January 10, 2009

Struggling with Infant's Sleeping Schedule

John K. Rosemond

Question: For the last month our 31-month-old son has started waking up around three in the morning, wide awake. After finally getting him back to sleep he wakes up for good at six-thirty. Before this started he slept through the night until seven, seven-thirty. His afternoon nap is now a good half hour shorter as well. I think he's over-tired, and this is why he is waking up during the night. Consequently, I think he needs to go to bed earlier. My dear husband thinks the opposite and wants to make his bed time later. Please tell us, who's right?

Answer: The real problem here is that your husband is having difficulty accepting that in a happy marriage, the woman rules. He doesn't yet realize that admitting this reality will make for a happier marriage; thus, a happier man.

Concerning sleep and youngsters, the general rule is that the later a young child stays up at night, the less well the child will sleep. Being overtired is the biggest cause of sleeplessness and restless sleep in small ones.

Having said that, there is no guarantee that putting your son down earlier in the evening will solve the problem. He may be making a transition in his sleep habits, one that will work itself out in a month or so. Nonetheless, I'd put him to bed no later than seven-thirty in the evening if for no reason other than providing the two of you with more child-free time.

Question: How important is it that I provide my 2-year-old with socialization opportunities? The other mothers in the neighborhood have formed a play group for their toddlers, but they seem to spend most of their time intervening in conflicts and squabbles and conflicts over toys.

Answer: The anxiety endemic to modern mother culture makes it difficult for moms to just "go with the flow" of their children's development. I am unable to find research that supports the need for contrived social opportunities during toddlerhood. In fact, the research suggests that toddler play groups may contribute to later aggressiveness. As you point out, toddlers are territorial and tend, in groups, to have more conflict than not. This stage works itself out quite naturally sometime during the fourth year of life. Therefore, play groups for 3-year-olds make a lot more sense than play groups for twos, but having anxious moms hovering about is counterproductive. The way to go here is two three-hour weekly sessions at a non-academic play school.

The mother of a toddler recently saw the light concerning mother-run play groups and shares this testimonial: "My gut was telling me that these outings were just not necessary and way more trouble than they were worth. When I finally opted out of play-date society, life became immediately more enjoyable. I now feel that a little social time at Mothers' Morning Out or church nursery is more than sufficient at this age. I just don't have the time or energy to watch toddlers go at each other over a toy. Both of my kids began sharing spontaneously shortly after their third birthdays, at which time I began accepting play dates again."

Let those with ears, hear!

Copyright 2008, John K. Rosemond

Family psychologist John Rosemond answers parents' questions on his website at www.rosemond.com.

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