Age 3 is exactly like age 2. Except on steroids. And not in the good way.
Actually, overall, age 3 really isn’t that bad (though I know we have a long way to go). Probably 98% of the time she is super sweet, funny, cooperative, helpful, and everything else you could want in a three-year-old.
Then bedtime hits and she turns into a completely different child.
I should note that we’ve always been fortunate with sleeping. She slept through the night very early and always went to bed with ease. We’re very thankful that she still sleeps through the night (except those nights she wakes up to use the potty, but it takes approximately 2 minutes to take care of that and then she’s right back to sleep, if she even really woke up in the first place, so it’s a non-issue).
But, as three-year-olds are inclined to do, Baby B has decided to start testing us with bedtime, a time of day I used to look forward to, but now the thought of it fills me with dread. On a good night, she zonks out an hour after her bedtime, and on a bad night, up to three hours.
We take the general Positive Discipline approach of returning her to her room, attempting to do it without saying a word. I’ve since learned this is also a Supernanny technique, but I’ve never seen that show so I can’t really comment further on that. The thinking is to kindly and firmly (and calmly) return them to their rooms — even if it takes hundreds of times — so they can see the boundary you’ve set and that you’re going to stick to enforcing it.
Which all sounds good in theory, and for the most part we follow that. But it’s hard to ignore some of the stunts that she pulls (“No, you cannot hit The Dog in the head with your ball.”)
Some recent highlights:
*Two nights ago she took her two canvas totes, which are filled to the brim with stuffed animals, and emptied them, scattering the animals across nearly all of her floor. Then she came out of her room to say, “Come look at this! It’s a mess! YOU clean it up!” Um, no. I’m not cleaning it up. You messed it up, you can clean it up. Needless to say, a fit ensued at that bit of information. (I never did give in and clean it up for her, and she didn’t clean it that night. She did, however, help clean it up the next night.)
*The goal is to get her to walk back to bed on her own, but sometimes she fights this, so I have to pick her up and carry her. And I now have to carry her at arm’s length or else she will bite me.
*When I’m carrying her back to her room, I place her on the bed. Just as she’s about to touch the bed, she thrusts herself backwards to where she lands hard on the bed, sometimes even bonking her head on the wall. She then accuses me of either throwing her or pushing her onto the bed, neither of which is true, of course. Fit ensues because I “threw’ her.
*She’ll talk to herself, proclaiming how bad I am. “She’s not even listening to me! Is she going to listen to me? NOOOOO!” “I thought you were my FRIEND. I don’t want to be friends anymore!“ I swear I get visions of the kinds of things she’ll be crying in her room when she’s 12 or 13.
*My favorite is that she’s now locked me out of her room multiple times each night, which is unacceptable. I’ve tried to avoid doing it, but I think we may have to end up turning around the lock so she can’t lock us out. My hesitation is that I know I would then lock the door from the outside to prevent her from getting out, but I hate the idea of doing that because it’s just not very respectful of her.
*Last night she insisted on having her door open, which I did not want (as I knew it would provide more distractions for her). So we spent 15 minutes with her opening her door all the way and me standing there and closing it. And 15 minutes doesn’t sound like a lot of time for that, but when each cycle of actions takes about 5 to 10 seconds, that’s a long time.
So far what seems to work best (most of the time, at least) is to use The Dog. We normally let him stay in her room as she goes to sleep. Having The Dog in her room is not a right, but a privilege, so I have no problems taking that away when necessary. When we’ve had enough of the delay tactics, we give her one warning and the next time he has to come out of her room. (We’ve tried doing that from the beginning, but it’s not nearly as effective and she tends to blow her second chance very quickly.) Seeing as how she and The Dog are inseparable, this is not acceptable to her and she’s got more motivation to do as we say. We set a timer, usually for 5 minutes (but I’ve started increasing the time a little), and the rule is that she has to stay in her room until the timer buzzes, after which we let The Dog back in her room. If, at any point, she comes out of her room, the timer is adjusted and she has to start her waiting period all over again.
Last night, she asked for a snack out of the blue. I should mention that we have never given her a bedtime snack; since starting solids, she’s never eaten anything between dinner and breakfast. Never even milk. (Though she does have a cup of water available in her room.) Naturally, I assumed it was a new delay tactic and did not give her the snack. But she kept asking every once in a while and starting asking in a way that didn’t seem like she was trying to be manipulative. Then I reminded myself of what I’ve always said about her picky eating: If she’s hungry enough, she’ll let us know. So I reconsidered and got her some cheddar bunnies, which she ate pretty quickly. She asked for more, but I did put my foot down about that and told her that her belly might hurt when she was sleeping if she had too much to eat. She seemed satisfied with that answer, closed the door, and pretty much immediately went to sleep on the floor with The Dog. Oh, hrm. I guess she was hungry. (Or just needed to feel in control, and she was satisfied after I got her what she wanted. But I’m going to ignore that and pretend she was really just hungry and not manipulative.)
So, even though it’s still endlessly frustrating, I think it’s getting a little better. (Maybe?) Last night took her an hour to finally stop stalling and get to sleep, which is much better than the three hours she pulled one night last week. And honestly, I don’t even really care what time she goes to sleep. She can read in her room until midnight. Heck, she can play with her toys until midnight. I just don’t like the whole coming out of her room thing. After she goes to bed is my time. It’s my time to finish chores. It’s my time to catch up with friends on the computer. It’s my time to spend with The Husband. It’s my time to read. We don’t have that time anymore on the weekends now that she doesn’t nap, so bedtime is the time to myself that I don’t want to lose. In fact, that’s one of the reasons I get up at 4:15 a.m. to run or go to the gym. I HATE getting up that early, but now I don’t have to work out in the evenings, so I get that time back for doing other things.
And chasing a three-year-old back to her room for the 547th time is not one of those things I’d like to be doing.
It’s a good thing the other 98% of the time is beyond awesome.