Troubleshoot Three Year-Old's Bedtime
September 25, 2018 12:48 PM   Subscribe

We have a new baby at home, so sleep is challenging to begin with. Add on our three year-old's resistance to bedtime, and it's a nightmare. Halp.

Almost a year ago, our now three-year-old, E, figured out how to escape her crib and open the door to her room. We did the standard bedtime routine stuff: telegraph that it's coming, maybe a bath, brush teeth, read stories, do songs, leave and turn off the lights. She was still up 5+ times out of her room before she stayed asleep.

We were finally able to break that cycle by promising "treats" (gummy vitamins, shhh) in the morning if she stayed in her room all night. That dropped her exits from her room down to 0-1. Great!

Two weeks ago, new baby J arrived. J breastfeeds a lot, sleeps not very much, and sleeps even less at night. Last night her first solid (>15 minute) stretch of sleep started at 3:30 am.

Since J's arrival, E is back to getting up multiple times before she finally goes to sleep. This can end up interrupting one of the few decent chunks of sleep we otherwise get in between J's feeds.

Things we have tried:
Bedtime routine/treats described above
"Locking" her in her room by holding the doorknob for 5 minutes
Having a "big girl discussion" about how important sleep is for mommy etc.
Spending focused E time on E so that she feels like she's getting enough attention

What else is worth a shot?
posted by craven_morhead to Human Relations (17 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
We found that having the non-nursing parent stay in the toddler's room (for somewhere between "until she falls asleep" and "all damn night") satisfies her: she gets up, looks over to see someone else is there, and goes back to sleep.
posted by Etrigan at 12:52 PM on September 25, 2018 [3 favorites]

White noise, room darkening shades (can be used in combination with a nightlight).
posted by cooker girl at 1:01 PM on September 25, 2018 [1 favorite]

Book a sleep coach for now or a few weeks from now.
posted by catspajammies at 1:08 PM on September 25, 2018

When we had similar issues, we tried the "hall pass" idea - she had a "hall pass" that she could use to come out of her room ONCE. Once she used it, we took it and she didn't have it any more.

Full disclosure: this did not work all that well with our kid, but it did work a little bit, mostly by giving her some agency -- she got to decide when she would use her hall pass, whether right away or in a few minutes or not at all. Our kid wanted to go to bed on her terms (which usually meant going to be VERY late, later than is healthy for her), so giving her some choices around bedtime helped a bit. (Again, this was not slam dunk - she still came out of her room sometimes, but she did it without as much drama and noise.)

You could also tell her that as the big sister, she can be a good example for the baby (I realize this is actual nonsense).
posted by devinemissk at 1:08 PM on September 25, 2018 [2 favorites]

Is she still in the crib? If so, I would consider moving to "big girl bed"- take away the physical challenge of getting out of bed and it might lose its luster.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 1:15 PM on September 25, 2018 [8 favorites]

The hall pass is generally the first line of defense recommended in this situation.

The second line of defense (for us) has often been to be a broken record after bedtime. "It's after bedtime, I'm not available right now. See you in the morning." Depending on how much you trust the kid, you can just roll back over in bed and ignore her at this point (trusting her to go back to her room) or you can escort her back to her room and put her in her bed. This totally works on some kids (at some times), but it invites other kids to escalate.

Best of luck with this new transition. There probably isn't a quick fix solution, but you will get there eventually. My mantra when we were in those particular weeds was to consider each morning that we all woke up alive as a win.
posted by telepanda at 1:18 PM on September 25, 2018

We have a 3 year old and a 6 month old! Very similar issues!

We are currently doing sleep training with the 3-year-old that involves returning him, crying and kicking, back to his room up to 10 times in one night. Aren't you glad that's not you?? The problem is, when baby was new, we were too tired to fight his efforts to get into our bed and we let him do so. So sleep re-training is happening.

Two things that have helped me:

* Reading Dr. Craig Canaparis' site about sleep training kids. Full of great ideas.

* Getting a weighted blanked (at 10% of our son's body weight)

Things I've considered but haven't yet tried:

* Using a white noise machine that drowns out sound in both children's spaces. I've heard this works for some families.

* Temporarily moving the baby to a spare room upstairs (with one parent), while the other parent maintains an Iron will and returns big brother back to his room until he is trained.

.. . Good luck! If you train your 3-year-old now, you won't have to do it down the road.
posted by ElisaOS at 1:39 PM on September 25, 2018

I've had luck with the no-response with 3-4yos: they get up, I lead them or I pick them up very calmly and put them back in bed. I don't talk and I don't react. I'll do it as many time as needed.
posted by bdc34 at 1:40 PM on September 25, 2018 [2 favorites]

We were in this situation about 6 months ago, right down to the rapid deterioration after the arrival of the new baby. I actually took our son to a sleep clinic because things were bad, he wasn't sleeping enough, and we had tried everything. We emerged with the plan below:

Rigidly consistent bedtime routine, not too drawn out. We do jammies, brush teeth, potty, then one story on the couch in his room, one story in his bed. Keep the lighting very dim for the bedtime routine - no more than a 15 watt bulb. After the second story, say goodnight, leave room immediately. If kiddo comes out of the room, close the gate that we put in his doorway (we used an extra tall child gate). Get out of sight, but return at increasing intervals to verbally comfort if he is upset (1 min, 3 min, 5 min, etc). Set longer intervals for each successive night (it was probably basically the chart from the Dr. Ferber book). The first week or so that you do this, figure out the time that kiddo has actually been falling asleep and don't start the bedtime routine until then - if they're more tired, it will be easier for them to fall asleep on their own. Once they get the hang of it, gradually walk bedtime back to the normal time by 15 min/night. Keep wakeup time consistent - make sure they're exposed to lots of light in the morning, make sure they eat breakfast at a similar time every day.

I won't say this was easy - in fact it was really rough and caused a lot of tears from our son to the point that I questioned if we were doing the right thing. But after a few nights he got the hang of it, and now he goes to bed easily, and doesn't seem scared or unhappy about it (beyond the usual complaints about not being sleepy). Obviously when we were starting out we talked through what was going to happen, we didn't just spring it on him.

For a much gentler suggestion, I also know people who have had a lot of success with doing really frequent checks and giving TONS of positive reinforcement for the kid having stayed in bed. So you leave the room, and then go back in after like a minute, praise her for staying in bed, tell her you'll check on her again in X minutes, rinse and repeat at gradually increasing intervals until they're asleep. Would probably be worth a try before the harsher method above (we tried it and it didn't work for us, my son just got really worked up about when we were going to come back in to check on him).

One other variable to consider: is your daughter still napping? Three was the age when naps started really messing with our son's ability to fall asleep. If she does still nap, you might try limiting the amount of time and making sure she doesn't sleep too late in the day.

Good luck! I hope you all get some more sleep soon.
posted by lomes at 1:46 PM on September 25, 2018 [4 favorites]

We had some success with a bedtime chart. It had the days of the week on the top, and picture of the bed tasks on the left column. We drew a happy face on the chart as we did each task:
brush teeth
go to the potty
PJs on
Read story
Stay in bed

In the morning we would decide (together) if the last step was done. If the whole column had happy faces, then the kid got to put a sticker on that day. If they did really well, they got to request a picture of their choice on the column. Many great days, and kid got to pick the family's lunch meal menu.
posted by Sauter Vaguely at 1:48 PM on September 25, 2018 [1 favorite]

Just a word of comfort, maybe ... Kids regress when a new baby is born. Sleeping, eating, behavior issues... They say it’s one day for every month age difference between the older child and the baby. This too shall pass.
posted by amro at 3:13 PM on September 25, 2018

Have a laundry basket of night-time toys to be in her bed only at night. books, stuffed animals, if you can find a kid-usable music player, lullaby music. Any morning that she stays in her room all night gets a star on a calendar. 3 stars gets a sticker, 3 stickers gets a small reward. When my son was 3, that was usually a hot wheels car, she might like them.
posted by theora55 at 3:27 PM on September 25, 2018

My 4 year old gets a “One Come-Out” ticket when she goes to bed. She can use it to come out for any reason she wants (help with potty is a freebie) or she can save it. If she goes the whole week without using her ticket she gets a prize. The first two prizes were bigger toys to get her on board and now they are prizes from the dollar store. We have a weekly calendar that she marks off every morning she still has the ticket a big happy face on the day she needs to get to in order to get her prize. It’s worked fairly well.
posted by teamnap at 4:30 PM on September 25, 2018 [1 favorite]

Does she nap? Because this is what my four and a half year old does she naps (curse you, pre-k!!).

If she’s tired she comes out once or twice, tops. If she’s napped she can come harass us almost a dozen times to everyone’s increasing frustration, including hers.

Try cutting her nap, it might fix it entirely.
posted by lydhre at 4:37 PM on September 25, 2018 [1 favorite]

We have a lamp with a green light bulb, on a timer, that we started using once our son turned 3 - “green means go” and it’s okay for him to come out of his room once the light is on, but not before. We also give him a children’s melatonin gummy (1 mg) which I think helps him fall asleep with less resistance. He’s been very good about staying in his room overall, especially once we added the light.

That being said, he’s three and a half now and we also just had a baby (ours is three weeks old, hi!) and his sleep has gone a bit sideways. Not every night, but two or three nights a week he’s goofing off at bedtime, running out of his room and tantruming when escorted back to bed, and my favorite, waking up at whatever the fuck o’clock (two thirty, four, five am) making demands or insisting it’s morning or just wanting to play. So I suspect it’s a normal regression response to a new sibling, too.
posted by castlebravo at 4:41 PM on September 25, 2018

Re: opening doors. There are devices intended to prevent a toddler from being able to open normal doors. One type fits over the knob and loosely spins, in theory preventing them from turning the knob.

This may or may not be useful or effective for your toddler and situation, but perhaps something good to be aware of.
posted by SaltySalticid at 6:37 PM on September 25, 2018

Thanks all. E currently takes one nap per day in the early afternoon. In a big girl bed. We are doing white noise with her; have since she was born.

Lots of good ideas here, thanks again.
posted by craven_morhead at 7:41 PM on September 25, 2018

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