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To ask a question about your child’s sleep, just leave it in the ‘Comments’ section below! I’ll choose one and create a new video answer each week!View the Video Transcript
Hi! I’m Dana Obleman, creator of The Sleep Sense Program. If you’d rather read than watch, I’ve transcribed the text of this video below.
Who’s calling the shots when it comes to bedtime in your house – you or your toddler? Have the boundaries been pushed to the point where your little one is now running the show?
This week’s questions comes from Trisha, who asks:
“My two-year-old Alex is not sleeping at all… at least that’s how it feels! He wakes up at 6 a.m., takes a nap from around 11:00 to 1:00 and then he’s up until 10:30 or 11:00 p.m. He starts whining around 7:00 so I know he’s tired, but his previous routine just doesn’t work anymore.
He wants to be down with us in the living room and he’ll scream and cry until he gets his way. I can’t let him cry or he’ll wake up his little sister in the next room. When he finally falls asleep on the sofa, we transfer him to his bed. Then he wakes again around 2 a.m. and will not go back to sleep unless I go and sleep with him. How do I fix this — and do I need to cut out his nap?”
Trisha, I don’t think the nap is the problem; it’s the least of your worries! For now, let’s forget about the nap.
It sounds to me like the boundaries were pushed, then shifted, then pushed and shifted a little more, to the point where Alex is now sort of “running the show.” With a toddler, it’s tough, and it can feel like you’re living with a “little dictator.” You really have to be cautious about boundary pushing.
It’s interesting the way toddlers do it. They don’t push too hard at first, more like just little tiny bits. One night he asks for an extra story and you say “Okay.” The next night it’s an extra drink of water and again you say “Okay.” And maybe then he asks to sleep with an extra stuffed friend and of course you say “Okay.” And so the boundaries start to shift.
Of course toddlers are so irresistible and they keep pushing and pushing and pushing to see where the boundaries lie. At this point, it doesn’t sound like he’s found where the boundaries lie at all. He pushed, you gave in. He pushed again and you gave in again and now he stays up way too late and falls asleep wherever he wants around the house. Where are the boundaries?
You’re afraid that Alex’s fussing would wake up his little sister and that’s a common fear. Many parents with more than one child worry that if you go back to strict boundaries, making things very clear, very black and white for your toddler, that this will involve some crying that might wake up their siblings. The truth of the matter is yes, that will probably happen. Alex is going to wake up his sister, but most likely for just a few days. Soon they’ll both be back to sleeping well again.
At this point, you’re stuck in this cycle. Also, he’s the boss and you’re not. This is going to go on and on until the cycle is broken. Alex is not going to decide one day out of the blue to start sleeping well and going to bed at a decent time. Alex’s mom needs to decide that. A firm bedtime routine is the place to start.
Even if he’s napping during the day, begin the new bedtime routine at 7:00 each evening. A routine I like is a bath at 7:00 for ten minutes, get on pajamas, brush his teeth, read him two stories and then into bed.
You’ve got to be very clear about the boundaries, even the story time boundaries. In my house, it’s been a two story rule since the day they were born. Occasionally they try to push it, but my answer is always no, it’s only two stories. Again, be very clear and have very clear boundaries.
After the stories, it’s time to go into the crib. (Trisha doesn’t say, but I’m assuming Alex is still in a crib, which he should be. That’s a good thing.) Now I’d suggest trying something that is probably different from what you’ve done before, and that is for you or your husband to stay in the room with Alex after he’s in the crib. Bring a chair, sit by the door and say something like “It’s sleepy time Alex” or “It’s nighty-night now.”
Doing that might keep the crying to a minimum and lessen the intense screaming. Or it might not. He may cry even harder when you’re sitting there and not taking him out of the crib. You have to experiment with this to see if it helps ease the transition.
Try spending three nights in the room like this, then maybe a couple of nights just outside the door followed by a couple of nights down the hall. We want Alex to get used to the idea that it’s okay to be in the crib and that there’s no reason to be upset.
Although this might ease the transition, there will be protest. And the reason he’ll protest is because his protests were working before; he’d go to bed and scream until you came in to get him. You can be sure that he’ll try that again. He will cry and scream. But now you’re going to show him that that is not going to work anymore.
This is the time where you tell him that crying and screaming is not a good way to get the things you want and that it’s bedtime. It really is not negotiable; bedtime is bedtime.
Again, there will probably be a couple of nights where he wakes up his little sister and both children will be up. But as I said before, that’s short term and it just has to be done to get through it and get him back on track, on track for everyone in the house to once again sleep well.
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