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It’s no secret that many families struggle with toddlers sleeping. I know this because I’ve searched the internet high and low looking for solutions to our nightly sleep drama. Whether it’s napping during the day or going to bed at night. Monkey Boy has proven to be no different in the sleep department.
In fact, I’ve struggled with him more times than I can remember. Monkey Boy’s nightly drama when it comes to sleep, goes all the way back to infancy. First, I figured it was just an infant thing. Later, as he became a toddler, I realized that I lacked a good solid and consistent routine for him.
I know back then, I definitely had issues with routine. I tried many different things, listening to others, reading articles, but mostly just guessing. One thing I didn’t do, is listen to my own life, rhythms, or our family’s life stage before trying anything. Lessons were definitely learned. Then, there were so many disruptions and changes, plus some other struggles, that it’s no wonder routines were difficult. Not to mention I often balk at an idea that seems too simple to work, because I happen to be one of those people who sometimes makes things entirely more complicated than necessary.
Now, these posts may not be gushing, but they also don’t outline the really rough times. I know you’ll cringe when I tell you about the rough times. I could keep this description out, but the understanding of the sheer difficulty and the transformation would be lost on you. Also, I think it’s important to note this went on for at least 6 months, possibly longer, before I got it together.
Eventually, I let go of the idea that Monkey Boy would have an afternoon nap. Before that though, there was quite a bit of yelling (him and me), crying (him and me again), some kicking and scratching (just him), and even some tight holding to keep the kicking and scratching to a minimum. I never like the tight holding bit, but I also wasn’t sure what to do and no one has ever explained these things to me. Nonetheless, that’s what we’d do.
Typically this went on for anywhere from 15 minutes to an hour. Quite a bit of negotiation happened, too. Because I didn’t really like the confining idea of a tight hold, we’d negotiate that there’d be no more kicking and hitting and I’d let go. We’d also negotiate the ‘last time’ for a drink of water, giving out hugs and kisses, going to the bathroom, and more.
Then, we’d have a few moments of just lying together nicely. I would give kisses and we’d be gentle to one another. Inevitably though, he’d start to notice his tiredness and the fighting would start up again. Sometimes, I’d try to walk away or sit (instead of lie) beside him. This always resulted in his screaming even more for me Not to leave or to lay with him.
Through all this, sometimes a nap happened, other times it didn’t. Admittedly, I know that probably more often than not the nap happened more from the energy expelled when fighting than not. Still, I was thankful that it happened.
Later though, we essentially had a repeat of the afternoon at night. Thus, nightly drama. Things did start to get increasingly more dramatic, loud, and frustrating for all of us as time went on. Here are a few things Monkey Boy would say or do at night. Often until the wee hours, we’re talking 1 or 2 AM people!
“She keeps going.” (when I’d walk away)
“I’m not going in bed.”
“No, I will not go to sleep.”
“Can you hold me?”
“I want the lights on.”
“Can I have a little bit of water please?”
“What are you doing?”
“I’m not going to bed, I’m staying out here with you.”
“No, I will not close my eyes.”
“I’m going in my room.” (not where we sleep just yet)
“Why do I have to go to bed?”
“I don’t want to sleep, I want to stay up and do stuff.”
“Can we go outside? No, right now?!”
As I said, this would go on for hours and hours. There would be crying and yelling. Sometimes he’d intentionally throw himself on the floor. I inevitably would become more and more frustrated and start yelling like a madwoman. Now, we’re both yelling at each other. Then the door slamming would start.
It was awful, like a competition. Or a boxing match. Except there was no medal at the end of it. There were no gloves and the referee (Hun) would be just as frustrated and forceful as both Monkey Boy and I. All we had was a bunch of drama.
I thought I tried everything. In all actuality, I tried many things, but inconsistently or I’d switch it up too often so I never knew what really worked for him, or me.
And then, I threw in the proverbial towel. But before I made a real change and established a (mostly) consistent and calm, loving routine, I just succumbed. For the record, this didn’t work very well either. And, to be clear, that meant I looked at going to bed about 8:30 or 9pm. This was also a bit of a recipe for trouble, but I’ll get into that another time.
By now, I’m sure your anxiety is high (or you’re sitting there in judgement). I know my anxiety is high just mentally reliving and writing all that down. And, trust me, if I came across this post myself, I’d have some judgemental thoughts, too. But, bear with me, because it gets much better.
Let’s all get our heart rate back down and take off our judgement hats as I describe what I’ve found that works, quite well in fact.
How I Solved Our Nightly Drama
Remember, I mentioned I succumbed under the guise of throwing in the towel? Once, I decided to be an adult about this whole sleep thing, I stopped succumbing as a victim and began to take charge. But, I also dropped (most) of the control over the matter of sleeping. You see, Monkey Boy can be about as bullheaded as Hun and I combined. (It is true your children have you and your partner’s qualities, amplified, by the way.) And, yes, it’s true he’s still young and need to be learn things (including following directions), but he’s also needs guidance more than force. I also let go of afternoon naps entirely!
Like I said, I decided I would be an adult about the matter of sleep by taking charge. This is an entirely different thing than controlling, which is what I tried to do before. Now, I lead. I guide Monkey Boy into a space of calm, rest, and sleep. I do this in a few different ways.
First, there is a bed time alarm that goes off precisely at 8:30pm. And, 15 minutes before that is a reminder that it’s wind down time. Sometimes wind down time means we’re picking up toys strewn about the house. Sometimes, it means to get undressed, brush teeth, have a snack and vitamin, and get in bed. Other times, we do forego the alarms and have an extended wind down time. And still other times, we’re actually out running errands so bedtime just happens when we get home.
There are days, despite knowing that Monkey Boy will be up again, I let him take a nap after dinner for an hour or so. When he does have an evening nap, it’s simple. He’s usually so tired he lays down for sleep by himself. Still though, those nights are relatively calm most of the time.
Once the snack has been eaten, the vitamin taken, teeth are brushed, night diaper is on, and his choice of pajamas are on, we lay down and read books. I leave the hall light on for reading, but turn it off as soon as reading is over. Sometimes, if I can tell he’s too tired for us to read, I forego the books. One of my favorite books to read to the boys! (affiliate link)
Once the lights are off, I lay beside him in bed and we speak softly to one another. We usually say our “I love yous”, I tell him at least one or two things we did that day I enjoyed, he asks if “we’re having good days” and I tell him yes (because most of the time this is true, even if there are issues in the day, the overall day has been good), and he usually asks or mentions something he wants to do the next day. Sometimes he tells me about something that happened at some point in life (could be that day, many days ago, or 5 minutes ago) and I listen. Then, I whisper “shhh”, “time to close your eyes, be still, rest, and let the sleep come”.
This is when I start to breathe more deeply, still holding him gently, and give more kisses. And that’s how he now goes to sleep.
Thus, I’ve found the (current) routine that solves our nightly drama!
Now, I won’t pretend that every night is this easy. After all, he is 3 and I do want to do something else (like watch a movie with Hun, be creative, or get some work done) or just simply have a few moments without being needed. But, truthfully, most nights it is pretty simple. I’m calm, he’s calm, and the stress (for both of us) is gone.
Typically, Monkey Boy will wake at some point within an hour or so of going to bed, but he just wants some water, reassurance, and comfort and he’s back to sleep in minutes. And, he still sleeps until about 10 or 10:30 in the morning.
Have you experienced sleep issues in your home? Do you have a child who resists sleep? Have you established a sleep routine that works for your family? I’m curious to know about your methods, so please share in the comments below.