>>Ds is driving.me.crazy. I can’t handle him anymore. He’s 3. A couple of months ago, we finally cut his nap. It was becoming a nightmare. We also have a 10 month old, and ds3 will not go down easily, he never has. For a while, I would wear him on my back in an Ergo to put him down for a nap – not such a big deal when he was smaller, but it became really impossible after the baby was born.
So, I figured, cut the nap. I can’t wear him to sleep anymore, I just can’t. The thing is, without the nap, ds turns into a different person. He’s Mr. Hyde, or whatever it is. Just a complete terror. His whole personality changes when he doesn’t get that nap. So, we moved his bedtime up an hour to make up for it, from 8:30 to 7/7:30ish.
By the time 7 comes, he’s completely exhausted, and is pulling his Mr. Hyde routine. I know, I know, he’s 3, come will say he’s acting like a three-year-old. But.. I know my boy, and I know when something’s.. off. Screaming, tantrums over nothing.. I just know him, and I know this isn’t him. I don’t know what else to do. I feel like he still needs a nap but I simply can’t force him to sleep. I regret that I put him to sleep in the Ergo for so long, I guess he doesn’t know how to fall asleep on his own at all now (what do I do about ds10mo so I don’t repeat this horrible pattern?). I feel like he could go to bed at 5 in the afternoon, and he’ll fall asleep. But I don’t really want to wake up at 5am. Please help me figure this out. I really don’t know what to do anymore.<<
Though I’ve gotten questions relating to sleep issue in the past, this is the first time I’m touching on this issue on the blog. I generally prefer to answer this directly so that I’m not publicly misunderstood, and I’ve significantly delayed answering this because of that reluctance. But the sleep of young children is a very important issue that really affects the functioning of the parents and the children, physically and emotionally. There are a lot of things to touch on, but I’ll try to tackle it here because it really is too important to ignore.
It’s very important to realize that you’re doing your child a favor to help him learn healthy sleep habits, because a well rested child is a happy child. Whenever my ds3 starts to whine or act like an obnoxious brat, I don’t bother with any discipline – he goes straight into bed and wakes up a pleasant child again. Making sure he gets the proper amount of sleep deals with the root of his behavior – it’s very hard to moderate your emotions (even as an adult!) when you haven’t gotten enough rest. Crankiness can become chronic if a child day after day isn’t getting enough sleep, and a cranky child becomes a difficult child, and a difficult child and parent generally have to work a lot harder than a happy child and parent to bond and get along.
I’m concerned about a trend I’ve noticed – because ‘crying it out’ is considered child abuse, parents are doing anything to keep their kids from crying at night or at naptime. This leads to a lot of sleep issues for the kids because they aren’t given a chance to learn to fall asleep independently – and it is a learned skill. Of greatest concern to me are moms who are bouncing off the walls emotionally due to severe and ongoing sleep deprivation – sometimes a little grumpy, but often filled with rage and frustration, overreacting to any little thing, screaming at their young children or wanting to hurt them – far from loving behavior, and usually in the name of attachment parenting. I see this expressed online all the time. I think if the only choice were letting a child cry for a while for a couple of nights or having a parent who is often filled with hostility towards him as a result of her exhaustion, letting them cry is much, much better.
We have to stop being so afraid that if our children cry they’re going to have hangups and feel abandoned and unloved. (If a child grows up never having his cries responded to, yes, he will develop issues and shut down. But that’s almost never the issue.) Let’s say my ds3 sees a chocolate in the store and asks for it. Knowing it’s not good for him, I say ‘no’ and he starts to cry. Does the chocolate become good for him because he is crying for it? No. Should I give him the chocolate because he cries? No. If you’ve determined your child needs to go to sleep (and sufficient sleep is a serious need), you can’t let him go without it just because he doesn’t want it or it’s hard for him. Crying before bedtime and naptime doesn’t mean that he isn’t tired enough or shouldn’t go to sleep; it means he wants to stay up later and is going to try to convince you with crying that he should get what he wants. Just like the chocolate.
I’m not saying that letting a child cry is the only or best option – it’s not and it’s not generally what I do. I just want to be clear that I think that it’s not the big hairy deal that moms are making it out to be. I think the easiest method is preventing sleep issues in the first place. My babies sleep in my bed for the first 6 – 8 weeks after they’re born. Then I move them to a bassinet right next to my bed. This is close enough that as soon as the baby wakes up (not every time he stirs – often they stir and fall back asleep if left alone), I wake up and can nurse him, and we both sleep more soundly like this – babies tend to wake up much more frequently because of the movement of their parents. And every time they wake up, they end up being nursed back to sleep. Before you know it, you’ve created a cycle of repeated night wakings. Generally my babies wake up once in the night to be nursed, and start sleeping through the night on their own without much conscious effort on my part.
Here’s a tip that is counter intuitive, but this is crucial. Put your child to sleep before he is showing signs of being tired. This is true for a child of any age. A few weeks ago, my baby was being super cranky. Crying all day, sleeping about five minutes after being put down and then waking up. All day long. After a week of this, I realized what was happening (remember, there are other people besides me putting him to sleep and picking him up when he cries). He wasn’t being put down until he was overtired, and because he was overtired, he couldn’t easily fall asleep. What I immediately did was start putting him to sleep before he looked like he needed it and explained to my kids what I was doing and why, as well as showing them the signs of when it was the right time for him to go in for a nap. The first day he slept a huge amount – it was literally like he slept all day long except for very short waking periods when he would nurse and then go back to sleep. He had a week long sleep deficit to make up for! Since then, he hardly cries at all – we put him down for a nap when he starts to look relaxed and mellow (vs alert and bright eyed), and he falls asleep without whimpering.
I’ve shared my general thoughts on the importance of sleep, of preventing sleep issues in the first place, and told you when the best time to put your child in bed is. Now, to the specific question – you’re right, your son is acting exactly like a seriously overtired child. So the question is how to help him get more sleep. First of all, I would try to go back to a nap during the day. He clearly can’t handle the long day without it. In the earlier half of the day, around 12 or so, I’d suggest you have a nice long story session to get him feeling mellow. Being in one place snuggled next to you is going to naturally relax him. When he’s looking drowsy, or even just very relaxed, it’s time for a nap. He may suddenly pop up and start insisting he’s not tired and doesn’t want to take a nap. That’s okay. Tell him he doesn’t have to sleep, just rest in his bed for a little bit. Let him get up after a half hour if he doesn’t fall asleep. Then do the same thing the next day, but let him stay in bed a little longer. Do this for at least a week or two. Soon he should start relaxing enough to fall asleep. What you’re doing is setting up the situation to help him learn to fall asleep without being carried (I have no idea how you did this for so long – it’s amazing the things mothers do for their children!). Remember, falling asleep independently is a learned skill and it’s going to take him some time to learn how to do it – but you have to give him the chance to learn.
Until he starts sleeping during the day again, he needs to go to bed earlier. I don’t know when he wakes up, but since he’s already overwound by 7 pm, I’d suggest trying for 6 pm. Remember, don’t wait for a child to show signs of being tired to put them to bed. I understand the concern about him waking up early – go to sleep early yourself just in case he does so you have the energy to deal with it. But it’s more likely that because you put him to sleep earlier, he’ll sleep longer- the irony is the more rested a child is, the more they sleep.
Good luck, and don’t give up!