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We have a daughter who takes naps and (usually) wakes up extremely cranky and irritable. She is 1 month away from being 3. Because she is so irritable, she'll usually cry when she wakes up. Depending on the day, it can range all the way to 30 straight minutes of crying. But, it's not always like this. Sometimes she'll wake up from a nap and not cry a bit or even be cranky. Usually we can get her to calm down after 10-15 minutes of crying by doing some playful activity. Or sometimes she'll want something such as to watch a certain TV show, to do a certain activity, a certain food, etc. If we don't(or can't) give her what she wants, that's when the 30 minute crying sessions happen.

We're not really for sure what to do. Instincts tell me that she appears to be crying to manipulate us into getting what she wants, but if this is the case she is extremely stubborn and content with crying until her voice is hoarse. What we've tried:

  1. Time out until she is done crying (works about 25% of the time)
  2. Attempt to distract her with something fun or interesting(works about 25% of the time. Most of the time she is just not interested)
  3. Holding her and soothing her until she is done crying (if she wants something, this hardly ever works unless we give it to her though... and it can again take 15-30 minutes for her to calm down when my wife is doing this)

Some of the things she requests are things like

  • Candy/junk food
  • A particular food(other than junk food, such as eggs)
  • To watch a certain TV show
  • For us to play with her in her room(when we're trying to get her to eat dinner)

All of these things are particularly problematic because she usually falls asleep when we are preparing dinner. We usually try to keep her awake, but it's nearly impossible when she wants to take a nap.

What should be done in these instances? Has anyone else experienced their children doing the same thing?

Note: Other than these fits, she's usually pretty well behaved(I'd dare to say better than most toddlers at least) and temper tantrums and the like are handled well with a time out(she even knows when she starts crying to go sit at her time out spot and will usually go there before we even tell her to)

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We find that some children tend to wake "harder" than others from sleep and naps. It's tough. –  Jeff Atwood Nov 4 '12 at 9:54
    
One cause of irritability on waking is poor quality sleep. Is your child sleeping soundly or is there some sleep disturbance eg obstructive sleep breathing pattern? You can simply observe (and listen) during sleep time to get some sense of this. –  M Hewson Jun 16 at 2:49

5 Answers 5

I am having a bit of the same issue with my daughter right now. She is 2 and a half. I would suggest trying to get your daughter napping a little earlier in the day, so close to supper might make it hard for her to have a good sleep, and she may just be feeling too tired by that point to get the right kind of a nap. My daughter goes down for a nap right after lunch, this is her routine whether she has lunch at 11:30 or 1:00 it doesn't matter, immediately after it is nap time. Generally she is quite a good napper. She used to be great on waking as well. But, lately, I have been finding her to be quite upset, to the point that I cannot console her. If I try to hug her, or hold her she pushes me away, if I ask her to return to bed until she is ready to be awake she will scream about it. Generally I put her back in bed. I do find that sometimes all she needs is a cup of milk and a small snack. She finds a cozy spot to curl up and fill her belly and is then ready for bed. The challenging part is getting her to stop crying prior to bringing her out of her room. If you are finding that supper time is the only time she will nap, perhaps you could have something little set aside ready when she wakes that she could snack on while you finish preparing supper. I also find that on days when my little one sleeps a little later in the afternoon she is not ready to go to the table straight from bed, so I try to wait until she is awake to prepare supper and give her some milk with cheese if we are having something with cheese for supper, or some fruit or crackers or sometimes even a slice of bread. I hope this helps. Good luck! Stick with your guns though, you will get through it!

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I like the other answers here but I'll note that my daughter is typically irritable after a nap and we've found that a balanced snack (some approximately-equal combination of protein and good carbohydrates, like a bit of meat and a piece of fruit, or even a big glass of milk) really helps. It seems she's somewhat sensitive to "blood sugar" levels.

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That would actually make sense, we'll have to try that next time –  Earlz Nov 5 '12 at 2:38

I have three recommendations for you:

  1. Try to get her back to napping. From your post it doesn't seem likely this will work, but it's always worth a try (be patient!) and it might become easier to achieve over time.
  2. Don't ever give in to her bullying. She does this because she knows from experience that it works! She is showing you that she has more endurance than you have, and she is using it to consistently win over you. You must look at yourselves to change this: it's incredibly hard but you must teach your child that she's the child and you're the parents so you get to decide. She can earn the things she asks for as a privilege following good behavior, but she can never demand it - never ever!
    Every time you give in, you give her power over you.
    Every time you stand firm, you help her understand her role in the family.
  3. If she doesn't want to sleep, allow her to play quietly by herself in her room. This gives her an exit strategy if she doesn't want to sleep, while obeying you; it's a win-win. You may choose to join her if you like, but emphasize that that is your decision, not hers.

I can recognize my son in some of this. He just turned three and needs a decent noon nap to be happy. Sometimes (like today!) he wakes much too soon and is grumpy, just like your child.

What works best for us is to get him back to napping. We try to react quickly so that he doesn't wake fully (if he does, the chance is gone). We also try to be very gentle and soft-spoken so that he's not urged into any kind of response - which would also further wake him.

If we succeed in this, he's much happier for the rest of the day, and the bedtime is also much easier because "overtired" children don't want to sleep.

If we don't succeed, we know that the afternoon and evening will be a little tougher. One thing we are very clear about: No whining, no begging. He may choose to end his nap, but we won't accept any kind of blackmail (crying) because he wants movie/candy/whatever. He is allowed to play with his toys just like always, and he may ask us to play along just like always. But he is not allowed to set our agenda, or to demand unusual things (in our case, movies or candy are in the "unusual" category and is not on offer when he's grumpy).

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For point 1, sometimes she'll nap late (like an hour or two before her regular bed time) and we know from experience that if she takes a long nap late, she'll either not be sleepy when bedtime comes, or she'll wake up through the night –  Earlz Nov 5 '12 at 2:37
    
@Earlz: I recognize that. We try to have a very consistent nap time, the end of which is far enough from the bedtime. If that's not possible one day, better skip the nap altogether! –  Torben Gundtofte-Bruun Nov 5 '12 at 12:27

Depending on how they wake, many (possibly most) kids will go through this at some point. One of mine is currently a very bad waker, unlike her siblings.

At a young age, the simple solution we used was just to give them a cuddle for a while and let them awake in a happy environment - after all, they spent 9 months having a mother's heartbeat all the time, that's got to be tough to do without. This sometimes meant carrying them round while doing the chores until they decided they were fine.

At an older age (3 or 4 and up) we gave them routines, so they wouldn't need to try and comprehend something new while only half awake. For example, at that age, on waking they could get a cup of water or juice and spend 5 or 10 minutes sat with some toys, or again - getting a cuddle from Mummy or Daddy. Routines make the world less stressful to a young child. I'm not a fan of rigid rules, but a bit of familiarity, especially when tired, helps them a lot.

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+1: Brilliant thought about the wake-up ritual! I'd never have thought of that but it's an obvious match to the bedtime ritual. –  Torben Gundtofte-Bruun Nov 4 '12 at 13:16

Instincts tell me that she appears to be crying to manipulate us into getting what she wants, but if this is the case she is extremely stubborn

Kids are brilliant, even very young kids. They are learning so much every day.

There is a root of self-ish-ness in everyone, even little kids. It causes us to care more about what we "want" than what is the right/proper/fair thing to do. A responsible and loving adult has learned to master this self-ish-ness, and make good choices.

The primary job of a Parent, in my estimation, is to teach their children to do this as they grow up. I've always said that if a child is old enough to do something, they are old enough to learn how to do it in a proper way.

For example, if old enough to eat at the table, then also old enough to learn how to not purposefully throw food on the floor.

My 5th, a girl, a redhead, and very strong willed, decided (firmly) that she did not under any circumstances want to go to bed alone (about 1 year old). Her mother and I decided that it was our job to be parents, and create a framework for her to learn that this was required, like it or not.

It took about 4 days in a row of long, hard, crying. But she soon realized that it was worthless to try to make us come get her, and just decided to go to sleep. Now she averages little to no crying and in a couple of minutes she is out.


In your situation, I suggest the following:

  1. Make sure you are doing what you can to not make the situation harder. For example, make sure she naps at a good time (before too tired, etc...)

  2. Create a framework that she must live within. For example, out-of-control crying is unacceptable, and the result will be being placed in bed. Period. Calm == out of bed. Crying == in bed.

  3. Allow her to make the choice, within the framework. You are restricting her options, but she needs to make the right choice. As per your framework, if she chooses to cry, she has an immediate, swift, and deterministic consequence of being placed in bed.

  4. Have compassion. If you place her in bed, and she is still crying after 15 min, try picking her up to see if that act of love is enough. If not, back to bed.

  5. Pay very close attention to the tone of her cry. Is it demanding, or is it sad? Is it scared, or mad? You can handle her more gently if it is sad or scared than if mad or demanding.

  6. Stick with it. Some kids may be stubborn, but these are some of the best traits when they are well managed -- for example, she will become an attorney at the best law school in the country (if she chooses to).

It's all about choices. You are the parents and should create a simple, but purposeful framework for her to make good/bad choices, and an immediate feedback loop for both.

But do not get too excited when good choices are made -- compliment, and occasionally reward, but good choices are to be the norm, not the exception (as it is with adults).


Above all, listen to the Love that God gave you for your child. You know your child better than any doctor, columnist, parental expert, or me.

Best wishes!

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+1 for freedom of choice within the framework, and for out-stubborn-ing the child. –  Torben Gundtofte-Bruun Nov 4 '12 at 13:19

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