Q: My 2-year-old son doesn’t calm down easily for bedtime, and my wife and I need some ideas. We’ve always coslept with him and my wife breastfeeds him, and we’re keeping to a bedtime routine, but a few months ago, our son began to really fight bedtime, even when he is very tired. I really need some help as it’s really hard to not lose my cool when I’m still up at midnight trying to get my child to sleep!
A: That sounds like my 2-year-old daughter! If it makes you feel any better, our pediatrician said fighting sleep like that tends to be a sign of intelligence!
It still often takes us an hour or so to get her down, but here are some things that helped us manage better and get her to sleep at 9:00-9:30 p.m. instead of 10:00-11:00 p.m.:
- If she’s not up from nap by 3:00 p.m., there’s no way she’ll get to sleep before 10:00-11:00 p.m. So we ended up moving lunch to an earlier time, so that she is able to start naptime sooner in order to be done with her nap before 3:00 p.m.
- If, for whatever reason, she hasn’t started her nap in time to be awake by 3:00 p.m., we skip nap and put her to bed for the night earlier than usual, say around 6:30 p.m. We cosleep, too, so when we skip naptime, I watch for the second she starts to stir — around 10:00-11:00 p.m. — and nurse her back down before she fully wakes up. That tends to prevent her from treating early bedtime as a nap.
Even still, it can get really hard trying to get any toddler to sleep at bedtime.
If I start to get annoyed with my daughter, my husband will take her and walk her or read her a book while I do something to relax. Then he brings her back to bed and goes in the living room to unwind. Doing it in shifts like that helps us both have a bit of a break, so we can cool off by ourselves if we start to get upset.
I’ve also noticed that if we wait for our daughter’s sleepy cues, it’s too late. I think kids who fight sleep, often don’t show them until they’re on the verge of a second wind. I’ve tried to notice when she tends to look sleepy, and then I try to get her in bed about 15 minutes before that.
If she starts rubbing her eyes or yawning, we have an easier time if we skip routine and just go right to bed.
A: It sounds like a second wind and an over-tired kiddo.
Instead of trying to manipulate your nap and bedtime, how about waking earlier? Then naptime can be moved sooner and bedtime as well.
Also when my child has a difficult time getting to sleep, we go into complete quiet time. There is no verbal communicating other than a soothing “ssshhhhh” sound. Lights are out, and white noise is on.
Another thing I recommend is keeping a journal of your days and sleep patterns for a couple weeks and see if there are any patterns with the easy nights and the rough ones. Some children react this way due to food sensitivities, changes in routine and other external factors that are not always apparent until we begin to notice a pattern.