Getting our 3-Year-Old Back to Good Sleep… In 9 (Not Easy) Steps

Yesterday, I wrote about how we found ourselves struggling with sleep with Cee. We knew it was time to make a change, and we knew this meant asking Cee to fall asleep on her own at night, without one of us sitting in her room with her. This was not exactly a new thing for her; until the last 6 months, she’d been falling asleep on her own since she was a baby. Still, given how things had gone lately, this was a big change for all of us.

I want to share how we approached this transition, but I don’t believe this is a magic formula by any means. I don’t think there are easy answers to parenting challenges like these, and what works well in one family might be a flop in another. I am proud of how we thought this through and put a plan into action, and it has seriously given our entire family (Cee included) more happiness around bedtime. Here’s what we did.

1. Husband and I did this together. All of this would have been much harder without his help. He is great at staying calm in stressful situations, which has a calming effect on Cee, and he is thoughtful and empathetic. We also recognize that our relationships with Cee are different. He’s the more fun parent; he’s more lenient with Cee in many ways but is also very good at setting rock solid boundaries when it is important. I’m still the parent that she turns to when she needs comfort. This often means a sweet hug or snuggle session, but it can also mean being on the receiving end of a bunch of messy emotions. Cee and I also tend to end up in power struggles more often, something I’m working on. Because of these differences, Husband was the parent who initially sat down to talk with Cee about bedtime changes. We also made sure he’d be around at bedtime for the first few days (he often works evenings and nights, so this isn’t always the case), so that we could take turns and he could take over if needed.

The importance of a strong parenting partnership has been shown in the research. A recent study from Doug Teti’s Penn State lab found that one of the greatest predictors of high maternal emotional availability at bedtime (discussed in my last post) was the quality of coparenting, even when dads weren’t directly involved with bedtime.

2. We told Cee about the change. We told Cee that it was time for her to start falling asleep on her own again and that we wouldn’t be sitting in her chair anymore. We didn’t dwell on trying to explain why, because we didn’t want her to feel like this change was a punishment for previous bedtime behavior. We didn’t emphasize that big girls go to sleep on their own, because that might have made her wonder if being a big girl was really such a great thing. We simply told her that she used to fall asleep on her own, and we were going to help her do that again.

3. We asked Cee to help us make a new plan for bedtime. “How do you think we can help you with bedtime now that we won’t be sitting in your chair?” Husband asked. Continue reading

How My 3-Year-Old’s Sleep Fell Apart

A couple of weeks ago, I wrote that after I finished my book, I needed a sort of parenting reset with Cee. One of the big areas that we needed to work on was sleep. Bedtime had become a battle, and it was taking Cee a long time to fall asleep. This was leaving us all frustrated at the end of the day, and Cee was waking up grumpy in the mornings. I didn’t have the energy and attention to work on it while I was trying to finish my book, although in hindsight I’m not sure why we waited this long. Over the last couple of weeks, we’ve made some big changes to get us back to happy bedtimes.

Let me back up and tell you how we got into trouble with sleep in the first place. Last August, we moved to a new house. By this time, Cee had been in a toddler bed for almost a year, but she had no problem staying in it at bedtime or through the night. We had a sweet bedtime routine that ended with kisses goodnight, turning off the light, and then good sleep for Cee. After we moved, Cee started talking about being afraid of things like the deer and turkeys that wandered through the yard of our new house. We talked about these fears, got her a night light, and spent a little more time with her before saying goodnight, singing a couple of rounds of Twinkle, Twinkle and rubbing her back for a few minutes. All of that was fine.

Then Cee started getting out of her bed after we left her room for the night. She’d pad into the living room or my office to find me. I’d walk her back to bed and tuck her in again, but some nights this happened over and over. I would be shocked to see her in my office door at 9:00 or 9:30 PM, long after her 8:00 bedtime. She was also waking up during the night, coming into our room, and patting my shoulder until I woke up. I would walk her back to her room, often lying down next to her until she went back to sleep. Alternatively, I’d pull her into bed with me, but neither of us slept very well this way. All of this was adding up to fewer hours and less restful sleep for both of us.

When did the sweetness of a good nap become something to resist?

When did the sweetness of a good nap become something to resist?

Things seemed to get worse around the holidays. Cee was getting out of bed more and more after bedtime, and she was having a hard time separating when we tucked her back in. She started asking us to sit with her while she fell asleep, and this actually seemed like a reasonable solution. At least if we sat in her room we could make sure that she stayed in her bed, and maybe she would fall asleep easier and get more rest this way. I reminded myself that she was just 3, and if she was asking for more support in her transition to sleep, why shouldn’t we give that to her? (Never mind that she had been falling asleep on her own since she was a baby.)

There was something else going on at this time, too. I thought that maybe Cee’s struggles with sleep were because I wasn’t there enough for her in the day. I was going through a really tough period, approaching the 1-year anniversary of our first miscarriage and beginning some fertility testing. Continue reading

My Baby Has Baggage

My baby has baggage, and I’m trying to understand it. BabyC carries around a little mesh drawstring bag for most of the day. The bag initially held a little set of finger puppets. A few of these remain, but BabyC has also added a variety of other small objects. Some have been there for months, while other rotate out on a daily basis. Regardless, they must have some meaning to her, because she has a hard time parting with her bag. When we leave the house or she gets ready for bed, we often have to take the time to find a safe place for it, where she knows she can find it when she returns.

Sometimes, BabyC insists on bringing the bag on our walks. I think she likes having a place to stow her little treasures.

Continue reading

Toddlers and the Power of Choice

BabyC and I have been struggling with diaper changes recently. When BabyC was a younger infant, diaper changes were good times – a chance to check in together, have a little conversation, and give her 100% of my attention. These last few months, BabyC has really resisted diaper changes. At 14 months, she is now quite mobile and strong, and diaper changes have turned into a three-ring circus, with her rolling over and popping up to stand at each step. If I try to do part of the diaper change while she is standing, she sits down. She seems to resist every step, kicking and crying. I try my best to be patient, keep moving slowly and respectfully, and talk her through each step (see Janet Lansbury’s brilliant post on this), but I haven’t seen much reward for these efforts, until recently.

A few days ago, I accidentally happened upon one solution to the diaper change debacle. BabyC and I were in the kitchen. She was playing with some toys while I fixed dinner. I noticed that she paused what she was doing, and an intense look of concentration came over her face. Poop time. I made a mental note but wanted to finish what I was doing before taking a break for the dreaded diaper change.

But BabyC came over to me and started to tug on my jeans, trying to get my attention. “BabyC, do you need to have your diaper changed?” I asked. She nodded a very confident “Yes!” I was taken aback. I realized that when I had asked the question, I had assumed that she either wouldn’t understand it or would shake her head “no,” since she usually protests diaper changes so much. Wow, mental note to never underestimate a toddler! Continue reading

Some Random Thoughts on Feeding a 13-month-old

Last week, I wrote about how to encourage a toddler to eat more vegetables. That article got some really wonderful comments from experienced parents and from professionals in the field of nutrition. If you haven’t read the comments on that article, I encourage you to go check them out. The comments are at least as interesting and informative as the article itself. I am really grateful for these comments. I love writing for such a smart and thoughtful audience, and I love when a post can start a good discussion.

I’ve been working on a post to compare the nutrient composition of common fruits vs. vegetables in response to one of those comments, but let’s face it – things get hectic this time of year. That post will be finished in the next couple of days – sometime after I’ve gotten the rest of my gifts mailed off and planned our meals for the next week. In the meantime, I’ve been thinking about food a lot and thought I’d take a few minutes to jot down some of my random thoughts on the current mealtime state-of-affairs with my 13-month-old BabyC: Continue reading

How Can I Encourage My Baby or Toddler to Eat More Vegetables?

This post is my answer to a friend’s concern about her 11-month-old, who refuses to eat most vegetables. It is such a universal concern that, with her permission, I turned it into a blog post. She writes:

“My 11-month-old is a pretty good eater when it comes to everything but veggies. He can sift through a bite in his mouth and spit out only the vegetables. I am trying not to add salt or oil or cheese to the vegetables, but he hates them! (Sweet potatoes/yams are okay, and once in a while peas, too.) Any suggestions on how to incorporate vegetables into his diet?”

I think just about every parent wishes her child would eat more vegetables. We found that BabyC became much more selective about what she ate right around 11 months, and there was a noticeable drop in her vegetable intake at that time.

When all else fails, put veggies on the floor. BabyC finds food on the floor more trust-worthy and interesting than food on her high chair tray.

We all want our kids to eat well today (or at least on average over the week), but we also want them to form healthy eating habits that will last a lifetime. Are there any strategies we can use to get our babies and toddlers to eat more vegetables? Luckily, there is a ton of interesting research on this topic. Continue reading

My Child, a Picky Eater? No!

It was bound to happen.  I was just starting to feel smug about having a baby who would eat anything. I was casually feeding her everything off of my plate, introducing her to new flavors every day, and watching with pride as she tossed everything in her mouth without a second thought. Curry? No problem. Cauliflower? Love it!

OK, not the most exciting foods on her plate here - you'll just have to believe me on the curry and cauliflower.

But you know what happens to people who feel smug about their parenting. Continue reading

Breastfeeding Beyond a Year: Why Stop Now?

BabyC is fast approaching her first birthday, and I’ve been asked more than a few times, “How long do you plan to keep breastfeeding?”

When I first started thinking about this question, the scientist in me wondered about the health benefits of “extended” breastfeeding.  I wrote about some of my research on the (purported) health benefits of nursing beyond a year last week.  I plowed through hundreds of breastfeeding studies looking for some data on extended breastfeeding, but the truth is that very little research on this topic has been published, and almost nothing has been published on extended breastfeeding in the developed world.  Please let me know if I missed something – just don’t send me links to La Leche League and KellyMom.  I’ve seen their pages and tracked down all those citations, and I couldn’t find any convincing evidence that my child will be any less healthy or nourished or smart if I wean at a year.  There could very well be health benefits to extended nursing, but as far as I can tell, they haven’t been described in the scientific literature.  I doubt if that will change in the near future, since extended breastfeeding is probably not much of a research priority.

However, as I started delving into the research on this topic, I realized that the mother in me didn’t really care what the data saidContinue reading

TV, Tots, and Tired Parents: The Backlash to the AAP’s TV Policy

Earlier this week, I wrote a blog post about the American Academy of Pediatrics’ new guidelines for TV use in kids under 2 years old.  I intended that piece to be a brief summary of the new guidelines and the research that the AAP used to support them.  I didn’t think about these guidelines as being controversial.

However, as the media and the blogosphere got wind of the new guidelines, I found article after article questioning them – calling the AAP out on making a recommendation without solid science and blaming them for creating the next round of unwelcome parenting guilt. Continue reading