Tantrums at bed time.

Posted by Barbara F. Meltz  October 21, 2011 06:00 AM

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We have a 3 1/2 year old. He has been sleeping on our floor at night for months and months. Normally it was fine and he went to sleep ok. Lately he has literally had meltdowns going to bed. He constantly asks me to talk to him and when I say it's time to go to sleep he gets into a full blown tantrum, crying, following me around, screaming. There is no consoling him. We let him cry for a bit but then try to cajole him back into "bed" and try to calm him. He ultimately goes to sleep but he doesn't often sleep well. I don't know what the onset of this is from as his routines are the same. We recently redid his room with a twin bed and he was potty trained but this happened before that took place. We are all exhausted and sad, not knowing how to help him. How should we respond when he goes into full blown tantrum mode and won't lay down and go to sleep? Thanks

From: Lily, Newton MA


Dear Lily,

Tantrums such as you're describing could be a sign that he's over-tired, which could be a reason to tweak his sleep schedule. Has his nap recently disappeared? Has he started in day care/switched rooms in day care?Are you putting him down too late? Or maybe too early! He could also be having tantrums because he's frightened. Has a video frightened him? Is there a stress in your family life? An ill grandparent? Parents change in job status? Or maybe he's going through a development phase that's upset his equilibrium. Once it passes, he'll settled down again.

My suggestion is to be consistent and firm in your sleep policy. Sleeping on the floor in your room is what enables him to get up and follow you around so maybe it's time to for him to sleep in his own room. Spend time playing in his room so he gets comfortable being there. Establish, or re-establish, a bed time routine that includes lying down with him. After a few nights of that, sit next to him and rub his back. Then sit in a chair at the door, then on the other side of the threshold.

Of course, if he's having a tantrum every time you leave, this is more about you learning to tolerate the tantrum than anything else. He has learned that if he screams and cries, you'll relent. You need to help him unlearn that. You need to set firm, consistent limits, and stick to them.

Over the years, we've had many similar conversations in this space, including one not long ago where a child was vomiting at bedtime. In the past, some parents have suggested shutting a child in his bedroom, while others have railed against it. (I personally could never do that.) My best suggestion: invest in Mary Kuchina's book, "Sleepless in America."

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2 comments so far...
  1. If he likes camping out on the floor, let him do it in his own room--if it will get him to sleep, don't worry about using the bed for a while.

    Posted by di October 21, 11 02:25 PM
  1. Watch "Supernanny" reruns and watch her bedtime technique. Notice that consistency and commitment are the most important.

    I went through this two years ago, and the situation was totally resolved within a week.

    If I hadn't stuck to my guns with the technique, she'd still be sleeping with us.

    Best wishes!!!

    Posted by capecodmom October 24, 11 10:24 AM
 
2 comments so far...
  1. If he likes camping out on the floor, let him do it in his own room--if it will get him to sleep, don't worry about using the bed for a while.

    Posted by di October 21, 11 02:25 PM
  1. Watch "Supernanny" reruns and watch her bedtime technique. Notice that consistency and commitment are the most important.

    I went through this two years ago, and the situation was totally resolved within a week.

    If I hadn't stuck to my guns with the technique, she'd still be sleeping with us.

    Best wishes!!!

    Posted by capecodmom October 24, 11 10:24 AM
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About the author

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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Barbara answers questions on a wide range of topics, including autism, breastfeeding, bullying, discipline, divorce, kindergarten, potty training, sleep, tantrums, and much, much more.

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