A.C. asks from Berkeley, CA on November 13, 2010
3.5 Year Old Sleep Problems
I have a 3.5year old who will not go to sleep on her own she always wants to lay on my chest im trying to break it but she wont budge. Once shes asleep she wakes up every night screaming and crying and wants back on my chest or to lay with me but other nights its juss to get up and move to the front room and watch tv or play. SOmetimes its soo bad i have to put her in the car and drive her. nothing seems to calm her down. and during the day she has severe mood swings and doesnt listen or follow directions. i have a infant at home as well and shes is making me exhausted! any advice???
C.A. answers from Sacramento on November 14, 2010
The other 2 suggestions are fantastic. I also have another thing to try. Have you ever considered taking your child to a chiropractor for a check up? Babies, toddlers, and children of all ages can sometimes get something out of place by the birth process, falling or just playing rough. It is call a subluxation. This can affect how they sleep, cause bed wetting, mood swings, increased ear infections, signs of colic, unusual behavior like banging objects against their head or banging their head against a wall. My nephew had a subluxation in his neck that was most likely caused at birth. He had trouble sleeping and was really a fussy baby. After a few months we noticed that he wouldn't turn his head all the way to one side and he was developing a flat spot on the side of his head because that was the only side where he could sleep. Sure enough after his first adjustment he slept through the night for the first time! His movement got better and so did his demeanor. Later when he was a toddler/ preschool age he would just go crazy at bed time. He wouldn't sleep in his bed, woke up frequently in the night, only wanted to sleep with mom or dad either in their bed or on the couch. Sure enough he was out of alignment again so they got him adjusted a few more times again and he was sleeping back in his own bed. A couple of office visits just might be worth it to make sure nothing is wrong with her physically.
If everything checks out then it is time for some tough love. The transitioning method with a nightly routine schedule is the way to go. It will be nerve wracking at first but hey what's another week of screaming if it means future easy bedtimes? One big thing to remember is that once you do your bath/ book, tuck in bed (or whatever routine works for you) then you do not give her any eye contact or talk to her at all after that. If you sit in her room make sure the lights or off (maybe just a soft night light glowing) and you don't look at her or say anything. If she gets up just quietly pick her up and put her back to bed and go sit in your spot. If she just screams then let her but don't tell her to be quiet. Talking and giving her eye contact gives her your attention which is what she wants. You might have to do this over and over and it may take a few hours so get someone to help watch the baby. You should see some signs of improvement by after 2 days. In another words she might not get up as much. Within a week (sometimes as little as 3 to 4 days) you should be able to transition yourself more and more out of the room without her getting too upset. Remember children learn by repetition. If every time she gets up out of bed and you put her back will help establish this learning.
Now some notes for YOU. Transitioning will be hard and you may feel terrible about doing this. It might make you cry or doubt yourself that you are not doing the right thing. You might feel guilty or want to cave and say "Maybe we will start tomorrow." Don't give in! You can do this. I recommend keeping a ton of tissues in your pocket, keep a pillow to cry into close by and invest in some ear plugs. The end result of your little one being excited and happy about going to bed will far outweigh your guilty feelings now. Trust me I know! My daughter is almost 6 now and every night our bedtime routine is such a pleasure. I love seeing how at peace my daughter is every night. She goes to bed happy and she wakes up just so relaxed and joyful. We have had this for years now and I love it! So remember that 1 week of torment will feel like nothing once you see the results!
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C.C. answers from Chicago on November 13, 2010
Hi, Have you transitioned her into her own twin bed yet? I created a routine for my daughter when I did this. First , she chose a bedspread she liked and I let her place her stuffed animals as she liked on her bed. This is her room. Next, I daily read to her and put her to bed same time everyday. When my daughter woke up at night , I took her back to her bed, no lights on, minimal talking as I didnt want to stimulate her, in your case no tv or games. After a while she understood that she would not get to stay with me or play , it was time to sleep. She stopped after a while. Another issue is that she has a baby brother or sister that is taking attention away from her. She could be feeling left out and is rebelling. Mood swings are probably because she isnt sleeping well. Observe her on days that she does sleep well. Does anything set her off? is she moody when you are with the baby? She could be jealous. If it continues , have a doctor examin her for other possible reasons. My daughter had an ear infection that was worse when she layed down and she would wake crying. I didnt know she had it because she never complained during the day. She could also have night terrors.
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F.W. answers from Cumberland on November 13, 2010
Always good to think about other possible reasons like ear infections or night terrors but I wonder how long she has been like this? Has she always fallen asleep on you like this? If so, she simply associates your bodily presence with falling asleep. If this has been going on for a long time,I would slowly wean her off using you as a sleep crutch. Others may recommend you just continue to cosleep with her essentially but since it seems obvious you are not able to rest and have an infant that needs you--don't mind those that say she must really need your presence and its going to emotionally hurt her to wean her.
Wean her gradually--she's old enough to explain to her what sleep time will entail and what it won't involve--no T.V. etc. Once you've established how sleep is going to work ( you could write up a little book to go along with it and what your routine will be). Try an early bedtime--the idea of keeping them up to tire them out is a myth. Move back her bedtime by a half hour a night until you are at 8:30 maybe. Tell her that you will let her lay on you until she gets drowsy and then you will leave and she needs to stay in her bed. If she follows you --keep a gate at the bedroom door , come back in and place her in her bed without talking. Repeat until she stays and do not show any negative emotion (easier said than done...I know!) but your emotion will dictate hers. If you get agitated so will she. Remember if she's been doing this for a long time it is the only way she knows to fall asleep. An alternative to this method ( if she gets too agitated) and keeps getting up would be to return her to bed and tell her she can't lay on your chest, but that you'll lay next to her. Next time she follows you , return her to bed and lay next to her. When she falls asleep, leave but be prepared to do this again when she wakes. Keep with this level of helping her until she falls asleep fairly quickly and you could even keep with just laying with her until you can leave with her drowsy (this would be ideal) The key is what is the last thing she sees before falling asleep (if it is you--she will continue to need some presence from you). When I transitioned my 2 year old to a mattress on the floor I added some cuddle time in the bed together to help ease her fears but I made sure to leave before she falls asleep.
Once you feel she is ready for less involvement from you tell her you will sit by her bed and then later transition to sitting in a chair in the room. If you want to minimize the drama go slowly and she will slowly learn new associations with sleep. This is why it is ideal to get her comfortable enough with your lower levels of sleep help to fall asleep with you out of the room. Hope this helps!
K.M. answers from San Francisco on November 14, 2010
I second what Crystal A. suggested. If all things check out OK, then time for a change. When our now 5.5 yo was 2 he started climbing out of the crib & I did exactly what Crystal suggests....walked him quietly back to bed, made no eye contact & said nothing. I even trained his older brother to ignore his little brother standing sheepishly in the hallway. It took a few days & then he'd stay in the crib once we put him there. I'm gonna be honest & say it took some time but the the absolute key aspect of this is to stay consisitent! DO NOT GIVE IN! Make sure all other adults in the house are on board & ready to pitch in. At 3.5 yrs your daughter is old enough for you to tell here there will be some changes in her sleeping routine, that she's a big girl & will now be going to sleep on her own in her bed. You could start a reward system where every night she goes to bed w/o problems & stays there quietly, she get s a star the next morning. Lavish her w/praise for staying in her bed & being such a big girl & how proud you are of her. Once she earns the agreed-upon amount, she get s a small reward. After a while, start petering out the reward system cuz you want her to go to bed as expected cuz she knows its the right thing to do not cuz she wants the reward. Again, BE STRONG & CONSISTENT! Best of luck!
B.R. answers from Sacramento on November 14, 2010
Have you tried good old fashioned bribery? I know it sounds terrible to put it that way, but sometimes you can find a deal that will intrigue a child enough for them to cooperate. Our daughter put three of the coctail stirrer type things with flamingoes on them on the top shelf in her daughters' bedroom. Both girls were told that if one of them got up in the night for any reason other than to meet a real need (illness, going to the bathroom,... etc.) one flamingo would be taken down. If they ended up in the morning with all three flamingoes still sitting in the closet, they were awarded with a special treat for breakfast.
Our daughter-in-law has found that their son likes to stop at a certain donut shop on the way to daycare, so his reward for staying in his bed all night (again allowing for a real need) she will then stop at the donut shop and let him pick out something for his breakfast there.
Think about something that will appeal enough to your daughter that she will work for it, and then figure out your system for implementing the idea with her. It might work.