3-Year-Old Won't Sleep by Herself
Q. "My 3-year-old daughter won't sleep in her room. She will fall asleep in the living room on the floor or couch but it takes her about three or four hours to do that. She will cry until she gets sick when I put her in her bed. When I leave her sleeping in the living room and go to my own bed, she ends up there with me at some point. I am a single mother and I don't know how to deal with this. What could be the reason she does this? And what should I do?"
A. Bedtime hassles serve neither child nor parent well. It's worth your time and in the best interest of your child to see that your daughter learns to fall asleep in her bed at a designated time each evening. It's going to take some work on your part to change her current falling-asleep pattern to a new one.
Start by establishing a designated time for bed and creating a positive bedtime routine.
For example, at 8:00, tell your daughter that in half an hour it will be time for bed. You might consider setting a timer. When the timer goes off, tell her in an upbeat tone, "It's time for bed."
Create your own bedtime routine for your daughter. First a bath, then put on her pajamas, and next offer a glass of warm milk. Then it's time for teeth brushing. Next find her favorite stuffed animal or doll. Engage her imagination by saying, "Where's Teddy? He's so tired, he's yawning and yawning. He can't fall asleep without you." Then, choose a story together and, with your daughter tucked in bed, read the story in a soothing bedtime voice.
Try not to allow any negative elements -- yelling, threatening, spanking -- into the bedtime routine.
For now you may have more success if you allow her to fall asleep in your bed. After the story, kiss and hug, lie down next to her until she falls asleep. You can read or do some paperwork. You can even listen to quiet music. It's best, however, if you don't watch TV.
It's important to ignore any antics such as crying, whining, or pleading to stay up later. You can rub her back while singing softly if doing so helps her fall asleep. It's important for you stay calm and keep the bedroom atmosphere sleepy and relaxed. You've got fatigue working on your side, and she'll eventually fall asleep.
By staying with her, you provide a calming presence, and in time she'll be falling asleep within 30 minutes. Be patient, though. It may take up to three weeks for her to settle in to the new routine.
Does she take a long nap during the day? If she does, the nap might keep her from falling asleep in a timely fashion at night. It's always a difficult period in a child's life when the length of the nap conflicts with falling asleep at night. If this is the case, a good solution is to shorten the nap and start the bedtime routine a little later, 8:30 instead of 8:00.
Once your daughter is falling asleep in your bed without any fuss, locate a small mattress or sleeping bag that she can sleep on in your bedroom on the floor. Eventually and gradually you'll move her to her own room. Your patience and skill at nurturing the love of sleep are key to the process.
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