Question: I am the father of a wonderful 2 1/2-year-old girl. My wife and I are having a difficult time with her sleep patterns. She used to go to sleep with out incident and sleep through the night. Over the last few months, she has started stalling when it comes time for bed. My wife and I have a set routine that we follow when it comes time for bedtime. However two minutes after tucking her in, she’s asking for a sip of juice or a tissue or she’s kicked her covers off. She also wakes up several times in the night crying for those same things. I am currently working nights and my wife is getting little to no sleep with these episodes. I’ve told my wife not to run into the room every time she cries. Give her a couple minutes then tend to her needs briefly and if that’s not enough then she’ll just have to cry. Am I going about this appropriately? Andy
Answer: Yes, you are right but, of course, I wouldn’t want your wife to be “wrong.” There are so many issues with letting a child cry, the first of which is “If I’m losing sleep anyway, why not try to fix the problem.” As you’ve both discovered, following through on your daughter’s requests doesn’t minimize the waking.
However, since it is your wife who is home during these episodes, it will be her decision to change her nighttime responses. She might want to explore her reasons for going to your daughter after saying goodnight and in the middle of the night. Does she think your daughter really needs her? Does she believe now is good time to teach your daughter nighttime independence? Does she need a support buddy to talk her through “ignoring” nighttime pleas? I know a mother whose husband had to physically hold her to stop her from going to her son because every motherly bone in her body insisted that she not “abandon” her son. I would then recommend picking up Vicki Lansky�s book “Getting Your Child Back To Sleep.” The book describes every imaginable bedtime/nighttime dilemma and discusses a spectrum of parent options. She even writes a section on the “I Want A Glass of Water” Syndrome where she gives the following helpful advice:
Establish consistent bedtime routines
Ask your child if she needs anything else before you leave the room
Expect to be called back (your daughter needs to verify your consistency)
Keep a juice glass next to your daughter’s bed (but be careful of too many liquids when toilet learning)
Any attention should be perfunctory and uninteresting
Any trip out of bed should be quick and uninteresting
Lansky gives parents guidelines but leaves the final choice to return to the child’s room or not up to the parent. The reasons for waking up begin to disappear when parents are unexciting in their responses. Children also take great comfort knowing that parents will respond in the same boring way every time.
Be prepared for a transition time. Depending on your daughter’s temperament and intensity level, the transition can take anywhere from 3 days to 3 weeks. You may be tempted to give into your daughter’s requests hoping for a better night�s sleep. Be strong! At first, your daughter will be shocked that you’re changing the game and her crying could escalate. You can be confidant that her requests are for attention and not really for juice, tissues or blankets.
I’m sure that you’re loving, attentive, and involved parents. Parenting is an all-consuming job during waking hours – conserve your resources!
Karen Deerwester, Ed.S.