Does Crying It Out Work for a 3yo?

Do you have a sleepless, anxious toddler?  Here one parent asks about what to do to beat sleepless nights with her constantly crying tot. Park Slope Parents unite with some collective encouragement on how to get your little one to bed.

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"I need some collective wisdom... my almost 3 year old has been crying, screaming, asking for "mommy, daddy", making excuses such like "I have a wet diaper and need to change it", "open the door please mommy", etc-- everything you can think of to not go to sleep after we put her down in her crib. 

She still sleeps in a crib with a crib tent (that we monitor closely for safety).  This has been going on for several weeks.  Before this, she's always been a pretty good napper and night sleeper.  Now she cries at nap and bed-time because and refuses to go into the crib.  Once I talk, sing, etc to her and force her in-- she stays up crying and asking for us.  We take turns going in and calming her down, she then may sleep for a bit and then the cycle starts again.  I'm exhausted as i'm also nearing the end of my pregnancy.

Wanted to know if anyone has had any luck with letting a toddler cry it out?  if so, for how long did you do it?  any other helpful info would greatly be appreciated."




Get rid of the Crib:


"Have you considered abandoning the crib? Now that she is close to 3 she may have come round to finding the confinement distressing instead of reassuring. I think that's how our son (3 yrs + 1 month) would interpret it (he hasn't been in a crib for a long time). Of course each kid is different, so this is nothing more than a guess, but, as you're asking for any suggestions..."

"I second this.  All my kids were out by 2 yrs old.  Your pregnancy may be triggering something as well. Children are intuitive.  Letting her cry it out might exacerbate."


Understand the development, anxieties & behavior of your 3 yo:


"I think the suggestion about moving your daughter out of the crib is a good one. I also agree with [the above poster] that the impending birth could play a big role in this. While my expertise in this stuff is limited to my own experience, I've had a lot of that--we've had many sleep issues over the years! For what it's worth, here's my take:

At almost three years old, you're dealing with something very different from an infant or toddler developing healthy sleep habits and learning to self-soothe (it sounds like your daughter took care of this years ago). It seems to me more likely to be a real anxiety--not just having a hard time getting to sleep, but being consciously upset. CIO is hardly going to reassure the kid, and being left to fall asleep through sheer exhaustion night after night is more likely to worsen the anxiety than to solve it. And I say this having used CIO on both our kids at one time or another--I'm not at all against it philosophically. 

 Why is she anxious? The looming birth of a sibling … growing awareness of the world around her … increasing autonomy/loosening ties to parents … earlier sunsets … spooky Halloween decorations in her environment … who knows? I don't know how effective talk therapy can be at this age, and I don't know if working with her to resolve the anxiety directly is a realistic approach anyway. I'd just try to make her more comfortable and secure any way you can, and hope for the best, whether it's getting her out of the crib, leaving a dim light on, having dad sleep on her floor, or whatever else seems to help.

What has worked for us with our kids' bedtime anxieties? Nothing. At one point, I spent over a year being wakened by our daughter every night at about 2 - 3 a.m. and trading places with her (which triggered several years of brutal insomnia on my part, well beyond the end of this phase). We're still dealing with a version of this stuff with our son, who's nearly 11. Problems arise, we try to deal with it in various ways, nothing works, eventually it works itself out, and a while later something else comes up.

Why on earth would you take the advice of someone who's failed so miserably at this? Because I think that's the whole point. With so many aspects of parenting, you're looking to solve problems, but maybe the best "solution" is to accept that there isn't one. Not every question has an answer. That's not to say you should throw up your hands and give up on helping your child, but maybe the best way to help in some situations is to switch your focus from trying to make the issue go away, to trying to mitigate its impact on your child and family, and to help your child get through it as best you can.

In our son's case, his anxiety can definitely interfere with some parts of his life (and certainly ours), but consider his situation: about to enter middle school; adolescence breaking over him like a hailstorm; making his first solo trips around the neighborhood; being left to his own devices on homework without our constant supervision. I'd be more worried if all this wasn't making him anxious. Would I rather have his bedtime run more crisply? More than you can imagine--but if he needs me to come to him yet again, he needs me to come to him again.

I know this must be the least satisfying advice in the world, but I'd just repeat these three mantras over and over on those endless sleepless nights:  Parenting is suffering. Nothing lasts forever. It's all worth it."