Mama Says: Stay in Bed! Sleep Help for the Weary

Dear Mama
Looking for some advice on how to get my daughter to stay in her bed at night. She recently transitioned to a toddler bed and without the constraints of a crib she has discovered newfound freedom at bedtime, in the middle of the night and in the very wee hours of the morning. Unfortunately this newfound freedom has also somehow communicated to her that naps are optional. I would agree with her but since she turns in a roaring, crazed bear in the late afternoon I know that she still needs the rest. So, how do I get my jack in the box kid to get back in the box?

This is a good question and one that can be very frustrating for parents. One minute you have a sleeper and the next, bedtime is turned upside down with the effort and energy of getting your child to sleep and claiming back your night. You are not alone!

Like all solid parenting tenets, consistency and patience are key. Your response will determine your child’s. If you react with anger and exasperation that is the cue for her to rail back with her own assertion of independence, and you have a power struggle on your hands.

Here is my advice:
Keep a solid bedtime routine: bath time, read a book, put her to bed, talk about the day and what you did, talk about tomorrow and what you will do. Our family added the best and worst of our day when the kids started school (quite a window! And I got a much better response than How was your day?). When she arrives at your bedside at 3:00 AM, do not make eye contact or speak. Put her back into her own bed without comment. Your actions speak louder than words and they communicate you have your bed, I have mine; it is time for sleeping.

Do not give up! You may have to do this over and over the first night, and the second night, maybe a third, but I promise you after the same steady response, she will give up. It takes too much energy for a tired toddler, especially since she knows exactly how you will respond EVERY (keyword: EVERY) time: Why bother? Her little brain will ask, I know exactly what is going to happen if I get out. She will resolve the dilemma on her own and stay in her bed.

In the beginning, she will cry with outrage. She will keep getting up. It will feel like it will never end, but I promise you, it will IF you do not speak or react and keep putting her consistently back to bed.  The following nights the fury will be shorter and shorter in the face of your resolve and she will eventually stay in her own bed.  However, plan on not getting much sleep the first few nights.  It will be worth it in the end.

For stubborn and strong-willed kids, you may have to shut the door or put up a gate at the door. Some parents have a hard time with this and feel it can be isolating, but look at it this way: sleep is critical for the whole family and you are the tribal leader working for the common good. You can phase out the gate if she reliably stays in her own bed.

As far as skipping naps go, each child is individual. Some children need more sleep than others. You are the best judge of that, but key for all good sleep is physical activity during the day. Kids are wired to move and when given the opportunity they will use every muscle and tendon possible to play. This leads to the lovely territory of sweet and deep sleep.

A great resource is Dr.Marc Weissbluth’s book: Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Child.

Good luck!

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