getting toddler to sleepMy daughter left the womb sleep trained. She never pushed her limits. She dozed off whenever the need struck.  She napped twice a day and fell asleep at night with little soothing. Even while she was nursing and woke frequently during the night, she was up quickly, did her business, and was back in the crib asleep before my body had a chance to really wake up. Through 23 months of change, growth, and development I have rarely uttered a sleep-deprived word when it came to my daughter. Until now.

That sound sleeper has done a complete 180 degree about-face. When it’s time for her nap, she runs away from me like I’m threatening to make her eat brussel sprouts. When I put her in her crib she screams and cries like her arm is caught in the slats. For a girl who loves her sleep and never gave so much a whimper of protest, this is all so confusing for me.

Not that I am a stranger to terrible sleepers. I myself am no fan of rest and that started when I was a baby. Karma dictated that my son also share my struggles with insomnia. From infancy, he woke up just after  five a.m. every morning ready to start his day. And he never wanted that day to end. Getting him to nap was an art. Read a book, sing a song, bounce left and right, turn around three times and do a jig.  It was a daily struggle. For the first two years of his life I spent his nap time walking around the city, through the cold winds of winter and the humidity of summer. As long as I kept walking, he kept sleeping. He dropped his nap completely just after his baby sister came along, probably because I could no longer accommodate his extensive napping rituals.

My daughter isn’t wired that way. She’s far more reasonable — just like her father. She played at playtime, ate at mealtime, and rested at nap time  Every single day. Until one day she went in the other direction.

The first day she cried when I put her in the crib, I took her right out.  She must not need a nap today, I reasoned. History has shown me that following her body cues is always the right thing to do for her.  Since infancy she has been able to communicate when she is cranky, when something is wrong, or when something isn’t working. I quickly learned to adjust accordingly. There have been very few tears — hers or mine — shed in mothering my daughter.

The next time she protested her nap, I thought oh, I’ll let her cry it out a bit, she’s probably settle down in a minute. After five minutes of crying I took her out again. Just like the day before, she went about her day without issue and made up the missed sleep with an earlier bedtime. The third day she cried again. I thought, maybe I rushed in there too quickly. I’ll let her cry until she falls asleep.  She’s not the type to carry-on. Five minutes passed. Ten minutes passed. Fifteen minutes passed of crying and hiccuping and calling for mama. I couldn’t stand another second so I went and got her.

That night, she upped the ante by protesting bedtime too.  I couldn’t very well treat bedtime like it was optional so my nap time approach wasn’t going to work here.  I went in and told her it was time for bed.

“Milk?” she asked with her protruding bottom lip.

I went and fetched her some milk.  She took it and I never heard another peep.  She won that battle, but I was happy she was finally asleep.  After that victory, the no-naps continued and the demands at bedtime got worse.  After she finished her milk, she wanted water.  The next night she wanted Cheerios after the milk and the water.  I had to draw the line somewhere but I had no idea how.  Was I supposed to treat her like a 9-month-old who never learned how to self-soothe?

Hoping no one would submit me to STFU Parents, I begged for help on Facebook.  My friends had lots of great suggestions.  In fact, their advice reminded me that I knew exactly how to deal with a child who had trouble settling down.  After all, I had plenty of experience with my son.  But we weren’t talking about a child who couldn’t settle down.  We were talking about my angel, my two-hour-napper, 12-hours-uninterrupted-nighttime-sleep, daughter.

There must be something wrong, I convinced myself.  I asked Google what could be the matter with my nearly 2-year-old.  The internet informed me that 18-24 months was the height of separation anxiety. It further informed me that 2-year-olds have no comprehension of manipulation so I reasoned this must be a real issue.  If it’s not a real issue and she’s just toying with us, I can’t wait to have a discussion with her (in a few years) asking where she got her sick and miserable sense of humor.

As we wait for this phase to pass, things are getting uglier.  She’s waking up five a.m.  Since my kids share a room, this means my son is waking up at that time too.  No one is napping. Everyone is a mess.  My daughter proved she could make it worse by waking up every two hours like some kind of infant.  My son is so miserable he crawls into our bed every night around midnight just to get away from her screaming.  While he sleeps soundly, I enjoy scissor kicks to the throat and my husband is relegated to eight inches at the edge of the bed.  We all walk around like grunting zombies as if our family is starring in a new Stephanie Meyer trilogy.  This cannot pass fast enough for any of us.

You can reach this post’s author, Carinn Jade, on Twitter.

(photo: altafulla / Shutterstock)