The Trials of Putting Your 3 Year Old To Sleep

Posted on Aug 16, 2011 by 19 Comments
The Trials of Putting Your 3 Year Old To Sleep

Shh! (This is me tiptoeing away from my daughter’s door because she’s asleep!) You wouldn’t believe the hassles we’ve had putting our precocious 3 1/2 year old to sleep. But tonight, she’s finally down after some soul searching and a little dose of ‘good night baby bear.’

First, the ‘good night baby bear.’ I know there is a book by the same name and, no, I’ve never read it. Have you? It’s supposed to be a great bedtime story about how a momma bear can’t get her baby to sleep and all the hoops she has to jump through to get the little guy snoozing. That’s me in a nutshell, so you’d think I’d be all over that book.

Honestly, I would if I had time, but I don’t, I’m too damn tired. So, on the advice of a friend of mine, I played this little ‘goodnight’ game with my girl. I tucked her in as usual and when I was walking out, I turned around and quietly whispered ‘goodnight baby bear’ to which she whispered back, ‘goodnight mama bear.’ We’d gone over the game, so she knew her cue. Yet, my girl being my girl, she quickly changed the rules so that I said ‘goodnight dancer’ and she said ‘goodnight queen.’ Whatever works, right?

So we said this as I walked out. Then I stayed right by the door and listened if she rustled and when she did, I stuck my head in and said it again. I think you’re really supposed to time it or something, but to be honest, once my girl gets herself all riled up she’s hard to calm back down, so I figured it’d be best if I caught her if I heard her even thinking about getting out of bed.

And I did.

This went on, the first night, for – no joke – 1 1/2 hours. It was exhausting! Also, soul destroying. I dreaded doing it again, but to be fair, she got to sleep about an hour before usual, which was good. And the results were definitely noticeable the next day. On this alone, I was inspired to continue.

Hell, if you have non-sleepers, you know of the dance between determination and defeat I speak of. Something happens to my soul when I feel myself forcing my baby to sleep, which of course you cannot do and I know this. But I need sleep, therefore my daughter needs sleep. And I become a mama I’m not proud of, a mama I don’t want to be, getting upset and trying in vain to keep my cool until I can’t keep it any more. That’s why the whole ‘baby bear/mama bear’ thing works for me.

The next night it was all, ‘ballerina’ this and ‘dancer’ that but still, sleep came within the hour, I think, so…progress?

Well, tonight it was make or break for me. Being utterly exhausted and non-too happy about the thought of an hour of monitoring her every movement, I tried something that my husband literally thought I was crazy for trying. In fact, right before bedtime he literally said to me maybe we should just shut her in her room with a few books and ignore her till she decides to fall asleep anyway. Couldn’t be any more exhausting.

Almost. Almost.

But I’m stubborn – about as stubborn as my daughter is. So I moved her bedtime UP by an hour. Yes. Earlier. Earlier? Earlier. Why? Because I heard some mumbo jumbo about glucose or some such and sleep patterns and associations blah blah blah. But, what stuck with me was the ‘second wind’ argument that even if your body is tired, if you miss your sleep window your body somehow finds/makes the energy to keep awake until another window opens. I know this to be true in my own self. Fact, pure and simple.

I figured, maybe I’m fighting a losing battle and NOT the losing battle that I thought I was. Maybe it’s just my girl’s window that I’m missing.

I started the whole bedtime routine at 5pm. Yes – 5pm. For a three and a half year old. Which means that I started watching the clock at, like, 4 so as to not miss the opening of the window. So, literally 2 hours before we usually start in earnest to get her down. Funny, too because I noticed while we were ending our play time that she started pretending to put herself to sleep along with the toys. Interesting, no?

Tonight, It WORKED! WOOOOOT! In bed, asleep by 7:30. A miracle. I tell you. A-SLEEP!

Still with the game – and a few threats to not let her sleep with her tutu nightgown on if she got out of bed – and SHE IS DOWN!

Score one for mama!

If you have a little one who refuses to sleep until double digits, seriously, try doing the whole bedtime ritual thing insanely early. And if you have any questions about it, speak up and I can give you a blow by blow.

photo credit: allspice1

Posted in: Parenting

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  • Ruby T.

    LOL that was a fun post! Yes we can commiserate, knowing the crazed feeling you get when that little girl just WON’T go to sleep. You want to cry.

    I try it sometimes but it doesn’t seem to improve my child’s ability or agreeablity (I just invented a new word) to go to bed and stay there, lying in the dark contentedly waiting for the sandman. The only thing that works is a very energetic day that tuckers her out in short order. The problem is that I’m usually even more tired and desperate to go to sleep.

  • Nick

    Your little girl is very lucky to have a loving mom that spends hours reading and watching over her. We remember when our kids were that age and the different nightly rituals we tried until we found something that worked. Each child is different! Unfortunatley not every child is looked after this closely. We were lucky to be able to save a child from drowning recently:

  • Pinchus Rose

    I was just going to say! It’s Impossible. thank you for saving my day. I’ll try anything. You know, when night falls, I kind of want my privacy from my kids. When that doesnt happen, I tend to tantrum.

  • dawn

    So it took 2.5 hours to put her to sleep when you started at 5? Did she wake up earlier the next day?

  • Kate

    @Dawn, no, that’s the amazing thing! She woke up at a little after 7am, like clock work. That’s almost 12 hours of sleep for that little body, 12 hours of glorious sleep. What I wouldn’t give for that myself, you know?!?

  • Carolina

    Wow!!! That sounds just like me except that my bb is 10 months old and I cannot get him to sleep for more then like 30 minutes during the day and at night time he goes to sleep at 9 pm then wakes up at 12:00 am then at 3:00 am again and so on, how can I get him to sleep through the whooooole night!??? It´s really great for you that your bb finally let you get some rest, congratulations!

  • Shradha

    Cheers to all the sleep-deprived mamas!
    A lot of the problem is that your darlings are overtired. Similar to ‘losing the window’, if you let a kid get over-tired, she gets over-hyper. We’ve all experienced it…staying up too late, feeling dead tired, but can’t fall asleep. Sound familiar? Yeah, kids experience that too. Sleep begets sleep, so the sooner you notice your kid’s tired cues, the better off you’ll all be.
    My daughter was a crazy bad sleeper and we eventually adopted a lifestyle of vigilantly respecting her need to sleep. It has been great and her mood (and ours) has greatly improved.

  • Ollie

    Time to face the music armed with this great informaoitn.

  • Kate

    @Ollie Go forth and conquer.

  • Kizzy

    My son is 27 months and either myself or my husband with lay with him in his bed until he falls asleep (and we usually fall asleep too). Then sometime during the middle of the night, our son gets out of his bed and climbs into ours…we are all still getting sleep, but these are not healthy sleep habits and I don’t know how to break them. We have tried crying it out on more than one occassion and honestly, it is more exhausting than not, so I give in.
    We need help. We want another baby, but can’t even think about it until we get our sleep little boy on a healthy pattern. HELP ME!!!

  • Sara

    Thanks! I’ll try it & post about it (& linkback, of course!). This has been a challenge for us since we moved our munchkin from the crib (where we let her cry herself to sleep, checking in her to let her know we were still there) to her toddler bed.

  • sam

    So this plan sounds good but i just have a couple of questions you say you start her bedime routine around 5 ( her tired period ) but what does your bedtime routine consist of. do you from 5 do the whole brushing teeth / bath p.j’s because even with all that it wouldnt take me 2 hours, so am just wondering what you do if you’ve finished the routine half hour later do you come 5.30 put her in bed and start the whole night dancer/bear from half 5 -6 then eventually she goes down some hour and a half later making it 7.7.30 as such. making the process of waiting outside the door the same length jst starting earlier? — And also how is she getting on now some months later — Thanks xxxx

  • Kate

    @sam I’m so glad you asked how things are getting on now a few months later. Still the early bedtime routine. I start at 5-ish. That’s when outside play winds down and we’re back inside. Then there’s the 5-10 minutes to get shoes off, negotiate the potty and getting ready for bath. Sometimes I let her read a book while the bath is filling up just to calm herself a bit, sometimes she wants to be in the bath. Where I used to monitor her bath time now I just let the time pass. Typically she’s in for 30-45 minutes. During this time I’m prepping dinner – taking things out of the fridge or just plain figuring out what we’ll have. Then, she can sit and quietly play while I cook. Dinner is on at 6-6:15 and again there is time to be relaxed. See before I’d get all anxious that she wasn’t bathing or eating fast enough and I’d rush her and we all know what happens when you rush a toddler! So now if we take a long time then that’s OK. If not there there is time at the end to have one more story. That said, the whole “goodnight baby bear/dancer” is totally gone. She knows that when I say goodnight it’s her job to go to sleep. I still sometimes day goodnight dancer just to make us both smile, but it’s only 1x and then sleep. But, to be realistic, we still have days where she fights sleep. She’ll push the boundaries because that’s her job so I have to push back. Mostly, though, it’s much easier and relaxed. AND, I just want to say, while it sounds ridiculous to have 2+hours of bedtime routine, it simply is breathing space built into bath, dinner, brushing, book and bed. Did I answer everything???

  • Mimisita

    Did your daughter take any daytime nap at that age?

  • Angelbeliever45

     My husband spoiled our son when he was born. I would lay him down for his nap and he would cry. My husband would want to go get him and I would tell him to let him be and just let him cry and in about 5 minutes he would go to sleep. He couldn’t take it and in less than two minutes would go get him. If it was at night he would put him in bed with us. NO! NO!  NO! I nursed so he couldn’t help that way didn’t like him being in bed with us for fear of him rolling over on him. So there I would lay, wide awake until they were both to sleep, get up and put him back in his crib. I would go back to bed and not long have to get up and nurse. I was exhausted. When he got to be two and we moved into our new house it was a nightmare getting him to bed. I’d have to go in, kneel on the floor by him with my arm around him and head on the pillow by him. When he would fall asleep I would try to creep out of his room but he would hear me. Back to square one. Then I advanced to standing on the floor and creeping out only to have to go back. Then to sitting on the floor and crawling out. This went on for a good couple of months till finally I could put him down and he would stay there. I am the type of mom/wife that did all this and let my husband go to bed as he worked full time and I didn’t work. It was so exhausting. I told my husband it was all his fault and that if he would have listened to me from day one this probably wouldn’t have happened. He said had he known this was all going to take place he never would have done it in the first place and should have listened to my.

  • Angelbeliever45

    Like your idea. Somewhat like I did but just as exhausting.  See my post to Kizzy. Now we have our 2 1/2 yr. old granddaughter living with us. Her mother would tell us she wouldn’t go to sleep anywhere from midnight to 3 a.m. It was very hard getting her into a routine. Now She eats supper, at 8 gets her bath, and then comes out and lays down on the couch with her blanket. Most times she is good and will go to sleep. Other times she won’t so I do the usual room darkening on the windows, lights off, t.v. off. She is asleep by 8:30 sometimes 9. Then I take her in to her bed. She has gone through a lot of tough times lately so for now I leave well enough alone. She will get to where she will go to bed earlier.

  • mommylamb

    I stumbled along this article as I was going through my normal nightly routine with my little night owl lol. Every night I fight with my 3 1/2 year old and end up finally getting her and me to sleep after midnight!!! I have to get up at 5am for work and 5 hours a night just doesn’t cut it. I’m going to start this tomorrow night and see how it works…..can’t be more exhausting than getting only 5 hours of sleep a night!!!

  • Alarrbur

    The secret of putting a baby or a child to bed is to make sure they are sleepy.I have 4 kids and now the Granddaughter that is following the same pattern that I did with them. She gets up at 10am..takes nap at 2pm(she will tell you shes ready for her nap)..up at 4pm and to bed at 10 or 11pm. She has a mobile on her ceiling that she plays with for 5 min and sleeps in dark room at all times with a small nightlight She’s 3 now and we have never had one problem putting her to bed.I really think the secret is not to let the child know you want her to go to bed and ..don’t put them to bed to early.

  • Not!

    Not fond of the headline….