I had another nightmare.
He’s been sleeping well for months, which means you’ve been sleeping well for months. But all of a sudden he’s waking up crying most nights, or creeping into your room to climb into your bed. You thought you’d said farewell to sleepless nights many, many moons ago, but now BAM… right back into sleep dep. It ain’t pretty.
Call his bluff.
If your munchkin is wailing/weeping/wide awake when he should be in la-la land, it might be a nightmare. But if it’s happening night after night and your gut’s telling you it’s not really a monster, listen up. Setting an example and playing nice works best when teaching habits, manners, and bicycles, but when it comes to sleep, it’s okay to put your foot down.
First of all, make sure he’s not spending too much time sleeping in the day. If he’s wired at bedtime, in the middle of the night, or far, far too early in the morning, chances are he’s getting too much daytime sleep. Setting an age-appropriate bedtime and shortening naps (or getting rid of them altogether if he’s old enough) will help. We know… naptime is SACRED, but adapting is essential if you want him to close his eyes after your good night kiss. Regulating his sleep rhythms will also help him stay in bed through the night until a decent hour.
Once you’ve finessed his sleep schedule, or if you’re already pretty on target and don’t think that’s the issue, take a look at how you respond when he begs you for one last sip of water/pee break/cuddle. If you’re permissive, he’ll keep asking for more, more, more, until you’re not. Your smart cookie has quickly figured out that keeping his bright eyes open gets your attention ASAP, especially if you’re trying to keep him from waking his baby sister. It’s not that you’re not giving him enough attention in the day, it’s that kids want ALL of your attention ALL of the time. He probably did have a nightmare (or was really thirsty) that first time, and maybe even the second time, but by the third time… maybe not. He’s gotten used to a little one-on-one with you and doesn’t want to give it up. Can’t really blame him.
But you can talk it out and lay some groundrules about what’s okay and what’s definitely not. Explain the plan before you execute so he’s not totally blindsided. Then, when he inevitably gets out of bed, take a moment to check him out before you respond. Is he crying/sweating/shaking or does he seem calm/content/completely unafraid? Yup, you know when he’s faking. He gets one free pass, where you smile, walk him back to bed, tuck him in and calmly say something both reassuring and dismissive. As in, “There’s no such thing as monsters. It’s time to sleep now. Good night,” or “It’s not time for water now sweetie-pie, it’s time for sleep.” A quick kiss, no further conversation, and walk away. If he gets out of bed again, walk/carry him back without being quite as kind, tuck him in, and hightail it without a word. And again, and again, and again. As many times as it takes on that first night. Don’t worry – it’ll get easier if you keep communicating (in the day) and stick to the plan.
As you guys know, we also like to give our kids a whole lotta choices. So when it’s bedtime, we let them pick a stuffed sleeping buddy and decide if they want the door open or closed. Aside from giving them a decision-making confidence boost, this gives us some leverage. When either one of our boys is doing his best to wake the entire house, we calmly, quietly say something along the lines of “Can you lie in your bed quietly or do I need to take Keswick away?” The handful of times we’ve had to follow through resulted in a few more meltdown minutes, maybe another escape attempt, and return-to-bed repetition. A whispered “I’ll be happy to bring Keswick back when you’ve calmed down and stay in your bed,” settles him down after a minute or three. Having that one extra bargaining chip makes it a lot easier to… bargain.
Too much daytime sleep results in munchkins staying awake later than you, bothering you in the middle-of-the-night, getting out of bed before the alarm clock rings, or any wonderful combination. If you think he might be scared (and definitely if he’s sick), it’s okay to comfort him. Just keep Plan B in your back pocket in case you start having a nightly nocturnal visitor.
Like us on Facebook or follow us on Twitter if this helped you. Email us if your kid has a legitimate fear or you’re unsure how much sleep he needs. It’s definitely not a good idea to cut out your baby’s naps to get him to sleep through the night… he won’t!