Saturday 14 December 2019

Our toddler's sleeping patterns are a real nightmare

David Coleman

David Coleman

Question: We have a little boy who is just two years old. He has not yet slept for a full night. It used to take about an hour to settle him at night but we have overcome this.

We try to ensure he has a calm time before bedtime, as he is very busy and active during the day. He now settles down at 8pm in his own room and we can leave the room after reading a short story. He sleeps until midnight or thereabouts. Then he cries inconsolably until he is taken into our bed. He tosses and turns all night so that we get little sleep. We are quite exhausted. I do leave him for short periods when he cries at night and then try to settle him again. I am too tired to persevere but I also feel so guilty if he gets too upset. My husband also tries to settle him and has spent an hour with him in the middle of the night, but I suppose baby knows he will soon be rescued by me.

Is this sleeping pattern irreversible or can you suggest a way to change the pattern of behaviour at night?

Answer: NO, I Don't think this pattern of night-time behaviour is irreversible and yes I have a few ideas to suggest to you about changing his habits at night. Night-time parenting is hard though and requires extra energy reserves that we often don't feel like we have to give!

Central to changing his behaviour is for you and your husband to change yours. Think about the efforts you made to establish a good start to the night. From spending an hour with him, trying to settle him, you have managed to get him to the point of settling himself.

I can only imagine that this happened because you and your husband invested a significant amount of energy in your own responses to him when you brought him up to bed.

Key to that positive shift at bedtime, I'd guess, was taking a firm but, hopefully warm and understanding approach to his requests/demands that you stay with him while he fell asleep.

I'd suggest that you take a similar approach to how you respond to him in the middle of the night. In many ways, your husband seemed to have a good approach whenever your son woke up, spending a bit of time with him to try to help him settle.

It does seem like that may have been undermined when, out of exhaustion or distress at hearing your son cry, you came to "rescue" him, as you describe. The subconscious learning for your son was likely to be that if he cries long and hard enough he will eventually be brought into your bed.

Your target now is to teach him his place is his own bed.

I'm not suggesting that you leave him to cry it out in his own room, as I think that is a cruel way to deal with children. I think it is better that you or your husband go to him, in his room and try to soothe him.

A bit like in the past, it may take him that hour to settle back to sleep. But it is important that you can stick with him, even with the disruption to your own sleep. Keep a comfy chair in his room to make that settling period a bit more comfy.

When he realises that you are not bringing him to your room, and that he is expected to sleep in his own room, he will begin to accept your soothing and will start to fall asleep quicker and easier in his own room.

This will take time and a really consistent and determined effort from you and your husband.

In truth, your son is not inconsolable, as you both are able to console him. It just takes a longer time to console him in the middle of the night.

This is the time to draw on all of your reserves of patience and tolerance. He needs you to be able to be calm and warm despite your exhaustion and probable grumpiness. Be reassured, though, that you are just investing this heavily for a short period of time.

So, do persevere, even if it takes quite a while. It is important that he gets into a new habit of being in his own bed all night since you are clear that this will give everyone the best long-term chances of getting a good night's sleep.

I think you will find that once he stops expecting to be brought to your bed he will become more settled and more accepting of being in his bed. I'd expect, at that stage that he will wake less and for shorter periods, assuming he gets a warm and soothing response from either of you.


My five-year-old is refusing to take part in class activity

Question: I WAS shocked to hear that my fiveyear- old son doesn't participate in class at all. The teacher says that when they do rhymes etc. he doesn't join in and when they do drawings he won't join in either. I asked her did she think it was shyness but she said no. She said that when she sits down with him one-to-one he talks away no bother. I find that he can be quite shy with other kids (he is an only child) but I have not been unduly concerned about it until now.

I should mention also that a kid in the crèche who is now in the same school as him bullied him and in the first week he did, again, pick on my son. I believe that was sorted once I spoke to his mum. I do think, however, that the bullying has made him wary of other kids and this may be affecting his confidence. He is very intelligent (and the teacher acknowledges this) so it could also be boredom. He is in great form going to school and coming home so I was stunned to hear that he was having this problem. If you have any ideas what could be causing the problem and how I can help him I'd be grateful.

Answer: THE good news is that shyness in class is not necessarily a sign of any problem per se. There are lots of children who are a bit more reticent or reserved in school than they are in any other setting.

Sometimes that is to do with the larger social setting amongst their peers. Sometimes they are a little overawed by their teacher, or overwhelmed by the work they are expected to do.

Sometimes they are a bit under-stimulated by the work and so withdraw or disengage. Your son, like many only children, is probably used to a lot of adult interaction.

So it is no wonder that he engages well with his teacher on a one-to-one basis. He may even prefer to talk to adults than to hang out with his peers.

Mind you, I think the issue he has in school is less to do with shyness, or some aspect of his sociability, and perhaps more to do with how challenged, or not, he may be by the Junior Infant curriculum.

If you think about all of the information that you have supplied to me, it does seem like your son is actually doing fine in class, albeit not taking part in all the activities. I wonder does he get stuck into any other aspects of his schoolwork? For example, when he is expected to work independently with letters, numbers and so on, is he willing to engage then?

It seems strange that his teacher has left it until now to alert you, if indeed he is doing no work at all in school. You seem clear that, academically, he doesn’t seem to have an issue. Indeed, it may even be worthwhile exploring if he is especially intelligent; as it may be, like you already wonder, that he is bored with or uninterested in certain tasks or activities.

This would certainly explain why he does do some of his work but not other aspects of his work. He may consider rhymes and drawing, for example to be a bit passé, or beneath him. It would be worth finding out how is doing, socially, during break times and other times when the formal structure of the class is lessened.

Not necessarily because it is a problem but just because it is useful to know that his school experience is balanced and positive. Mind you, from what you describe, it seems that overall his school experience must be positive since he is in good form going to class every day, he seems to have a great day in school and comes home in great form, too.

Overall, then, I don’t think you and your son really have a problem. What will continue to be useful, however, is to stay in touch with his teacher regularly so that you don’t get surprised again by some new development in the future.

By having a couple of meetings a term you will be able to stay on top of any difficulties his nonparticipation may be causing and you will also be able to encourage him to get involved in all aspects of his schoolwork, even the bits he may may be bored by or not enjoy.

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