me that while he was tantruming in a corner he decided to hit his head against the wall. Then he looked at us to gauge our reaction. We did not react, and he stopped and never did it again. So watch how you are reacting to her over reacting. Also try the labels persistent, determined, and independent. These traits will serve her well in life. Good luck and it does get easier.

    Posted by baseballmom August 4, 11 10:32 AM
  1. I think that the melatonin advice is....this is a bad idea. There are larger issues here than this child not being on a sleep schedule. The child and the mom are frustrating each other in general, and they need to work it out.

    Some of the other commenters have given great advice. It boils down to this: lighten up, at least for a while. Let it go. I suggest reading "Playful Parenting". Work with her, not against her, and try to be flexible where you can.

    She might need more time to wind down at night (and you might, too). If you start bedtime earlier, then her protests won't seem so bad, because you won't feel like you're racing against the clock. And maybe you could integrate the two kids' bedtime routines. You don't have to have one parent for each child. Let the kids play and help each other.

    If the sippy cup thing really bothers you, then put a few together at night and leave them in the fridge for the next day. The cover will already be on. She can play with an empty one. You can do this with other issues, too-- sometimes you just opt out of the fight. And give her lots of responsibility, she needs it. Ask her to help you all the time. What can she do? She can push start on the microwave. She can put her dirty clothes in the hamper. She can close the door to the fridge and hand you the phone when it rings. Let her feel in control where you can.

    Above all, know that it will pass. She'll get older and things will get better!

    Posted by newtonkidsrock August 4, 11 10:37 AM
  1. My daughter was like this too. I don't know how I survived. But she's five now, going into kindergarten (yeah!) and totally rational. I remember when she would pull a "nutty" as my husband and I called it, and we thought we were the ones losing our minds. Put us in the psych ward now please. Honestly, at bedtime, we just put her in her crib and closed the door and let her "cry it out". This only took one or two nights and then she went to sleep right on cue and never had any sleep issues after that. Structure is important. Once she can express herself and do things independently she will be much easier to interact with. Also, around age four, she will be able to rationalize and then life gets much easier. Our second daughter is nothing like the first, her temperament is so sweet and docile. Go figure. Good luck and please know that this is not your fault despite what others tell you. Oh, and if all else fails, I don't see any major harm in the melatonin, if your pediatrician says it's okay.

    Posted by Sara August 4, 11 12:53 PM
  1. 8PM is too late of a bedtime for any child under two. (It would be too late for my four year old). Read "Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Child" by Marc Weissbluth and learn about the body's needs for sleep, rhythms, what happens when kids get "overtired," etc. Later bed times do not equal later wake up times - just the opposite in most cases. The two hour nap may be too long. She may only need a 60-90 minute nap and to scale back the bed time to begin the bath, etc. by 6:30 to have her in bed by 7:15.

    Posted by RH August 5, 11 08:29 AM
  1. Lighten up. I am a foster parent and have had only 6 or 7 kids. I made a mistake with my first child (whom we adopted) by patting his back to have him fall asleep. He is also gifted (highly) and can argue the pelt off a mink. It took forever for him to get to sleep. So consequently, all of the other children were placed into bed, given a hug and told "good night." The light was turned off and the door was pulled and left slightly ajar. He is five now and I have to tell you, on the days he gets enough sleep he is an angel and on Tuesdays he is a hateful mess of a child because my husband allows him to stay up Monday nights because Mommy goes to band practice. Daddy will not put him to bed because it interferes with daddy's play time. It is a never ending battle so nip it in the bud now.

    Posted by Julie December 3, 13 01:28 PM
 
18 comments so far...
  1. I strongly recommend reading "Parenting Your Spirited Child". Our daughter is very similar in nature, but the techniques used by other parents outlined here have helped us avert almost all of these battles in the end.

    The best and brightest way to start is to stop referring to her as "tempermental". She may be, but she's not broken and many children like her will start to feel that way early on if all of the phrases they hear in reference to them have negative connotations. As a "spirited child" myself, I can totally attest to that.

    Posted by phe August 3, 11 07:48 AM
  1. Two book recommendations:

    Weissbluth: Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Child.

    Kurchina: Raising the Spirited Child.

    I'm actually surprised that you didn't suggest trying to put the child down earlier for bedtime. 8 pm is on the late side, esp. if she's waking so early. Being overtired, can make going to sleep difficult b/c of all the stress hormones circulating in the system and it's counter-intuitive, but it can also make one wake up earlier. Try dialing the bedtime (gradually) back to 7:30 or even 7:00. Don't wait for her to start showing signs of being tired. If she's rubbing her eyes and yawning, it's too late. Put her down BEFORE she starts doing those things, and preferably with a consistent, calming routine. This is all explained in the Weissbluth book. It seems to me the problem isn't that she's forcing herself to stay awake, the problem is she's so overtired that she CAN'T sleep. Sleep begets sleep. Well-rested children sleep well.

    Raising the Spirited Child will help you learn to deal with the "behavior issues" in a constructive way and help you begin to see them in a positive way. Kurchina describes several traits that one sees in "spirited" children and how to create an environment where these traits are celebrated and embraced rather than feared and avoided. I have a "spirited" and a borderline "spunky/spirited" child and things are much more peaceful in our house since we've incorporated some of her techniques and suggestions into our parenting styles. One thing she talks about is how much more important sleep and a reliable sleep schedule is for these kids.

    As for melatonin, that really seems like the very last resort here. There are so many other simple fixes and parenting techniques that can be tried and incorporated that are likely to solve the problem. Drugging a not-even-two-year-old when there is no evidence of an actual medical problem just seems wrong and unnecessary and setting this child up to depend on a drug for sleep. A much better long-term solution is to teach her to go to sleep and to sleep well on her own. If you try everything else and nothing is working, THEN, of course consult the pediatrician and let him/her determine if there is an actual problem that warrants using melatonin.

    Posted by Danielle August 3, 11 09:34 AM
  1. How is her diet? Check that there are not too many treats or sugar in her food -- anything ending in "-ose" can be sugar, so read the food labels. Also, is it possible there is a dairy allergy or any other food allergy? Just seems like diet is one of the things to look at before going to dosing her with melatonin.

    It helped my spirited child to know what was going to happen and why, even before he engage in a conversation. I agree with tossing out negative labels, too. The same qualities driving you crazy right now can be positives in our kids' lives when channeled correctly.

    When my child would get in a crying jag, I'd let him cry for 15 minutes and then tell him he was all done. That he'd cried long enough to express his feelings and it was time to stop and go to sleep. He almost seemed happy that someone told him it was time to stop. I did this without emotion; I just was very calm and matter-of-fact.

    Hang in there. It gets easier.

    Posted by Larissa August 3, 11 01:50 PM
  1. I hate the Melatonin suggestion. Maybe if the situation continued like this for three more years and at the end of it the girl was still a stubborn 20-month-old then I'd consider it.

    Do offer choices as much as possible: "Do you want to put your pajamas on, or would you rather brush your teeth first?" "Which books do you want to read? Go get them!"

    We have soothing bedtime music that we put on every night (with a sleep timer). I think it helps calm down and soothe both child and parent.

    I agree with the "pick your battles" advice. Hey, you can put underpants on her over the diaper. That might fly.

    BTW, I knew from your first two sentences that you also had a 3-year-old. No mystery there that she wants to do everything just like her big brother. These are the times that you will be nostalgic about when you are older and the kids are grown.

    Posted by geocool August 3, 11 03:03 PM
  1. For heaven's sake, give the child some things that she can do instead of saying "She's not ready." This kid is going through a developmental leap stage. The fact that 20 months is a bit early for this probably indicates that this kid is vary smart and incredilbly frustrated that everyone is still treating her like an infant. She's getting plenty of sleep at daycare, and would probably do better if she could skip the naptime enitrely. But you know how inflexible those daycare centers can be!

    Posted by Merlusine August 3, 11 03:39 PM
  1. This very smart baby is getting her ideas from her older brother. I'm not sure about assigning her to any textbook pattern, because she is giving loud and clear messages that are being ignored. And when intelligent babies are ignored, they respond intensely.

    So you adapt. For example: A nine month old baby certainly won't eat much food using a spoon. But if you serve them cooked fruit and veggies cut up, they will eat very neatly and efficiently. Sippy cup? Give her the bottom to hold while you add the lid. Diaper? give her pullups if they fit .

    Use the principle of INCLUSION because she is obviously capable of knowing when that is being honestly offered. I am VERY concerned that this little girl has heard "no you can't" when she sees that her brother sure can.

    And it sounds like she's waking up at sunrise Eastern Time. Try blackout drapery lining on the curtains in her bedroom, so she can sleep longer.

    Posted by Irene August 3, 11 04:51 PM
  1. I parented a spirited child, so I know that it may take testing many suggestions before you find the ones that work. But I soooooo relate to the "everybody so tired and frustrated" scene. What really helped us most was to decide what our goals really were. Take bedtime for instance. We choose: child in his room by 7:30 or close to it, and some quiet (mostly) uninterrupted time for adults. I don’t say that what worked for us will work for you, but I’ll outline it to give you some ideas.

    We started the bedtime ritual at about 6:30 (an hour before we wanted him actually in bed) because he seemed to need time to think about his choices. We set a timer on choices: 3 minutes for each choice. We used an egg timer and had him turn it over. Then we let him have some down time between choices. We limited his choices: "Do you want your superman PJs or your spiderman PJs" or "Do you want to read "I'll Love You Forever" or "Green Eggs and Ham" etc. When he thought up a third choice (No, I want “Goodnight Moon”), if possible we let him do that. Then we turned on the white noise machine together, got him into bed, put the nightlight on and told him that if he couldn't sleep that was OK - but he had to stay in his bedroom. He could play *quietly* but he had to stay in his room.

    OK, sometimes he slept on the floor. We all got over it. Sometimes he slept in play clothes instead of PJs. OK. We all got over it. Sometimes he went to bed with a dirty face. OK. We all got over it. Etc. As everyone seems to be saying, choose your battles.

    I don't say it's easy, because I know what you mean when you say "intense reactions." I know what you mean about your child being so insistent on doing things she’s really not able to do yet. We saw a plenty of that, and it was a lot of work to head it off and come up with "do-able" choices.

    But it really does get easier.

    Posted by gadgetnut August 3, 11 05:14 PM
  1. What I dislike about these columns is the prevalent misunderstanding of gifted children. This child sounds like a typical gifted child. She's articulate. Intense (check out Dabrowski's overexcitabilities), stubborn, and strongly self-motivated to learn things before expected or physically able. Also, she sleeps less than the general population.

    I agree with the "Spirited Child" book - it's a lifesaver for these kids.

    Importantly, please understand that the more negative attitudes and approaches one uses with these children (or any children for that matter), the more liable these children will experience life-long issues with trust and anxiety. First, it's melatonin recommendations, then later it's ADHD medications and so forth. When will over-medication stop?

    Posted by KM August 3, 11 06:50 PM
  1. I had a toddler like this and if it's any help for you to hear, he has grown up to be a happy, responsible and loving young man. I found it was important for him to have a regular schedule (and,man,I stuck to it or paid!) and also to have a lot of outside play, every day, even in winter. Dinner was early, about 5 p.m. and the bedtime routine started at 6 p.m. I only worked part-time days, so this was possible for me - it may be tougher for you. Another thing I found to be relaxing for him was bathtime - a nice warm bath with a few good bath toys helped him settle down. Of course, I stayed in the bathroom with him. After that, story time and sleep- which didn't always come right away. My bible was "The Difficult Child" by Stanley Turecki. Good luck and know that it gets easier!

    Posted by Katvantas August 3, 11 09:03 PM
  1. Merlusine, the issue is not the day care center, it is state regs which require a 2 hour naptime each day.

    Gadgetnut, I wish I'd had you for advice when dealing with my own spirited child.

    Posted by Holly August 4, 11 09:04 AM
  1. I agree with Irene and KM. Clearly, she's a super-smart kid and you have to start treating her that way. Teach her anything she's willing to learn. And I don't necessarily agree that she needs more sleep. Could be; you should at least try some of these sleep schedule suggestions. But if it doesn't work out, try the other way. Let her stay up half an hour later. Both my kids do fine on less than the average that's recommended. They both fight bedtime with a vengeance, just as I did (ah, your past comes back to haunt you). And when I actually let them go to bed later, they fall asleep much faster. No worse for wear the next day.

    Being touchy, moody, those could be due to a by number of things, not solely tiredness. The teachers at the daycare could be underestimating your child and her abilities as well. That would frustrate anyone!

    Good luck. You'll be needing it when she can outsmart and "out-logic" you at age 4!

    Posted by momof2 August 4, 11 09:44 AM
  1. Just one book for you, Raising the Spirited Child. It has been a life saver for us and our own very spirited daughter! We now (notice that we have not always appreciated this because we didn't get her like we do now) love her independece, advance communication, ideas, spirit, imagination, endless questioning and energy and all those amazing qualities that make her spirited to start with! It has not being easy and some days I wish we had a non-spirited toddler but then we wouldn't have half the fun we do most days ;)

    And, please, give more credit to your daughter who is independent (one great characteristic that we love in adults but hate in kids, why is that?). She probably can do a lot more things that what you are crediting her for! Our DD was eating by herself at 9 months. Yes, it was messy but we were all happy letting her try and she was getting all the nutrition she needed. She could dress herself before 2, tie her shoes by 3 and was potty trained by 18 months because she wanted to. Whan she wants to do something she keeps at it until she gets it. She was picking her own clothes by 2 (we do have the last say on what she wears though). Did I think she was ready for all this "responsabilities"? Not really but with spirited children is a good idea to help them succeed instead of fighting them all the way. Trust me, she will surprise you everyday! We learned to value and cultivate her independence and I hope she keeps at it!

    And Barbara, I hate, hate, hate the idea of the melatonin. Believe it or not, some kids dont' require as much sleep as we would like them to have. Spirited children especially fall in this category. My daugher was never a good napper and since age 1 she had barely taken any naps. At 4 she is the only one that has "rest time" but without sleeping in her day care center and it has been this way for I'll say a good 2 years. She only needs 9 or 10 hours of uninterrupted sleep (late going to bed and not an early raiser but we've gotten use to that because there is no point on fighting a child that refuses to go to bed at 8 like we would like! It's really a loosing/frustrating battle that makes things wost). If waking up at 5 doesnt' work for you, get her to go to bed later instead but be consistant with it. Spirited children need a lot more consistency than non-spirited ones.

    Get yourself to the library or download/buy the book. Whatever you can do but Raising the spirited child will make your family life a whole lot easier and enjoyable... pinky promise :)

    Posted by Eve August 4, 11 10:11 AM
  1. We found it really helpful to pick our battles, yes, AND to find things our 'fiesty' girl could do by herself, rather than constantly telling her (or assuming) she couldn't do things. Sippy cup an issue? You can hold the cup while I screw on the lid, we can give you a cup and lid to practice/play with on your own rather than fight over your drinking cup when you're hungry. Want underpants? You can wear them over your diaper. Don't want to wear a coat when it's 10 degrees outside? You can wear it backwards. Want to wear a tank top when it's 10 degrees outside? You can wear it under your sweater. And as she got older: want to spend half an hour trying to buckle yourself in the car because you HAVE to do it yourself? You practice that while I sit on the porch with a magazine because we sure can't do that when we're in a rush to be somewhere! It doesn't go away - but it can make other things easier.... Done with the binky (as it goes flying across the room)? Sure. Don't want training wheels? Ok.

    I will add: we now have a very capable and independent girl (if I may say so). My husband and I laugh that it's only because we didn't know any better (what do you mean, she's not supposed to be able to do that?)

    Posted by 12buckleshoe August 4, 11 10:26 AM
  1. Having my own "spirited" child, I reccommend "Parenting your Spirited child". 9 moths old feed her self? Yes, when my son was 8 months old he refused to let me feed him, so I gave him soft cut up fruit and cooked vegies. And he figured it out. By 2 he was insisting on using an adult fork. We did (supervised). By 5 he could eat so well with a fork and knife that people in resurants would wonder at how neatly and properly he ate. 20 months potty train? Yes - my son started at 18 months and by 2 1/2 he was fully potty trained including dry at night. Sippy cup? Try giving her one to play with (maybe in the tub) she will figure it out. One thing which was key with my son is sleep. I too have the issue of no matter how late he goes to bed, he still gets up at 6. At that age, I found in bed by 6:30 worked well, and if I did not stick to it I paid. The later it got the more wired and harder it was to get him to sleep. Intense reactions? One time when he was 18 months he got so mad at my husband and me that while he was tantruming in a corner he decided to hit his head against the wall. Then he looked at us to gauge our reaction. We did not react, and he stopped and never did it again. So watch how you are reacting to her over reacting. Also try the labels persistent, determined, and independent. These traits will serve her well in life. Good luck and it does get easier.

    Posted by baseballmom August 4, 11 10:32 AM
  1. I think that the melatonin advice is....this is a bad idea. There are larger issues here than this child not being on a sleep schedule. The child and the mom are frustrating each other in general, and they need to work it out.

    Some of the other commenters have given great advice. It boils down to this: lighten up, at least for a while. Let it go. I suggest reading "Playful Parenting". Work with her, not against her, and try to be flexible where you can.

    She might need more time to wind down at night (and you might, too). If you start bedtime earlier, then her protests won't seem so bad, because you won't feel like you're racing against the clock. And maybe you could integrate the two kids' bedtime routines. You don't have to have one parent for each child. Let the kids play and help each other.

    If the sippy cup thing really bothers you, then put a few together at night and leave them in the fridge for the next day. The cover will already be on. She can play with an empty one. You can do this with other issues, too-- sometimes you just opt out of the fight. And give her lots of responsibility, she needs it. Ask her to help you all the time. What can she do? She can push start on the microwave. She can put her dirty clothes in the hamper. She can close the door to the fridge and hand you the phone when it rings. Let her feel in control where you can.

    Above all, know that it will pass. She'll get older and things will get better!

    Posted by newtonkidsrock August 4, 11 10:37 AM
  1. My daughter was like this too. I don't know how I survived. But she's five now, going into kindergarten (yeah!) and totally rational. I remember when she would pull a "nutty" as my husband and I called it, and we thought we were the ones losing our minds. Put us in the psych ward now please. Honestly, at bedtime, we just put her in her crib and closed the door and let her "cry it out". This only took one or two nights and then she went to sleep right on cue and never had any sleep issues after that. Structure is important. Once she can express herself and do things independently she will be much easier to interact with. Also, around age four, she will be able to rationalize and then life gets much easier. Our second daughter is nothing like the first, her temperament is so sweet and docile. Go figure. Good luck and please know that this is not your fault despite what others tell you. Oh, and if all else fails, I don't see any major harm in the melatonin, if your pediatrician says it's okay.

    Posted by Sara August 4, 11 12:53 PM
  1. 8PM is too late of a bedtime for any child under two. (It would be too late for my four year old). Read "Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Child" by Marc Weissbluth and learn about the body's needs for sleep, rhythms, what happens when kids get "overtired," etc. Later bed times do not equal later wake up times - just the opposite in most cases. The two hour nap may be too long. She may only need a 60-90 minute nap and to scale back the bed time to begin the bath, etc. by 6:30 to have her in bed by 7:15.

    Posted by RH August 5, 11 08:29 AM
  1. Lighten up. I am a foster parent and have had only 6 or 7 kids. I made a mistake with my first child (whom we adopted) by patting his back to have him fall asleep. He is also gifted (highly) and can argue the pelt off a mink. It took forever for him to get to sleep. So consequently, all of the other children were placed into bed, given a hug and told "good night." The light was turned off and the door was pulled and left slightly ajar. He is five now and I have to tell you, on the days he gets enough sleep he is an angel and on Tuesdays he is a hateful mess of a child because my husband allows him to stay up Monday nights because Mommy goes to band practice. Daddy will not put him to bed because it interferes with daddy's play time. It is a never ending battle so nip it in the bud now.

    Posted by Julie December 3, 13 01:28 PM
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Barbara F. Meltz is a freelance writer, parenting consultant, and author of "Put Yourself in Their Shoes: Understanding How Your Children See the World." She won several awards for her weekly "Child Caring" column in the Globe, including the 2008 American Psychological Association Print Excellence award. Barbara is available as a speaker for parent groups.

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