Putting off Bedtime
My son, Campbell, was a great sleeper as a baby. But when he was about 18 months old, his crib became a battle zone. He tried to put off bedtime with "one more book" or "Mommy, I'm thirsty." He often woke up screaming during the night. And because he wouldn't nap, he was glassy-eyed and cranky all afternoon.
I was worried but felt a lot better when I learned Campbell's sleep revolt is par for the course. "Toddlers test the boundaries with their parents, and refusing sleep is a prime way to do that," says Nadav Traeger, M.D., director of pediatric sleep medicine at Maria Fareri Children's Hospital, in Valhalla, New York. Still, your child, and you, needs sleep, so here's how to defuse these common crib conflicts.
The Bedtime Battler
Why he does it: Toddlers melt down because they don't want the day to end, they want to spend more time with you, or they're overtired.
Winning strategy: Establish a strict bedtime and a nightly routine. And give your child a heads-up. Say, "After your bath, we'll brush your teeth, read a book, and then you'll go night-night." Don't let him push for extra time, even if he seems wide awake. "Some parents think, 'Well, he couldn't be tired, he's running around the room like a banshee,' " says Jodi Mindell, Ph.D., Parents advisor and author of Sleeping Through the Night. "But kids can become more active the more tired they are." Sticking to a schedule eases your child's transition, so that by the time you put him into the crib, he knows it's time to go to sleep.
The Midnight Waker
Why she does it: A common cause of nighttime crying occurs when your child reaches the end of a sleep cycle and awakens enough to be aware that she is alone, explains May Griebel, M.D., codirector of the Sleep Disorders Laboratory at Arkansas Children's Hospital. If your child is used to having someone stay with her until she nods off at bedtime, she may not be able to fall back asleep on her own.
Winning strategy: Avoid picking your child up or offering to read a book. "These things will only stimulate her," says Wendy Ward-Begnoche, Ph.D., assistant professor in the department of pediatrics at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences, in Little Rock. Instead, say, "Everything's fine, honey," tuck her in, and leave the room. When her daughter, Alexa, started waking up at night, Jacky Hoffer kept things simple. "We would say 'night-night' to her baby doll and her stuffed doggy, and then throw them kisses," says the mom from Wake Forest, North Carolina. "She'd go right back to sleep."
The Reluctant Napper
Why he does it: Most toddlers are ready to switch from two naps to one at around 18 months. But it's often a rocky road. Some days your child may not be able to make it through the morning without a snooze. On others, he may resist his midday nap because he's too busy playing. But if he misses a nap altogether, he may be off the charts on the crank-o-meter by dinnertime.
Winning strategy: Try alternating one-nap days with two-nap days until he settles into a new routine. Also get your child more exercise in the morning. A trip to the playground will energize him, and then by naptime, he'll be wiped out.
The Early Riser
Why she does it: Your toddler may need less sleep than she did as a baby. Light, noise, or conditioned hunger (when a child is used to eating at a certain time) could also be to blame.
Winning strategy: If your early riser seems well rested, move her bedtime a little later. But if she's exhausted, figure out what's disturbing her sleep. If it's too much sunlight, buy a room-darkening shade. Are chirping birds waking her? Use a white-noise machine to drown them out. Avoid giving your child milk or food as soon as she wakes up so she doesn't learn to associate getting up with eating. You might also insist that she stay in the crib until the sun is up. "My husband would tell Mackenzie it was too early, give her the pacifier, and leave," says Kristen Wilson, of Scotch Plains, New Jersey. "Gradually she's worked her way back to waking up at 7 a.m."
Stop a Crib Climber
Your toddler may try to get out of his crib when he's as young as 18 months. These strategies will help contain him.
1 - Lower the crib mattress as much as possible.
2 - Remove toys and bumpers, which your child can use as climbing tools.
3 - Catch him in the act. Wait outside until he starts his ascent. Stop him and say firmly, "No climbing." Several nights of reinforcement should do the trick.
4 - If all else fails, put up a crib tent to keep him securely inside.
Originally published in the February 2007 issue of Parents magazine.