Sleepless in Toddlerville


Exhibit A: Distraction

My wife and I live in an apartment. Not because we don’t have the resources or the desire to own a house, but because, like 70% or more of the population, we have not-so-good credit. We are working on this, but it is a process, a very long process. The reason I mention this is that my daughter is a very young toddler and as all parents know toddlers throw fits. My son threw very few fits, but he still threw a few. My daughter has very light red hair, just like my mother and sister, and has the temper that is generally associated with a redhead. Basically she throws a lot of temper tantrums and they are not limited to waking hours.

Several months ago she stopped sleeping. We tried letting her sleep in our bed to no avail as well as things like rubbing her back and night lights. After trying those things and a few more that are slipping my mind at the moment, I decided that it would be a good idea to rock while singing her to sleep. We don’t have a rocking chair and did not wish to purchase one as it was supposed to be a temporary patch so I held her in my arms and rocked on my feet until she fell asleep against my chest. At first it was wonderful. It was quality time with her that we both enjoyed and I was doing a service for myself, my daughter, and my wife. It has been more than six months and I am still rocking and singing to her.

When I started this method of putting her to sleep I would sing four or five songs and she would be out by the third one at the latest. I have made my way up to eight songs, half of them long and sung twice, and “The Ants Go Marching In” hummed very slowly. That worked for a month or two and now I have to sing and hum for more than a half hour straight. My back and my voice are suffering greatly from this. The bonus to all of it is that she was falling asleep and sleeping through the night – was.

The last three weeks my wonderful, beautiful, intelligent daughter has been falling asleep, after screaming in my ear for ten minutes, and then waking up between midnight and one in the morning and, most times, refuses to go back to sleep. Occasionally she will fall asleep in our bed, but that is rare. This leads to sleepless nights on my mine and my wife’s part. There is a big issue with that, aside from the sleeplessness. I can’t stay up all night. It is not that I don’t want to help my wife, if is that I can’t. I have a breakdown around five and it takes two days or so for me to regain any resemblance of mental stability. That leaves my wife who works nine to eleven hours a day, five to six days a week to take care of it.

We swore we were not going to be those parents who used television as a babysitter and for a year and ten months we were perfect in that aspect. She watched TV occasionally, but not for more than a half hour and only educational shows.  Now, so my wife can at least relax in the wee hours of the morning, my daughter is planted on the couch and watches the Mickey Mouse DVDs she got for her birthday on repeat. We both feel horrible about it, but we don’t know what else to do. We have tried many things that different resources have suggested to no avail.

First we started with a routine. we would get home from my wife’s mother’s house where her aunt would watch my daughter as she does every day my wife works and have dinner. Then we would read a book, color, watch an episode of whatever show my daughter wanted to watch as long as it was educational (she doesn’t watch TV with my wife’s aunt), eat a healthy snack, take a bath, put lotion on, brush our teeth, and then go to bed at 8. That changed nothing. We did it for a bit before we went on to something else. We liked the routine so we have been trying to stick with it as much as possible while trying other things. We added light to her room (other than the open door through which the hall light shines in), including two plug-in night lights and a frog that projects stars and the moon on the ceiling. We then turned on the white noise generator that came with the frog. I continued to sing, but I tried lying her in her bed and not rocking her. That was a horrible failure. I tried rubbing her back while singing to her and she would relax and not make a peep, but wouldn’t fall asleep no matter how long I rubbed. Someone told us that transition sometimes helps in our situation so we tried switching to a big girl bed but that was one of the worst things we tried. We removed the bed and have attempted to use it as a reward for sleeping through the night (we will work on falling asleep on her own later), but that is not working either.

We have never let her “cry it out”. There is more than a bit of controversy over that. My wife was always completely against it, but even if we agreed to it we have lived in apartments and we are not the type of people who would subject our neighbors to that. We feel bad enough that they are held captive to her her fits and late night/early morning wake up screams (It’s not night terrors, she does not scream the instant she wakes up).

We are at a loss. We need something to change for our benefit which would benefit her in the long run.

The other thing we tried was explaining the days to her (tomorrow, today, and yesterday). She understands them and did relatively easily. I tried explaining to her that “tomorrow”, when she woke up – after the sun came up, she would be able to do certain things that she enjoyed doing. Not bribing, just explaining the benefits of going to sleep and waking up the next day. That worked as well as flying without outside means.

She goes to the pediatrician next week and we are going to ask them if there is anything else they recommend. If they cannot help us I think I will just break down and cry in the office.


4 thoughts on “Sleepless in Toddlerville

  1. Wow this sounds really tough. Sleep training in an apartment is especially challenging given the concern about neighbors. I do think the issue is that she currently is unable to fall asleep on her own. This will be challenging to address without an extinction (“cry it out”) approach. I think that discussing this with your pediatrician is the correct next step. Best of luck.

    • Thanks for the input. We decided that we wanted to have tried everything, including ‘cry it out’, before we saw the doctor so he could tell us something other than to try that. That is all we have heard and up until now (we are desperate) we have been completely against it as we feel that it is a form of abandonment. I had a horrible childhood and I want my kids to have one that is nothing like mine, but I don’t want to shelter and smother them either.

      • It is a fine line, indeed. For what it is worth, there is little evidence that sleep training, including “cry it out” or extinction methods, result in any significant long term psychopathology. Of course, every parent needs to make there own informed decision. If/when you do decide to make some changes, I find that moving bedtime later temporarily is helpful, as the child has less energy to fight and complain. Best of luck.

  2. Pingback: The Day Of The Twenty-Four Month Doctor Appointment | Days of a Schizophrenic Father

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