Fighting for sleep


My daughter is 2 in October. I battle with getting her to sleep through, fall asleep and stay in her room. She wants to be with us or me to be with her in her bed. Sometimes when she doesn't listen I give her a smack and it seems to be helping her go to sleep quicker now but I feel this is not right. What do I do to help her to listen to me and not resort to smacking her. She fights me, pushes me away and sometimes even bites me when I try put her to sleep.


Our expert gives her advice:

Sleep is very important for parents and children, so this needs to be addressed. It sounds a bit like your daughter is the one in control, and she is asserting her will over you. Parents often "give in" when they are either too tired or stressed, but by giving in you reinforce to your child that by screaming, fighting, pushing and biting she will eventually get to sleep with you. It is very hard to break this cycle.

You need to start setting up a bedtime routine that is NON-NEGOTIABLE. If you have one, adapt it so that she knows these are the NEW RULES. Have some quiet time included, like reading a book to her. If she has something that southes her, let her have it (a blankie / snuggle toy). Give her plenty of warnings about the process and how it is going to happen. Let her know that she is sleeping in her own bed.

If she starts to fight and scream, get up and walk out. Firmly but calmly tell her she is not allowed to get out of her bed. Tell her you will come in when she is calm. Live to your word. Complete the routine, kiss her good night and leave. How you have to be strong and not give in. Experts say that if you give in on a behaviour just 1:4 times you reinforce it enough to keep the child trying that tactic. If she starts up, stand outside the door and tell her you will come in when she is quiet. It is important to keep your voice calm and in control. When she is quite, go in, kiss her goodnight and then go again. It may take quite a few nights to establish the full routine, but you have to be the strong one - in control!

The smack is seeming to work for 2 reasons, 1: She knows she has pushed you too far, and 2: the sharp sudden input breaks the high arousal hysterical fighting state that she is in. It makes her stop and take in her surroundings. It is important to try to not let her get into the hysterical fighting state to start with. Try to keep her calm.

Dr Paula Barnard-Ashton

What advice do you have for this mom or others like her?

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