08 September 2007

How to get your toddler to sleep through the night (or lying to your child 101)

I have documented some of the trouble we have been having for the past couple months with our toddler, the bear, now 3 1/2 years of age, at bedtime and in the middle of the night. She has been having night terrors, nightmares, separation anxiety, occasional bed wetting, & other issues with the overnight sleep process (naps are 99% perfect). She has always been a pretty good sleeper, so this is very frustrating for all of us. We've been trying different approaches at bedtime, to name a few:
  • For consistency, only one parent would handle the bedtime routine
    • or Mom will read the books, snuggle, etc and I will come in like a closer in the 9th inning to seal the deal, give the final nighttime kiss and such.
  • No food or drinks 1 hour before bed (except when between sobs, she says "but Daddy my tummy is sooooo firsty!")
  • No sugary snacks in the evening (we do any special desserts after lunch instead)
  • Set time limits: 8pm we begin getting ready, 8:30 kiss goodnight & leave the room (even if it doesn't work, it certainly helps teach the concept of time)
  • Stay consistent - read books & general cuddling in the same place each night.
  • Use the "Good Dreams" Spray. This is the big lie. A spray bottle of water that sits on her night stand. She gets to spray it around the room before bed to bring good dreams her way while sleeping. Santa, the Easter Bunny and good dreams spray!
The Night Terror thing is the scariest and most troubling piece of the puzzle. We are helpless when it is occurring and confused when they are not - trying to figure out why they happen at all. I found a great site, NightTerrors.org which named the problem, the symptoms and provides a fellow parent's tips for preventing these nighttime terrors free from medication.

After reading the article, I have taken to giving my girl a relaxing candlelight bath every night before bed. The idea is to calm her down, sooth her and bring some peacefulness to the end of the day. I position three votive candles around the base of the bathtub, run warm water and pour in some bubble bath and slowly wash the bear's legs, back, arms and the rest of her little parts. At the very least, I am raising the bar for future boyfriends to win her affection!
We talk softly and move at a pace that is a fraction of speed of everyday life. It, along with a nature sounds CD and some cooler weather, has been working pretty darn well. The bear has had no night terrors in over a week - since our one night in upstate NY (the worst night of her life) which prompted the need for action, the web research and all that has happened since.

The Catskill Terror, as I am calling it, took place just shy of midnight and lasted only 20 minutes or so - despite feeling like 3 hours. I had my face in my hands imagining my little girl being taken from me in a straight jacket, it was that scary and my wife and I felt utterly helpless. During these terrors, the bear is not awake, not fully anyway, and it basically acting out a nightmarish scene that exists only in her sleepy mind. She is hysterical, inconsolable and frightening.

I wouldn't wish a Night Terror on anyone. If an evening bath is needed for the rest of her childhood, then so be it. I will buy candles wholesale and by the case and use the tub time as a special bonding experience between dad and daughter. Maybe that is the silver lining here, that we have something unique that exists between her and I every night.

3 comments:

Jill said...

I'm so sorry you all are dealing with that. Our older child had night terrors starting around age 3 until she was almost 6, sometimes occurring more frequently and sometimes rarely.

It was horrific. The worst night for us was when she was 4, and screaming hysterically for Mommy to help her because someone was hurting her (in her dream). I was right there with her, of course, but she couldn't see me. I've never felt so helpless in my entire life.

I hope your efforts continue to help your child sleep peacefully, and I'll keep them in mind should our younger child experience the same issue.

Zak Champagne & Richard Dudley said...

Sending lots of good thoughts and energy your way. Wishing you (and especially the bear) the best.

Zak

landismom said...

Wow, that sounds really hard to deal with. I hope that the candles continue to work their magic.