Sleep problems in a 3-year-old

Posted by Barbara F. Meltz  August 30, 2012 06:00 AM

E-mail this article

Invalid E-mail address
Invalid E-mail address

Sending your article

I need some help resolving some bedtime drama with our 3 year old daughter. Bedtimes have stretched out to 45 minutes with trips to the bathroom and any other excuse to pop out of bed. To make it worse, about half the time she really does have to go to the bathroom. My husband and I are both trying hard to be direct with her and not feed into this attention-getting scheme, and I sense that even my daughter is tired and ready to go to bed. However, this has been going on for about a month and I need it to stop soon! She will go to bed without a fuss for the babysitter so I know it is all about attention from Mom and Dad. Thanks for any tips.

From: Ann, Hopkinton, MA

Dear Ann,

I suspect you're right on both counts: she's doing this for attention, and she's as tired of it as you are. The problem is that this bedtime drama is what has become her routine.

Here's one thing to keep in mind. Kids typically initially act out as a way to test the boundaries: what do I have to do to make mom/dad set the limits? Think of them as being inside a box. When they act out, it's as if they are pushing on the sides of the box to see where the flexibility is and how much there is. Some flexibility is fine, of course, but you don't want the side of the box to get too stretched out, because they have to keep acting out and keeping out, as if they are saying, "What about if I do this? Will that get them to set the limit? What about this time?"

It's your job to do this. I'd sit her down and have a calm and matter-of-fact conversation. (I know, I know, she's only 3. Try it anyway.) Keep it simple and brief: Bedtime has gotten out of hand. From now on, we will......and fill in the blank with the routine you want. It's OK to give her a choice or two: "Does she want to go to the bathroom one more time before or after the story?" Then make it clear what will happen after the final, scripted goodnight kiss. Tell her where you will be (in the next room, downstairs, etc.) Tell her it's her job to go to sleep by herself, and you know she can do it, and it's time now for some Mommy and Daddy time. If she cries, you won't be able to come to her, but you will check on her later. Ask her what she needs: a nightlight? soft music? stuffed animals? your picture?

By having this conversation, she knows exactly what to expect. She'll still test it out. Call to her from where you are: "I can hear you, I know you can go to sleep by yourself, I'm busy now, I'll check on you later." She's forgotten the stuffed animal? She can get it herself. If you do need to return for any reason (your call, obviously), be brief and business-like. She probably won't like this, but as long as you know she is safe (consider a gate), your job is to remain firm, consistent and calm. Once she sees that this really is the limit, she will feel safer.

I'm in the middle of reading a terrific book, "Bringing Up Bebe," that talks about how French parents deal with issues like this. I plan to write about it when I finish in more detail, but the basics are that American parents underestimate the capabilities of their young children when it comes to sleep and, as a result, we build in expectations that get us all, parents and children, into trouble.

This blog is not written or edited by Boston.com or the Boston Globe.
The author is solely responsible for the content.

E-mail this article

Invalid E-mail address
Invalid E-mail address

Sending your article

1 comments so far...
  1. It's possible it's not *all* about attention. She may not pull the jack-in-the-box act for others but it doesn't necessarily mean she's actually sleepy. She might be ready for a bedtime or nap schedule change.

    If she may or may not be ready to sleep on any given day, but needs to wind down and have quiet time at least, maybe allow a quiet activity for a little while before lights out. You'd be bored and maybe antsy too if someone plopped you into bed in a dark room when you weren't sleepy.

    Posted by di August 30, 12 06:32 PM
 
1 comments so far...
  1. It's possible it's not *all* about attention. She may not pull the jack-in-the-box act for others but it doesn't necessarily mean she's actually sleepy. She might be ready for a bedtime or nap schedule change.

    If she may or may not be ready to sleep on any given day, but needs to wind down and have quiet time at least, maybe allow a quiet activity for a little while before lights out. You'd be bored and maybe antsy too if someone plopped you into bed in a dark room when you weren't sleepy.

    Posted by di August 30, 12 06:32 PM
add your comment
Required
Required (will not be published)

This blogger might want to review your comment before posting it.

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.

Submit a question for Barbara's Mailbag


Ask Barbara a question

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

Send your questions to her at:
meltzbarbara (at) gmail.com.
Please include your name and hometown.

Child in Mind

Moms
All parenting discussions
Discussions

High needs/fussy baby

memes98 writes "My 10.5 month old DS has been fussy ever since he was born, but I am getting very frustrated because I thought he would be much better by now...has anyone else been through this?"

More community voices

Child in Mind

Corner Kicks

Dirty Old Boston

Mortal Matters

On Deck

TEDx Beacon Street

RSS feed


click here to subscribe to
Child Caring

archives