Should I force my son to give up his crib?

Smart love - November 2005


The Piepers

Q: I have a 2½-year-old son and a newborn daughter. Before our daughter was born, we convinced our son to give up his crib and move to a youth bed. He chose a car bed and really seemed to like it.

Once his sister arrived and started sleeping in his crib, however, he wanted to sleep in the crib again, too. If we don’t watch him, he climbs in with her and whenever she is out of the crib, he gets in and pretends to sleep. At night he cries and says he hates his bed.

We have tried to tell our son that he is the big boy in the family and that’s why he gets the special bed, but he puts his hands over his ears and shrieks. This conflict is driving us crazy, especially since we are already short on sleep because of the baby. How can we convince him to accept the bed?

L.R., Oak Park

A: Even though he was attracted by the idea of the car bed, it seems your son wasn’t really ready to give up his crib, especially to a newcomer who is getting attention that used to belong entirely to him.

We suggest you leave his car bed in his room and borrow a crib for the time being. Give your son back his old crib and put your newborn in the borrowed crib. This will make your son happy and show him that his needs are not being shoved aside by the new baby.

Once he has the option of sleeping in his crib, you may find that he increasingly chooses to sleep in the bed. But since this was such a sensitive issue for him, let him choose the timing for removing the crib. If you respond to him this way, he will be more relaxed, will resent the baby less and will be more likely to enjoy the role of big brother.

How should sitter handle a demanding toddler?

Q: I’m not a parent, but I am a babysitter. I babysit a 3-year-old who melts down if I don’t do what she wants.

For example, she has a wading pool and she wants me to get in it with her. When I tell her I don’t want to get wet and won’t fit in the pool, she tells me she hates me. When her parents get home, she tells them she doesn’t like me any more. Fortunately, her parents listen when I explain what has happened. Usually, by the next time I babysit, the girl has forgotten her anger and is happy to see me. I don’t know how to handle this—please help.

A.G., Evanston

A: This child is in a stage where she gets much of her emotional well-being from having her caretakers respond to her requests on her terms. Her reactions are a bit more vehement than is normal, but her fragility may be increased when her parents aren’t there.

The best way to respond to meltdowns is to be accepting and understanding. Say something like, "I know it’s hard when I don’t do what you want and you feel really angry with me, but I want to make you happy—is there something else you would like me to do?"

The best strategy is to try to avoid meltdowns altogether by using diplomacy.

If you can’t or don’t want to do what she wants, try to give her an alternative rather than just denying her request. When she wants you to get in the wading pool, you might reply that you can’t, but that ducky (or froggie or tugboat) would love to get in with her and that you and she can push it back and forth. If she wants you to play a game with her and you are occupied with something else, suggest that you will play with her as soon as possible, and in the meantime you would love to sing a song together.

If you can avoid stark negatives, you will help the girl avoid meltdowns, maintain a more positive relationship with you and develop more resilience.

How do I get my baby’s sleep schedule back to normal?

Q: Our 6-month-old is really having a hard time sleeping. He was doing pretty well—waking up only once a night—until we went on vacation. Then he started waking up three or four times a night and having trouble going back to sleep.

My husband and I are exhausted. It ruined our vacation, and now that we are back home he is still not on a good schedule. My pediatrician told us to let him cry himself to sleep, but I agree with you that doing so is harmful. Suggestions?

F.N., Chicago

A: Six months is typically the time when babies become more aware of their surroundings and prefer to sleep in their own rooms and cribs. They often have trouble sleeping in new places and readjusting to their old rooms.

One solution is to have crib bumpers, mobiles, music and toys that you take with you to every new location, even for naps, so your son will have some degree of familiarity. Another strategy is to have nap and bedtime rituals, such as feeding him, followed by laying him down and singing a special song. These cues will help him fall asleep in strange situations.

We are certain that since your son was sleeping well before your trip, once he gets used to his home base again, he will return to his good sleep habits.

Martha Heineman Pieper, Ph.D., and William J. Pieper, M.D., are the authors most recently of Addicted to Unhappiness: Free Yourself from Moods and Behaviors That Undermine Relationships, Work and the Life You Want (McGraw-Hill), which helps parents and other adults improve their own lives. They also wrote the best-selling parenting book, Smart Love: The Compassionate Approach to Discipline That Makes You a Better Parent and Your Child a Better Person (Harvard Common Press). The Piepers have spent more than three decades practicing psychotherapy with infants, children, adolescents and adults; counseling parents; and supervising other mental health professionals. The parents of five children, the Piepers live in Chicago.


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