We have a 2.5-year-old boy who naps at preschool (3 days a week) but not at home. He gets wild before nap and bedtime. He'll run around the room, jump on the bed or on us, and won't listen to anything. If we leave the room, he cries furiously. We don't want to 'cry it out'.

He was a good sleeper until about 3 weeks ago (when he started preschool). He has been changing a lot e.g. speaking more, more tantrum-like behavior. He's also recently potty trained.

We did 'cry it out' (very reluctantly) twice before at about 1 year and 1 year and 8 months. This is last resort of sleep book we use. We really, really don't believe in it and don't want to (won't) do it again.

He has been in his own room and crib since about 6 months. Started climbing out of crib about 2 weeks ago, so we switched to bed on the floor. He naps at preschool but now, not at home. He's obviously tired. We put him in the car to get him to sleep; this worked for a week or so, but it's now unreliable. He just gets so wound up when it's time for bed. It's a pattern now.

At night, one of us just hangs out with him until we can eventually get him to settle. We have been trying to leave the room, just let him play in his room, but he screams and cries when we leave. We tried about 30 minutes of cry it out last night but we're just not going to do that anymore, whatever it takes.

We have a mat on the floor next to his bed. We've been sitting on that, even lying down with him and sleeping with him until he eventually falls asleep. It takes a long time, and it doesn't work at all for naps: he just won't settle.

What can we do to help him sleep?

  • Could he be "to tired to sleep"? My kids (around same age) usually get calm at their usual bedtimes, but if we let them stay up a bit longer they tend to "go crazy". – slartidan Jul 29 at 19:03
  • @slartidan yes. Sometimes, he's clearly just exhausted and unable to settle because of it. Other times, he seems to have gotten plenty of rest, but the result is the same. We used to have a 'window', and we tried hard not to miss it. But now, there doesn't seem to be any window. We've tried getting to bed earlier, for nap and bedtime, but it doesn't seem to make any difference. – Hawkeye Parker Jul 30 at 2:55
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    How long are the naps at preschool? Does he actual sleep? Are you trying naps at the same time? Is your routine for bedtime consistent? You say its a pattern, but is it nightly? – SiXandSeven8ths Jul 31 at 17:53
  • @SiXandSeven8ths He naps ~2hrs at preschool, and we believe he does sleep -- we've at least seen pictures of him sleeping, and have no reason to distrust the caregivers. We are trying naps at the same time. Our bedtime routine has been very consistent -- we recently wrote it down step by step, just to be sure we were on the same page (spouse and I trade nights). Yes, it is daily and nightly, like clockwork at this point. – Hawkeye Parker Aug 8 at 1:09

We had similar problems with our oldest at around this age.

We handled it thusly:

  • Reduced naps and eventually eliminated them by 3. He just didn't need them. The preschool that he went to after 3 didn't nap, so that wasn't an issue.
  • Until that point, we moved the nap time around until we found one that worked. As comments and your question suggest, being too tired AND being not tired enough are both problems. A lot of advice is to have a set time for naps; for some kids I'm sure that works, but not ours. We had to do the opposite, have a naptime that was flexible based on his behavior (and sometimes, not). We learned to identify 'nap-needing' behavior, and went with it.
  • If your son will "rest" instead of sleeping, go with it. We did that sometimes. I.e., put him in bed, tell him he doesn't have to nap, just needs to stay there, and he can play with limited toys/etc.; sometimes then he'll nap on his own.
  • We moved his bedtime back, as late as 8:30, so he was sleeping when he needed to, again with the possibility of moving it up on days where it seems necessary.
  • Timing naps to coincide with other activities that would cause him to nap more readily - after eating sometimes, but even better after exertion. Play at the park for an hour or two, then come home and eat, then nap.
  • If it was naptime and he's a bit crazy due to being overtired (we missed our optimal window), a selective infusion of sugar would actually help, despite the thoughts to the contrary. A glass of milk or juice would raise his blood sugar enough that he wasn't quite so crazy.

Ultimately though, the answer may be cutting the nap out. Kids are different, and not every kid needs one even at 30 months. Make sure he's getting the sleep he needs overall (10-12 hours at least).

I don't know if this qualifies as an answer, but feel it is better suited than a comment; we've been dealing with a similar situation.

We have a 3 year old girl. Naps at daycare have always been kind of hit or miss, even if we are visiting somewhere naps are not a concern of hers (lol). What I've noticed is that on weekends she will nap without too much issue and will do it for 2.5 to 3.5 hours depending on how much activity she had and what time she actually goes down for a nap. We try to stay consistent. At daycare, she maybe gets 2 hours tops. In the evening she gets very tired, very early. But on the weekends, with her longer naps, she will be up and in a good mood until bedtime.

Most nights she has some kind of fit, either begging one of us to stay in her room, crying, or begging for food or drink. She will try to play, run away, or hide. Some nights she goes willingly and gives us hugs and kisses. About a year or so ago she struggled a lot more and I'd have to sit with her for anywhere from 5 minutes to an hour to get her to calm down or fall asleep. There would be nights where she'd wake as soon as I would try to leave her room or just do anything to keep herself awake.

We mostly went with the "cry it out" plan. We'd give her 10 minutes before going in and comforting. Comfort and, if needed, rinse and repeat a couple times. A few nights were rough and we just could not get her to calm or fall asleep (eventually she would of course, kids can't fight it forever).

Now, she usually pitches a fit for a few minutes and she will either play in her bed with whatever she can find in the dark of her room or fall asleep quickly. Bedtime is between 8:00 and 8:30pm, varying with her mood and how tired she appears. She wakes at about 7:30am. Sometimes she has a snack before bed as sometimes her crankiness is hunger in addition to tiredness.

Naptime happens after lunch, usually around that 1pm mark. But we adjust based on mood, activity, schedule, etc. We don't stick to a strict time, we aren't an airline. But we have to try and keep it early afternoon or else she won't want to go to bed at her regular time.

Part of our routine, and I think this has helped a lot even though it doesn't always seem like it, is that we pray together. We don't practice religion, you could say we are mostly agnostic, but our regular night time prayer has been a good idea. You could try something similar. We don't practice a routine at nap time since we don't want to confuse what happens at daycare versus at home. I think she knows the difference between nap and bedtime, bedtime is mandatory whether she thinks she is tired or not while nap means that she just needs to rest for a bit before playing again.

Anyway, just my input and observation from my experiences. Good points in the other answer. I have to agree with being flexible.

The behaviour you're observing may indicate that your child has been sparked with a lust for life by daycare. This is usually a result of a sudden influx of new activities to learn and experience, coupled with a larger population of people for socialization. In my own experience, this sort of stimulation outside the home leads to tantrums and hyperactivity inside the home if they do not receive the same level.

One thing that works great with my own littles is to take them outside. Any outside activity will do, but the park is an obvious choice for the kids to burn off some energy while I sit and decompress from my own day. This tends to have the effect of settling them down enough that they'll usually at least listen to the words coming out of my mouth. From there, an even calm attitude provides the foundation for a successful evening and bedtime.

I have no advice for naps, though. When my oldest gave up her naps, that was it. Nothing I could do. At first, it was exhausting and intimidating, but now it means that we have so much more time in the day to go do interesting things.

I know this is weird, but it actually sounds like he just doesn't want to let go of his parents. This seems fairly common when kids start pre-school. They suddenly find themselves without their parents for hours for the first time. It sparks off something in the lizard hind-brain that basically says "I want my mummy!". I had the same thing with both of mine, at an older age, because they started kindergarten later.

I think the best thing would be to promise to stay next to him, as long as he lies down in bed. He'll lie down, and you can sit or lie nearby. Once he's lying down, it usually won't take more than a few minutes until he's asleep, and then you can go.

On the one hand, this will probably keep happening for a couple of years. On the other, it's less time and much less work than fighting with him.

A smaller tip from me is to have a story as part of the bed-time ritual, and to always start the story with a big yawn. Yawns are infectious, and this works wonders. I will open the book, read the title, and then announce "big yawn" and yawn before I start reading. It sets the scene perfectly for bed-time.

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