How to get enough sleep with a toddler who does not sleep

Sue Cvach

From the archives: Posted on 13 July, 2000

A Poster wrote:

“Hi everyone. I am very new here and am enjoying the few posts I have received. If you don’t mind I’d like to jump right in with a common parenting scenario because I am totally clueless as to how to ‘be’ lately.”

Welcome to the list!

“Lately we have no ‘schedule.’ Never had, actually.”

Sounds good to me 🙂

The main thing I struggle with is bedtime because I don’t get enough sleep and so I end up cranky and not as patient as I could be. (I haven’t slept all night long for 3 years.) My children sleep with me. I would like my toddler to sleep in his bed but he doesn’t want to. We have a queen bed next to our king bed and he often sleeps there – not ideal.

Why not? Sounds ideal to me! Lots of room. Perhaps you are running up against some entrenched theories about sleep issues that need to be examined. I would hazard a guess that you are experiencing conflict between what you might have unquestioningly accepted as true about having bedtimes and uninterrupted sleep and where people should sleep, and what your actual experience is with the needs of your kids and yourself and spouse.

“The main thing is the actual GOING to bed. He is a typical toddler who just doesn’t want to go to sleep. I feel as though I’ve tried but would like the Taking Children Seriously viewpoint. Also, my little [child] likes to fall asleep in our arms and stay close to my breasts all night.”

Eek – why label a kid a ‘typical’ anything? Children express their needs. A baby wants to be near mom and have access to her, around the clock. When children are tired, they go to sleep; or if there is something really interesting going on, they want to stay awake because that is more of a preference than sleep [just like adults ;)].

I think that our job as parents is to listen to our kids, and to know what our own preferences are, and find a mutually satisfying solution. Gather information. Question everything. We can listen to our children and our own hearts and needs, as each of us is the real expert on our own situation.

“I think I’ve just reached a very dry, burned out time in my life right now. Maybe if I were better rested I wouldn’t mind being more accommodating but right now I feel as though their wants/needs are in conflict with my wants/needs.”

That is a hard place to be! I think you are clearly identifying a real need of yours, to get more rest so that you can have a good state of mind. Why not just all get into bed? Read, talk, snuggle, bring in a tv and watch it… whatever the people in your family want to do. Whoever wants to sleep, can. Or, sleep on the floor in the living room. Put down a mattress there. Pile together on the couch. Wherever, whenever, sleep. Sleep when you can, sleep when you want. Childproof a room and sleep while child plays around you. There are no rules. You can do it however the people in your family want, however it suits your needs.

Parents and children can all work together so that each person gets what they want. It takes some creativity and letting go of expectations. A parent’s wants and needs are every bit as important as their children’s. However, parents choose to have children, so parents have an obligation to help their kids get what they want out of life. By recognizing and meeting their own needs, parents equip themselves with the resources to help kids get what they want as well. How great that you have found Taking Children Seriously while your kids are quite young!

“I know the post isn’t quite as eloquent or clear as I’d like, but I’m certain you know the feeling/situation I’m talking about.”

Have you read the Taking Children Seriously website? There is lots of good information there that might take some time to digest. Keep asking questions.:) Don’t make life hard on yourself – sleep. Sweet dreams 🙂

Best wishes! Sue

Sue Cvach, 2000, ‘How to get enough sleep with a toddler who does not sleep’,