Toddler Sleep Problems: Power Struggles

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  • February 07, 2013

toddler sleepWritten by Gentle Sleep Coach Tracy Spackman

I often feel like I’m doing “Creative Parenting”. I have 5 children and I found that I need to frequently mix up my method to keep it working when it comes to getting the kids to do what I want them to do. My 9 year old was taking hours to get 20 minutes of dishes done and this happens a lot. This day she had a friend over and the dishes were not happening. She would dance, laugh, sing, perform, touch a dish but not actually do anything about them while staying in the kitchen “doing the dishes”. So my latest big idea was this…”Fine, Chloe I will do the dishes and you can sit on this hard wooden stool and watch. Your friend can sit over there. No talking.” Then I started to wash the dishes as slowly as a turtle. After about 10 minutes (I washed the worst dishes first so not many got done but the ones I cared about the most did…) and she finally says…”Stop! I will wash the dishes!” It was torture to her to not be able to play with her friend until they were done and I was doing them soooo slowly. She did them super-fast and went to play. Mission accomplished. Now when I ask her if she wants to watch me do her job she says “No Way”.  I didn’t find that method in a book.  I had to get creative.

For bedtime curtain calls, try this. Make a check list of all the things they ask for after you have put them to bed. Ask them to contribute and make suggestions. (Back pack ready for school, Teeth, PJ’s, Hug from Dad, Drink of water, story, lullaby, kisses, tuck them in, etc) Then go through the list during your wind down evening routine. If they ask for anything else after you have put them to bed, tell them you will add it to the list for tomorrow but now it is bedtime. You are addressing their needs and giving positive attention at the appropriate times but bedtime is bedtime.  The first time I suggested this method to a mom I was helping with her sleep coaching told me it worked like a charm.  Her daughter thought it was fun to make the list and went to be happily.  Usually they were having 2 hour bedtime battles.

Toddler Sleep Problems: Bedtime battles

Each extra bedtime request can be evaluated. Is this a call for attention or is there a real need? Sometimes a real need can turn into a call for attention. For example:

  • “Come fix my blankets!” Your 2 year old pulls off the blanket to get you to come fix it. Maybe you watched her pull it off and stand up in your video monitor. It looks like a call for attention but ensure the blanket is the right size, maybe the baby blanket easily comes off her feet and she is a bit big for it. She may be frustrated and likes the extra attention she gets when mom comes to fix it. Solution-Use a throw size blanket, it’s bigger than a baby blanket but smaller than a twin blanket. This can work well in a crib for a 2 year old. Now you can remind her she can fix it herself instead of fixing it for her. Help her to help herself but don’t rescue her.  She won’t get the amount of attention she expected but learns to be more independent.
  • “Change my diaper!” If you don’t feel like the diaper needs to be changed minutes after putting her to bed, designate some ‘Bedtime’ diapers. Put a bunch of diapers in a separate container and call them bedtime diapers. Draw a star or moon on them. Put a sign on the container with a star or moon to match. Tell the child that these are special diapers for bedtime and they don’t come off until the morning. Then stick to it. Be sure to be using the appropriate size and absorbency to hold up to the whole night. Use good judgment to make exceptions. Poopy diapers usually need an exception.
  • “Fix My Ribbon!”  I hadn’t heard that one before but a mom I’m working with told me about that one.  Her daughter usually has a ribbon in her hair to keep it out of her face, and asks for help in fixing her ribbon, so we taught her how to put on a soft headband all by herself. So she is encouraged to fix it herself when she asks for help but she and mom practiced during the day.
  • “I need a drink!”  Leave your child with a Sippy cup or sport top water bottle to self-serve a drink.  Only leave enough for a small drink, not a full bottle.
  • “I lost my soother!” Leave a small container of soothers in the corner of her crib or bed as backups.  If she throws them, don’t retrieve them.  She knows cause and effect by now.  Have you taught her that when she throws it, you get it?  Tell her you don’t want to play that game anymore and then don’t.
  • “One more story!”  Choose a short story that is your signal story indicating that it’s the last one.  Never read another story after that one and always read it last.

After an appropriate wind down period, I like the Bedtime Routine of story, song, kiss, bed, lights out, good night. No curtain calls afterwards. Stick to it long enough and the curtain call requests stop and the “bedtime battles” become a thing of the past.  Perspective and Consistency are key to bedtime battle success.

Tracy Spackman is the mother of 5 children ranging from 5-15 and is a Certifed Gentle Sleep Coach.  You can find her on Facebook and her website Get Quite Nights.

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Photography by bengrey on Flickr

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6 Comments

  • SarahMS says:

    Hi sleep lady, my daughter turns 4 in a week and in the past 4-5 months her sleeping through the night has gone from 95% of the time to waking 4-5 times through the night. She comes to my room and knows not to crawl into bed but will stand at my side of the bed and tug on my blankets until I wake up. I usually say ‘the sun is not up yet, back to bed’ ( we have a grow clock). She will return to bed but if I tuck her back in and leave she stays awake returning to my room every 5 mins or so to tell me that the sun is still not up and that it’s playing a trick on her. I put her back to bed every time but end up having to stay and lay with her just to get some sleep. It’s a never ending battle, just like having a newborn all over again with the amount we are awake through the night. I sleep trained her at 9 months, she was a pretty good all night sleeper even after moving to her big girl bed at age 3. Now as she gets closer to 4, it’s worse than ever. She tried and cranky and waking early too at 5 am. We moved her bedtime to 6:30 but it did help her waking during the night and she puts herself to sleep. She has never been allowed in our bed and we have always encouraged good sleeping habits. We do sticker reward charts and I’ve even resorted to taking away privileges on really bad days. I’ve tried bridging, begging, letting her cry, threatening to close her door. Nothing works… I’m at a loss. I need sleep and so does my preschooler.
    Help, Sarah

    • Breanna Gunn says:

      Hi, Sarah! It sounds like you may need to take a look at this article on early rising, and possibly consider using a wake up clock, or even re-examining her bedtime routine. If all else fails, go back to the Shuffle and reinforce her good sleep habits.

  • SarahMS says:

    Hi sleep lady, my daughter turns 4 in a week and in the past 4-5 months her sleeping through the night has gone from 95% of the time to waking 4-5 times through the night. She comes to my room and knows not to crawl into bed but will stand at my side of the bed and tug on my blankets until I wake up. I usually say ‘the sun is not up yet, back to bed’ ( we have a grow clock). She will return to bed but if I tuck her back in and leave she stays awake returning to my room every 5 mins or so to tell me that the sun is still not up and that it’s playing a trick on her. I put her back to bed every time but end up having to stay and lay with her just to get some sleep. It’s a never ending battle, just like having a newborn all over again with the amount we are awake through the night. I sleep trained her at 9 months, she was a pretty good all night sleeper even after moving to her big girl bed at age 3. Now as she gets closer to 4, it’s worse than ever. She tried and cranky and waking early too at 5 am. We moved her bedtime to 6:30 but it did help her waking during the night and she puts herself to sleep. She has never been allowed in our bed and we have always encouraged good sleeping habits. We do sticker reward charts and I’ve even resorted to taking away privileges on really bad days. I’ve tried bridging, begging, letting her cry, threatening to close her door. Nothing works… I’m at a loss. I need sleep and so does my preschooler.
    Help, Sarah

    • Breanna Gunn says:

      Hi, Sarah! It sounds like you may need to take a look at this article on early rising, and possibly consider using a wake up clock, or even re-examining her bedtime routine. If all else fails, go back to the Shuffle and reinforce her good sleep habits.

  • breefawn says:

    SarahMS Hi, Sarah! It sounds like you may need to take a look at this article on early rising: http://www.sleeplady.com/baby-sleep/rise-shine-the-early-waking-toddler, and possibly consider using a wake up clock, or even re-examining her bedtime routine. This article may help you with that: http://www.sleeplady.com/toddler-sleep-problems/toddler-sleep-creating-a-sleep-inducing-bedtime-routine. If all else fails, go back to the Shuffle and reinforce her good sleep habits.

  • breefawn says:

    SarahMS Hi, Sarah! It sounds like you may need to take a look at this article on early rising: http://www.sleeplady.com/baby-sleep/rise-shine-the-early-waking-toddler, and possibly consider using a wake up clock, or even re-examining her bedtime routine. This article may help you with that: http://www.sleeplady.com/toddler-sleep-problems/toddler-sleep-creating-a-sleep-inducing-bedtime-routine. If all else fails, go back to the Shuffle and reinforce her good sleep habits.