Sunday, November 21, 2010

My 2 year old screams himself to sleep at night!


Questioner: Tracey

Subject: re: Toddler sleep problems

Question: I have a 2 year old , every night he screams himself to sleep. We do not go in and get him out but still continues to do this every night. He gets up in the middle of the night at times also, we do not get up, just go in and tell him it is still bedtime but he will scream for sometime. He has screamed so much his voice is always hoarse. Any suggestions?


Answer: Dear Tracey:
I know how hard it is for parents when their child is going to bed and screaming. It makes you feel just terrible for your child.

I am not an advocate of putting children to bed and leaving them there regardless of the Nanny advice on television I do not advocate this type of a response at all.

What I do suggest (you can read some of my prior responses to parents about bedtime routines under the "view all answers" link on my site) is to begin with bedtime routines.

Routines are very important to children and are distinctly different than a schedule. Schedules are about time and routines are all about processes. Children take their cues from routines, not schedules. It is okay to have a schedule however the emphasis needs to be on the routine which means the schedule needs to be flexible if necessary.

Bedtime routines for getting children to bed. Start about an hour or 45 minutes before you want him to go to bed by turning down the lights (soften the lighting), turn down the noise in the house (put some soothing music on) then decide how your routine will go. For older children I advise an announcement. (Johnny, it is bedtime...you will be going to bed in about a half an hour.)

Then spend sometime with him in some easy play, read a book, play a soothing game, etc.....

Next, bath time.....again an opportunity to spend some relaxing quality time with him....
and then the ultimate in sleepers! Give him a massage. Incorporate massage into a nightly routine and what child wouldn't want to go to to bed. (Don't you love massages?).

I don't have a problem with children snuggling for a few minutes after a massage. Who doesn't like to snuggle up next to someone before going to sleep.

I have a real issue with the "experts" who advise that children this age need to self soothe. If they were meant to self soothe why would they have parents???? or be little???? The point of parenting is to do what they cannot do for themselves. When they are school age they will go to sleep on their own most of the time. Who doesn't occasional need some emotional reassurance from time to time that night time is not scary? I know adults who sometimes get spooked at night and have to talk themselves down to a calmer state.

Now last but not least. TRUST your natural instincts. Don't listen to what these specialist are telling you. When it feels bad to let your child cry themselves to sleep there is a reason it feels bad.

As a society we (generalization, not you) do not want to support children emotionally and then cannot figure out why when they are teens or adults they do the things they do and are so insensitive. There is an appropriate time to draw back emotionally and it will be when they push you back. (Funny I get this from parents of teens and trust me they don't like being pushed back at that point.)

Your child is crying because he wants reassurance and he wants a little more of you. Besides night time is a de-stress time. When children play hard all day their muscles start to relax at night and this can be when they discover how their muscles are tired. Really incorporate the child massage and you will both be better off!

Call me if you would like to discuss this further.

Best Wishes!
Dr. Mary Kay Keller
Hassle Free Bedtime? Click here!