Tyrannical Threes: How to Get Your Toddler to Sleep in Her Own Bed (Part 2)

The sleeping saga continues! Does crying it out lead to severe psychological issues in children? Or is it a legitimate way to get your kid to sleep?

After writing last week’s post, I made good on my plan to get Coraline into her own bed. That very night, she slept in her big girl bed in her own room, and has every night since. Much to my surprise, even though she didn’t fall asleep until almost 10 o’clock, there were no tears (at least not from her anyway). And when she woke up in the morning she was so proud of herself, with a remarkably sunny and even-tempered disposition that lasted all day, and has every day since. Something about the transition seems to have alleviated the friction we’d been experiencing. Just like weaning, this milestone — which I thought would strain our bond — has actually strengthened it.

There is, however, one small problem… while getting Coraline to sleep in her big girl bed wasn’t an issue, getting her to stay asleep in her big girl bed is. Where she used to sleep through the night, now she awakens several times, often staying up for over an hour. And she’s up for the day between 5:30 and six, which is too darn early. It’s maddening. Now given, it’s only been a week, but what a difference a week can make. We’re both exhausted. Last night, after my fourth failed attempt to quietly extract myself from her room at 3:45 a.m., I just lost it. She was crying, I was crying — it was a scene. It’s been drilled into me by seasoned parents everywhere that consistency is king with kids; just letting her get back into bed with me feels totally counterproductive. And I do believe she’s ready for this, as evidenced by all the good that has come from the transition. So in that moment, I didn’t know what else to do but just take myself back to bed, irrespective of the fact that she was still awake (and pretty upset). Nurturing fail? She followed me. I put her back in bed. She cried, I shuffled away. She followed. I put her back in bed. We did this little dance a half dozen times or more before I fell asleep. I woke up at 6 a.m. to her — snuggled in my bed — asking for Caillou. I have absolutely no idea when she snuck in.

It is my fervent wish that she resumes sleeping through the night sooner rather than later, for both of our sanity. Until then, I have no clue how best to handle the nighttime wakings. I have always been anti-cry it out. But at this point, I’m not sure if letting a three-year-old do some crying in the name of sleep “educating” is actually crying it out. Am I doing irreparable damage to her psyche by insisting she stays in her own bed? I tried looking for some answers online, but pretty much everything I found was about babies crying, not toddlers. One more recent article referenced a 2011 Psychology Today piece in which the researcher did say that “crying it out could be dangerous for children, leading to a lifetime of harm” because the stress of crying releases cortisol “which can damage or even destroy neurons in their still-developing brains… [which] can lead to a higher incidence of ADHD, poor academic performance, and anti-social tendencies.” Scary stuff. Scary enough to keep me on Coraline’s floor half the night? The jury is still out.

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Readers, what are your thoughts on this? Is the night waking just a temporary by-product of the still-new transition? Am I being unreasonable?

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