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So my 2 year old is undeniably a Daddy's girl. She's always clingy when I'm home and only wants Daddy when Daddy is around. At bed time we have a routine that we follow before putting her down, but for some reason she will only settle with Mommy. When Mommy puts her to bed she will usually lay down and go to sleep, but if I do it, she'll be happy while I'm rocking her to sleep, but even if she's almost out when I go to lay her in bed, she'll say anything to keep me there with her, "Rub my back?; Play with my hair?; Sing a song?; Kiss my Hand? Kiss my 'nother hand?" And without fail, when I stop indulging her requests and leave the room, screaming and crying and out of bed she comes. Yet, if Mommy goes in right after me, she can settle her and put her down. We have a newborn, so it's a little inconvenient for poor Mommy if she has to deal with nursing and putting the toddler down at the same time, and this behaviour seems to have started since the baby, so I've been putting her down more than I used to. What am I doing wrong here?

Almost the exact same question as mine is asked here: Why won't my toddler sleep when her mother tries to put her in bed? But the root of that problem appears to be the mother bringing the baby to bed with her. My daughter doesn't sleep in our bed, first thing she wants when she wakes up is either breakfast, or to be bottled back to bed.

  • I slept in the same bed with my 3 year old daughter for almost a whole year. Turns out she replaced me with an iPad and now she tells me to get out. Not one to suggest using video devices for escape plans, just that maybe you should change the routine of what you do while in bed with her. I told her stories. Not reading books exactly, just telling stories which were almost always kid versions of awesome movies. Her favorite was the predator. I wasn't holding her. Just laying there talking to her. Her sister was 1 year old in the other room so it was a similar scenario. – Kai Qing Apr 20 '15 at 23:25
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We have had a similar thing with our daughter.

"Lasts" are a very good way of helping with this. "Now I'm going to give you your last cuddle. Now I'm going to give you your last kiss and then it's bed time."

And if she cries when you leave the room, leave it a minute, then go in to the door, ask her what she wants, repeat that she's had the last of everything and say that it's bed time.

Since it may be the case that she wants attention from mum, the thing to do is to explain that she can cuddle mum tomorrow after her sleep. Insist on that, don't send mum in.

Basically you need to put boundaries around yourself as regards bed time, otherwise this won't be good long term. I've been there and had to put them in place otherwise our LO just will keep up until really late. I've learnt (the hard way) that "last cuddle" means exactly that. And it takes a bit of time, especially if she's used to getting what she wants, but it's worth it in my experience.

  • It's worth noting that it's meant to take (can't find a reference right now) around 3 days to get rid of a bad habit. Right now your daughter thinks she can prolong bedtime with you by asking for different things - that probably never worked with her mum. Stop doing it and you'll probably have a nightmare of a time for a few days, but persevere! It'll get better quicker than you think. – Ieuan Stanley Jan 15 '16 at 15:05
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There are several reasons why it's easier for your wife to do it. Some are obvious -- I'll skip those -- but one that might not be so obvious is that your wife's approach is more cut and dried.

Here are some suggestions (I assume that's what you're really after...).

  1. Have a family meeting (the three of you). In the family meeting, you will tell your daughter that you are going to institute a monthly special father-daughter outing. And you will ask of her that she be less clingy (you'll have to figure out how to explain this concept to her -- a bit of role play might help). Give her a simple I-message about how you feel when she is clingy, but also tell her how much you enjoy spending special time with her. Do some brainstorming together to find out what sorts of special outings would appeal to her.

  2. (You are probably doing this already --) Help your daughter feel that she has some important responsibilities with the baby, for example, explaining things to the baby. Find lots of opportunities to remark to your wife (in your daughter's hearing) how the baby perked up when your daughter walked in the room, how interested the baby is in its sister, etc.

  3. Plan out a bedtime routine for your daughter containing some rituals. You can gradually help her transition to expressing some of the lovey-dovey stuff with a favorite stuffed animal instead of all with you.

  4. When it's time to turn out the light, you have two options.

(a) As you are getting her settled, give her a verbal preview of what's to come, that when she's all ready for bed, and you've finished reading a picture book, you will kiss her good night, turn out the main light, and go wash the dishes; and then you will check on her every five minutes or so. It's okay if she cries a bit. In that case, you just bend time a bit, and make the "five minutes" go by very quickly. You will gradually be training her that you haven't forgotten about her, and you always come back. Start this procedure on an evening when it won't be a disaster if she's short on sleep the next day. It's very important that you not cave in and ask your wife to go in. Your wife should be out of the house, asleep, or otherwise occupied!

When you go back in, ask if she's too warm, or too cold, or if anything hurts or itches; get her comforter nicely arranged again, check if she has the right stuffed animal. Your voice should sound eminently reassuring. You can utter a formula if you like (but only once per visit), such as, "Mmm, it's so nice to be in my warm, comfy bed with [name of stuffed animal]."

(b) Get comfortable in a moveable chair in her room, with a nice podcast to listen to, while she's falling asleep. You'll have to experiment to find the optimal distance from her bed for your chair. Your presence should be reassuring, but you don't want to be so close that the stimulation of having you there keeps her from falling asleep.

The podcast will make it easier for you to not engage with her. "I'm going to listen to my program now, we'll talk about that tomorrow. And if necessary, broken record "We'll talk about that tomorrow.... Tomorrow."

If you start to get sleepy and are afraid you are about to fall asleep, and she's still awake and will be alarmed if you leave, say, "I'm going to the bathroom, I'll be right back." Now, interestingly, this may well be the point at which she drops off -- while you're out of the room!

Let me know if you have any questions!

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The direct answer to your question is that your daughter has learned that different behaviors work with different parents. My daughter, from a young age, developed two distinct sets of "techniques" to get what she wants from both parents. For her mother, she throws tantrums and cries. For me, she's all smiles and kisses and charm. She knows that her mother often gives in to bratty behavior but can't be charmed, whereas I won't give in to tantrums, but can easily have my heart melted.

In your house, your daughter knows that as long as dad is in the room, she can put off going to sleep, but when mom comes in, she means business. The only way to break the pattern is for you to quit giving in and giving her exactly what she wants (I know it's hard!).

Instead of leaving the room, you might try sitting in there with her, but refusing to interact in any way until she goes to sleep. If she does get up, you must be the one to take her back to bed, not her mother (but don't give in to any requests).

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If my son isn't settling down and there's enough commotion to warrant checking in on him, I'll go in the room and pretend to do something else (look in drawers, move stuff around). He always stops crying as soon as I enter, but he doesn't immediately get my attention. I think that gives him a moment to calm down on his own, to realize we have things to do. To realize he's not the center of the house (he is the center to my wife and I, but we can't let him know that!!)

Eventually I'll turn to him and act surprised that he's still awake, and then tuck him in again and maybe wait a while with him, without saying anything or touching him (just like Chris Sunami mentioned). I Let him hear slow breathing; slow in, relaxed out.

I don't like to stay until he's completely asleep, otherwise I'll always have to.

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Consistent and Repeatable and Fun

Kids thrive on consistent and repeatable experiences.

It builds their trust that you or your wife or the world itself aren't going to disappear tomorrow.

Consistent and repeatable experiences also lead to expectations of what comes next.

Therefore:

  1. Put your daughter to bed the same way each night. I'll repeat it again: the same way each night. Also make sure that the last thing before going to bed is something that stands out (read a story, sing a little good night song, tell her you love her 10 times in 10 different ways, etc).

  2. The first time that you do that, she WILL revert to crying and screaming ... because this is new to her. The best way to deal with it is to ignore it. If she is a stubborn little one and keeps crying for quite some time, you will need to go in, tell it is time for bed and get her in trouble so that she knows this is serious.

  3. Repeat. By night #3 the issue should be resolved - AND - she'll look forward to you putting her to bed, especially if your routine is something she can be involved in - like picking the story or the song you will sing.

With my kids, we always had a story that I read to them. As they got a little older, they read it to me. A little after that, I gave them brain puzzles. Even my teenagers have commented to my wife that they miss being younger because they miss the goodnight process that Dad did.

Consistent and Repeatable and Fun.

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