Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Toddler Advice - Bedtime Tantrums, Make it Stop!

I just received this question from a dad via email, and figured I would share it here.  I am sure LOTS of parents out there can relate!
Hey Mommy Wisdom, do you have experience with bedtime tantrums? Sure, what parent doesn’t, right? Just wondering if you had any secrets. My almost 15-month old daughter can be a lot of fun during the day but is so damn stubborn at night - she sleeps through the night most of the time, but getting her down is the tough part. We’ll start around 8pm, she will scream and we go back in with the unfinished bottle once or twice, then she’ll finally give up at like 9:30. I am more into letting her cry it out, but one of us always ends up going back into her room wondering - is she still hungry, does she have to poop, is a new tooth coming in...?  One other thing that I’ll mention is she has just recently gone from 2 naps to 1.
Where do I begin?  I have so much to say!  Going from 2 naps to 1 is hell and would definitely cause upheaval.  I remember my son eliminated his morning nap very gradually, but it started at 14 months.  He didn’t totally give up his morning nap until about 17-18 months.  And even then, if in the car around 12:30pm, he would fall asleep.  He gave up naps altogether a year ago at the age of 3.5, it also took 6 months, and still, if he is in the car at 4:30pm, he’ll fall asleep!!!
I wouldn’t go back to 2 naps, but you could do it gradually.  Like give her a morning nap 3 days a week depending on mom’s schedule and your daughter’s mood.  OR, you could skip morning nap completely, but do her afternoon nap earlier.  For example, if your ideal afternoon nap starts at 1pm, for one week, have her go down at 11am (know that the time from nap wake up and bed will be hell).  Then, the next week, 11:30, then the next week 12, etc, until she is napping at 1pm without being overly tired at lunch time. 
Sooo, even though we probably know the cause of the bed time tantrums, that doesn’t mean they should be happening or you should be playing into them.  Now here is where the tough love comes in.  SHE’S NOT A BABY ANYMORE!  It doesn’t matter if she has a poopy diaper, is hungry or has a tooth coming in.  All these things will happen periodically and she’ll survive until morning!  Or she should at least be able to fall asleep with those things.  If she gets up in the night, that is when I would wonder about those things.  Just wait, she will be going to bed hungry a lot once she is a picky pre-schooler!
Bedtime is bedtime, let her cry it out!  And when I say that, I don’t mean that you totally ignore her crying for two hours.  Not yet anyway!  If it were me, I would go in every 10-15 minutes, not pick her up, and say the same exact thing every time.  “Isabella, it is bed time.  You need to go to sleep now.  Mommy/Daddy is going to leave now, I want you to get your rest.  I love you (pat, pat the back.)  Goodnight.”  And do that every 15 minutes until she falls asleep (and say it before she goes down that first time too). 
And if you do it for an hour plus, and she gets MORE agitated, then it isn’t working, and I would spread out the amount of time in between each of your visits (maybe let her cry for 20-30 minutes.)  And if that doesn’t work, then I would let her cry it out until she falls asleep and not go in at all.  My pediatrician would tell you to do this from the get go – he told me that when his daughter was about 2, she would cry to him from her crib and actually said something like “daddy, why don’t you love me.”  And he wouldn’t go in at all!! 
She CAN manipulate at this age.  And so try and tell yourself that by hugging her, feeding her, etc. you are doing her a disservice – this helped me a lot when I was in a similar situation with my son.  She needs to learn to self-soothe because this will go on (or come and go) FOREVER.  I just went through a phase with my son who is 4.  He would come into our room several nights a week to give us an update on things – like tell us he was going to go the bathroom.  OR, he would even come in just because “he loves us so much.”  Talk about manipulation!!!!! 
And the last thing I’ll mention, and this is my opinion of course, but based on experience, 8pm is too late for her bedtime.  Now if 8pm is the only option because of your work schedule, then you’ll just have to power through this until she gets used to her days with just one nap. 
Even when my son was taking 2 naps a day, he went to bed BY 7pm.  Of course, he has always been an early riser, but still, I think under 2 should be in bed at 7, 7:30pm at the latest.  She is obviously over tired from not taking 2 naps – which is fine.  It will just be that way until she gets used to it, which could take 3-6 months.  But another option, if all the above ideas fail, you could try an earlier bed time for a week and see if her tantrums subside. 
Just remember, every phase is very, very gradual.  She will get used to her new routine, don't expect any of these ideas to work over night.  BUT, also, keep in mind that your CHILD is no longer a baby, she is a little evil genius!!!  So, buck up, and show her some tough love.  She’ll thank you for it some day!

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