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"Bedtime is time to fall asleep..."

Sleep.  It's not really the gift that keeps on giving, it's the issue that keeps on issuing.  For many mamas and papas out there, sleep issues are top on their lists for frustrations and challenges.  Some kids sleep like they've been knocked out every night promptly at 7pm.  Other kids fight their sleep until double-digit hours, night after night.  We once thought we had champion sleepers.  Now, however, we don't question that we don't.

Ellen recently emailed about her 3-year old, who has just discovered an ability to protest bedtime:

My 3 year old, who has been cheerfully (for the most part) and consistently going to sleep easily since he was 5 months old, is now protesting bedtime and has started getting out of his room.  He ends up exhausted and we are exasperated with trying to coax and convince him to settle into sleep.  I am wondering if anyone has advice on this one.  We are looking for a loving, but firm, way to communicate that bedtime is time to fall asleep.  We have not been co-sleeping or staying with him until he falls asleep and are not planning on starting either of these approaches.  I have been fantasizing about a bed tent that would frustrate his wandering tendencies but would also be safe and kid-friendly in look and design.

Ideas?

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Our 3 year old just finished up this phase (at least I hope it's over!) It started when our 2nd baby came in July and we thought it was related, but maybe not... We'd put him to bed with the normal routine (books, cuddles, lights out and we're outta there) and he'd get up out of bed, turn on the light and play...sometimes for HOURS! It drove us nuts every night for months--somehow we dont feel like our evening is truly free until the boys are both asleep, even though he was playing very quietly on his own. Our pediatrician encouraged us not to make a big deal out of it, but it did drive us crazy, so lots of times we were making several trips up the stairs all night long to re-tuck him into bed and turn off the lights only to have him wait a minute and turn it right back on again. Argghhh! Sometimes he wasnt fully settled and sleeping until we went to bed at 10 (or later!) and other times we'd come back up to tell him to go to bed and he'd be asleep on the floor with all of his toys all around him...!

Is your son still napping? Ours is starting (we think, but hope not!) to give up his naps...and since this has been going on, he's going to sleep much better at night, even on the days that he's napped. On the days that he's not had a nap, we can hardly get through dinner quick enough and he's in bed without a single fight by 7. I know it's tough to hear, but it sounds like a phase...this too shall pass!

Our 3 year old just finished up this phase (at least I hope it's over!) It started when our 2nd baby came in July and we thought it was related, but maybe not... We'd put him to bed with the normal routine (books, cuddles, lights out and we're outta there) and he'd get up out of bed, turn on the light and play...sometimes for HOURS! It drove us nuts every night for months--somehow we dont feel like our evening is truly free until the boys are both asleep, even though he was playing very quietly on his own. Our pediatrician encouraged us not to make a big deal out of it, but it did drive us crazy, so lots of times we were making several trips up the stairs all night long to re-tuck him into bed and turn off the lights only to have him wait a minute and turn it right back on again. Argghhh! Sometimes he wasnt fully settled and sleeping until we went to bed at 10 (or later!) and other times we'd come back up to tell him to go to bed and he'd be asleep on the floor with all of his toys all around him...!

Is your son still napping? Ours is starting (we think, but hope not!) to give up his naps...and since this has been going on, he's going to sleep much better at night, even on the days that he's napped. On the days that he's not had a nap, we can hardly get through dinner quick enough and he's in bed without a single fight by 7. I know it's tough to hear, but it sounds like a phase...this too shall pass!

Don't know if this would work in your situation, but with our son at three (and we had done co-sleeping and staying with him till he fell asleep) we told him we'd come in and check on him if he was in bed and quiet. At the beginning sometimes that meant leaping into action when he stopped screaming to catch his breath, but eventually it became a bit more routine and more civilized. I count this as one of my favorite parenting successes because we did what many experts recommend (and I find so hard!)--rewarding the positive behavior that we wanted. So he didn't get punished for being noisy or wandering out of bed. But if he was good, we'd come back in and sit for a minute, give him an extra hug or kiss, sing another song. But he couldn't lie in bed and ask for another song because we'd only come in if he was quiet. When we left, we'd always say "I'll come check on you again if you're quiet."

So if you've already thought about whether he's getting out of bed because he's not tired yet, or because he's too tired and therefore wired, I'd come up with a system to reward him on the nights that he stays in bed. Three is old enough for refrigerator charts with star stickers and some kind of big reward when he earns four or five stars.

And good luck! Sleep issues are so hard because when you're not sleeping well it's almost impossible to be a thoughtful, patient parent.

I just saw this clever (and cute) little clock, which gives a toddle a visual cue for whether it's time to be in bed, or out of bed. Whether they're sleeping or not, it's encouragement to stay under those covers (and perhaps some fun anticipation for the signal to get up?). Here's the link:
http://www.thingamababy.com/baby/2007/12/kidsleep.html

And, um, you could try rewards for staying in bed until the clock says otherwise, if you want to go the bribery route. (-:

Ooh, I'm eager to hear what you mamas have to say; I'm in a similar situation. My 3 yo has fairly recently stopped falling asleep right away. Now she can take an hour or more to fall asleep and sometimes she gets out of bed (though not always). We haven't found a good way to get her to quiet down, stop rolling around playing in bed, and go to sleep. Tried quiet play before bed, lots of stories, deep breathing, dim lights, etc... If she gets out of bed we now take away a privilege the next day, and that helps. My guess is that she's on the verge of not needing a nap anymore. Maybe your son is in the same boat? The rare days my daughter doesn't nap, she is cranky in the late afternoon but she does crash as soon as her head hits the pillow. I'm just so reluctant to give up the nap--for my own sanity! And she falls right asleep for nap, she's definitely tired then. How to make her quiet down, stay in bed and go to sleep at night?

so I have a 3 year old and have been throught this! our solution - we put a baby gate up at his door - that way if he does get up, he can not get out of his room (that was our biggest challenge). He may spend 10 minutes, he may spend 30 minutes playing in his room before falling asleep, but there is no chasing him around, begging to stay in bed etc.

If your little one is up way past bedtime, I hate to say it, but it may be time to drop that afternoon nap.

we also use the clock - kids love this - bedtime is 7:30 so when the clock says 7:30 it is time to sleep - wake up time is 7:00am and believe it or not, this works - he comes into our room each morning at 7 - ready to go start his day.

Good luck - and remember - this to shall pass.

We had this same problem when my daughter was about 3 (she is now 4.5). She had been a great sleeper and would go to bed without protest up until that time. We found that giving up the nap solved the problem and she is now going down at 7:30 again without a protest and falling asleep within about 10 minutes or so.

I have found Elizabeth Pantley's books, The No Cry Sleep Solution (one for babies and one for toddlers), really helpful in this area. I think one of our biggest issues was the nap thing. If my 3 year old naps, he can't get to sleep before 9:30. No nap, and he's out like a light by 8, if not earlier. We still have quiet time, where he has to either play quiet in his room (or on his bed if I think he needs to rest). That's for the sanity. As for my little one, we've done the "when you're quiet I'll come back" routine and he's really starting to get it. He's almost 2. Anyway, those were my favorite books and very helpful.

This is so interesting...we've been in the same boat for the last 4 months or so. It started when our 2nd baby came in July so we thought it was related, but after reading these responses maybe not. We'd put him in bed with our normal routine, (books, cuddles, lights out, good nite) and all of a sudden he was getting out of bed, turning on the light and playing for HOURS! It drove us nuts. The pediatrician encouraged us not to make a big deal out of it and suggested this was his time to "process" everything that was changing in his world by getting a new brother in the house...but it drove us nuts! Most nights we'd make several trips upstairs all night to re-tuck him in to bed, and several times we'd walk in to his room and he'd be asleep on the floor in the middle of a heap of toys! In the last month or so, he has started to resist the naps and I think he's growing out of them (much to my disappointment!). On the days that he doesnt have a nap, his head hits the pillow and he's out--often times by 6:45 or 7Pm, while he used to go to bed at 8:30ish....or several hours later by the time he finally fell asleep! So this sounds like a normal phase, likely related to letting go of the nap?

Like Mary suggested, foregoing a nap around the third birthday helped us.

If my 3-year-old daughter began leaving her bed, I would put her right back in bed, over and over and over until it sticks. If need be, I would stand in the doorway and prevent her exit and calmly instruct him to return to bed. Whichever parent has the toughest skin for listening to crying should do it.

A far easier approach is to let her stay up and read books in bed. She assembles a stack of familiar picture books and I come back an hour later to remove the books and turn the light off.

Initially, she read every night, but after the first couple months it has slowed to once every couple weeks. We experience no problems if we get her to bed within an optimal 45 minute window (ready to sleep, but no so tired that she gets cranky and stays awake).

I recently read a blog entry on Amalah.com about this exact issue. She bought a bed tent at IKEA for her 2 year old, and it seems to be working for him. I found the link on IKEA's website. Looks like a cheap solution. Hope it works for you!

http://www.ikea.com/us/en/catalog/products/40099056

Giving up the nap was hands-down the best thing we ever did to solve our bedtime problems. My three-year-old goes right to sleep at 7:30 now, the earlier the better. There are struggles...he gets grumpy right when Dad gets home around 5:30/6:00 and Dad is starting to get a complex. If we leave the house too late in the afternoon, he falls asleep and is grumpy when he wakes up. We have worked around these issues by making most of our trips in the morning or early afternoon when a 15-minute snooze would do him some good. I also feed him dinner a lot earlier, say around 5:00, and it helps his evening grumpies. We try to get him in the bath tub pretty early. He loves it in there, and it helps to calm him down for bed. He will also spend an hour in his room for quiet time if I'm having a stressful day and need time alone. I set a timer and he can read, play whatever, as long as he's in his room. Good luck!

Cut the nap. Since we gave it up, our 3 y/o falls asleep as soon as he tucks in Blue Doggie (his brown dog toy--go figure) and blows some kisses up to his brother on the bunk bed. And this is usually around 7 or 7:30 (and sometimes, if I'm feeling tricky, it's around 6:30--it helps when it gets dark early!). He will sleep until about 7 am.

On the rare days he does have an afternoon nap, he will be up until about 9:30 or 10--totally cutting into Mom and Dad time--and still wake up around 7am, but will be uber-grumpy.

I should point out, though, that whenever there is a new episode of "Lost" on TV, regardless of whether he had a nap that day or not, he will wake up to watch it. It's a strange phenomenon, because it doesn't happen if there is a repeat, or if we watch it on DVD...apparently Blue Doggie only likes new ones. :)

One little trick that we use is we let our 3yr old turn all the lights out in the house as part of the bedtime routine. He thinks that we are all going to bed and this helps. Also, both of my boys have white noise machines in their rooms. It lulls them to sleep and covers up noise.

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