Monthly Archives: May 2009

Three to four months old Part II: Reader’s question about sleep training a 3-month old baby

Here's a question from N., the gist of which represents a significant number of emails that I receive.

My baby is about to turn 3 months (currently 2.5) and I would love
to try sleep training.  I am very sleep deprived and it is causing
marital strife.  Our baby gets up at night every hour to three  and
sometimes he will only fall asleep while lying on us.  Naps are a joke
as they simply don't exist or, if the do, they are 5-45 minute catnaps
in my arms….there is no schedule.  I am not functioning well and it
is terrifying me!  I would like to try CIO when my baby turns 3 months
but I have a feeling that within 10min our baby will begin screaming
fits and my husband won't (right or wrong) go for this…he will only
let the baby cry for 5-10 ….I'm willing to go for much longer because
I am that desperate!
I can't wait an additional 3 months until the 6 month mark…any ideas or wisdom would so greatly be appreciated!

First and foremost, this is SUCH a tough age. I remember the panic I felt when I realized how much longer this whole infancy thing was going to last. At the time, I couldn't imagine making it "to the other side." A few thoughts: First, your baby actually does need to wake up at least a couple of times during the night to be fed. That doesn't mean she needs to wake up every hour for that nourishment, but it's good to keep in mind that the vast majority of infants need their stomachs re-filled every 3-4 hours or so. Second, you may find that your baby hits 3 months old and naturally starts sleeping longer stretches (and not necessarily on top of you either). These shifts may occur naturally, without you doing anything at all because those first 2.5 months are filled with huge biological changes that are settling down right about now. But if your baby DOES continue to wake up every hour or two and does not settle down easily afterwards and if you simply can't go on like this much longer, you can certainly consider some form of gentle sleep training methods.

As I mentioned in Part I of the 3 to 4 month stage description, this is the only stage that I am somewhat hesitant to recommend because the distress levels of the baby really do need to be monitored by the parent. But on the other hand, there are several reasons why we included this stage — in the book — as one of the
possible periods to sleep-train:
1. There are DESPERATE mothers like the one who posted the question who can't go on feeling sane without some change. I don't know this particular woman's circumstance, but many mothers also either need or want to go back to
work by the time their child is 3 months old. These mothers often have no
choice but to try SOMETHING. My main point is that if you feel you
have to do something, don't try sleep training at 4 months if you can avoid it and earlier than 2.5 months isn't wise either.
2. We have heard remarkably consistent reports from parents who did
gently sleep train (i.e., not CIO methods, more like "no-cry sleep
solutions") at this window with great success. Although I personally
didn't feel comfortable doing any kind of sleep training with my boys
this age (especially since they were 4 weeks premature and I had "issues", let's just say…), I strongly
feel that it's important to provide the developmental
and let parents make the decisions for themselves.
3. I think it's important to consider the unique properties of each developmental stage and think about whether there are some special considerations that should be made in terms of methods that might work best. From my perspective, I'd like to emphasize that whatever method is used
during this period, it shouldn't result in letting the baby cry for
more than 5-10 min max (I don't know about your baby, but mine cried
more than that if they were in their carseat and I stopped at a red
light). This is the only age at which I'm careful to dissuade parents
from picking a method that will involve prolonged distress because
the baby is simply biologically incapable of regulating intense distress by herself; she
needs mom and/or dad to bring her back down (of course, some babies DO calm themselves down at this age, but very few can do so when they are really, really wailing).

If you find that your baby doesn't take to sleep training easily during this age, and you feel you need to stop, then there ARE things you can do to maximize your own sleep. Some common suggestions: (1) Enlist your partner to take half the night shift and you do the other half. So, if you're breastfeeding, you can consider pumping or supplementing with formula and asking your partner to take the 10 pm – 2 am shift and you can take over for the 2 am – 7 am shift. That way, each of you are at least getting a 5-hour chunk of sleep in a row. (2) Hire a "mommy's helper" if you can afford it. This person can help soothe your baby to sleep after you feed her during the day and maximize nap times for you. She can also take your baby for a walk while you catch a nap. (3) Every 3 days or so, you can ask your partner to take the full night shift so you can catch up. Again, your partner can give the baby a bottle of breastmilk or formula when the baby wakes up. That way, you can always refuel twice a week and feel just a little more human. (4) If you can afford it, night doulas or night nurses that come very highly recommended can be serious life-savers when your partner can't help. Hiring someone even once/week might just give you enough energy to get you through the worst of this time. (5) Some people also find that co-sleeping during the worst of the frequent wakings works for them. It really DOES come to an end eventually and although 6 months seems completely impossible to imagine getting to at this point, your baby WILL get to that stage when sleep training may take much easier (believe me, I really DO get it, having had twin babies who woke up every other hour — and NOT the same hour — througout the first 6 months, I feel your horror like I was there yesterday).

What do you
think? Words of encouragement or wisdom for N.? Anyone out there who sleep-trained during this age and was
thrilled with the results (I know you're out there because I've talked
to many of you)? Does anyone want to respectfully gasp in horror at my
recommendation to try sleep training at this age?

Three to four months old Part I: (Maybe) the first window of opportunity for sleep-training

After all this talk about the dreaded developmental transition periods and why it might be best to avoid sleep training during these stages, it seems important to also start talking about the windows of opportunity. These are the ages and stages that children are more resilient, have less going on in terms of cognitive and emotional changes and they may be most open to changes in bedtime routines. For the next few weeks, I'll intersperse readers' questions about their sleep dilemmas with some posts about these more robust stages of emotional development.

I kinda, sorta hate to start with this first window of opportunity because I've got mixed feelings about it. It's the only "stable" stage that I suggest a lot of caution and leave the possibility of abandoning the sleep-training ship as soon as you start it if things just don't feel right. Your gut matters all the time, but with this young, young age, your sense of how your child is coping is perhaps the most critical. Not because I think horrible, irreparable damage is likely… more because, well, it's just a "feeling" I have. There you are, my totally ridiculous, patently unscientific reason for my ambivalence. But hey… the comments section on this blog are generally very sparse, so maybe this will incite some of you to throw some virtual rotten tomatoes my way.

There are some good developmental reasons why 2 1/2 months to 4 months is a safe window for some
people to sleep train their baby. It is a time when bodily habits, coordinated between mother and baby, have finally become consolidated, and the infant can now turn his attention to the most exciting things in the world outside his body: other people. Day and night cycles have become firmly established. At this age, babies are skilled at grasping, sucking, and gazing at objects and people for long periods. Baby-mobile This is why mobiles rock your 3 month-olds' world. But most importantly, this age is marked by the initiation of “reciprocal exchange” because it involves prolonged gazing at the mother and other family members who inevitably gaze back at the infant. Babies now gaze at mother, smile, coo, and delight in the ensuing changes in her face and voice. Mother, in turn, becomes fascinated by her baby’s facial expressions, especially smiles, and especially the smiles that seem to be a response to her own expressions and actions. As described by Daniel Stern, this feeling of being noticed, being important, being a source of excitement and pleasure for the baby, is a huge turn on to the mother, who gazes at the baby while cooing and gooing in exactly the way babies find most interesting (develpmentalists actually call this vocalizing "Motherese"). The baby notices mother’s gaze and sounds, as well as the changing facial expressions that accompany them, and seems to know intuitively that they are directed at him or her. This interpersonal connection is practically irresistible to most babies, who will stare at mother’s face for long periods while cooing and gooing. From about 2.5 to 4 months, episodes of mutual gazing stretch out longer and longer, and they become a fundamental source of excitement and joy for both partners. Scottish theorist Colwyn Trevarthen describes this as a state of “intersubjectivity” between the infant and caregiver (if you click on the Trevarthen link and are bored by the theory, scroll down and check out the pictures of parents and babies interacting… it might be interesting just to get a glimpse of how some of this research is conducted). There is a sense, not only of each partner responding to the other, but also of both partners sharing a world in which “we are here together.” The baby at this age is developing a secure sense of her environment, she's curious about her surrounds and can often calm herself down if not overly aroused. As a result, this may indeed be one of the first periods you can attempt some gentle form of sleep training.

Up next, a reader's question about how to regain her sanity after being sleep-deprived with her 3-month old. What are some of the unique considerations for helping these young babies sleep?

Update on putting up a parents’ forum for chatting during the wee hours

Remember I asked if anyone was interested in a place (on or linked to this blog) that you could go to talk to other sleep-deprived parents who were either in the throes of sleep training or just in survival mode during one of the transition periods? I got some great suggestions in the comments section about the pragmatics of putting up such a forum. The only problem is that I seem to be tech-dumb. I tried a few options and they all seemed to either be too difficult for me to figure out, not quite what we're looking for, or I had to pay for it (I run this site on my own without the support of HarperCollins or my "day job" and I don't have any ads on this site, so the out-of-pocket stuff can get a bit stressful). This Meebo thing (at the bottom left of the blog) seemed to be as close as I got to what we're looking for, but I have to be signed in at all times so that everyone else can also get into the chatroom… and that's just not possible for me to do 24 hours, round the clock.

Stupid_computer So… I'm wondering if I could ask for some help from the Internets. Can anyone out there hold my hand through the process of getting this chatroom up and running? I'm happy to use any program that will facilitate this goal; it just has to be VERY easy for everyone to use and cost nothing (or almost nothing… I don't mind paying a small start-up fee, but I can't afford monthly or regular ongoing fees).

You say “sleep regressions”, I say “sleep setbacks”…

Call it what you will, they SUCK. But I did want to clarify my thinking about what many folks call "sleep regressions." I realize it's not that important to many people what you call them: they're bad and they mean that yet again you are getting no sleep for some seemingly inexplicable reason. You may have had a child who was a glorious sleeper since she was born.  Or you found the most appropriate sleep-training method to suit your and your child’s needs and you applied this method at precisely the right developmental window. Your child was sleeping beautifully through the night, taking regular naps, you were getting 7 hours STRAIGHT yourself. Your child was a bright, bubbly, joyful child who was a delight to be with most of the time. Your depression lifted, you began to socialize again with friends. You even considered renewing your affection for your partner! Sex was potentially on the horizon! And then Bam!  One day your perfect sleeper goes from sleeping 12 hours through the night to waking up every hour and a half. She’s screaming again, crying for something, waking up and unable to fall back asleep. She is suddenly refusing to nap. The same routines are no longer working to calm her. The same music isn’t soothing anymore, the same bounce loses its hypnotic impact, the same bedtime story is slapped out of your hand in toddler disgust. Maybe it’s just a bad day or night? No, it goes on for days and sometimes weeks or even months.

We’ve heard this account from many parents and have experienced it firsthand. I like to refer to these times as "sleep setbacks", but they are more often talked about as “sleep regressions.” I'm not terribly fond of this phrase because regression implies a return to old patterns, old habits, more infantile forms of behaviour. And these “regressions” are actually the precise opposite: leaps forward, not backward—corresponding to a shift in the child’s stage of cognitive and emotional development.  (As an aside, I was thrilled to read in a Moxie post from more than 3 years ago that she thinks of these "regressions" the same way). However, to parents, they can definitely feel like regressions. After finally getting yourself a stretch of 6, 8 or even more hours of sleep per night, going back to 1 or 2 hour bursts of sleep feels like, well, GOING BACK.  To that dark and dreary place of sleep deprivation that you once thought only little, teeny, tiny newborns inflicted on their parents. And it was bearable in that newborn stage. But by now, most parents no longer have the support of friends and family who were there to commiserate when the baby was brought home from the hospital. Some parents perhaps joyfully announced, maybe even boasted, about their child’s hard-won sleeping skills. And suddenly, with seemingly no rhyme or reason, all those sleeping skills seem to have vanished overnight. What’s happened to your perfect little sleeper?

The short answer is that your child has probably hit one of the big developmental transition periods. (There are also other reasons, like teething, getting a cold, moving to a new house/room, the birth of a sibling, and so on). It's nothing you've done wrong and there's probably not all that much you can do about it.  These more vulnerable stages are the ones more difficult for sleep-training to begin with. These periods are created by cognitive advances and the emotional challenges they engender, and they are particularly troublesome periods for teaching an infant or toddler to sleep on his or her own. In the same way, entry into these stages may be what’s causing the psychological upheavals your child is going through now, and these may be responsible for sleep disruptions when none were present before. So, if your child has suddenly stopped sleeping through the night and/or begun to have napping strikes and she is between 4 and 5.5 months, 8 and 11 months, 18 and 22 months, 2.5 and 3 years, or 3.5 and 4 years, she's probably in one of these "sensitive windows" of development. The good news is that most kids who were good sleepers before these transitions usually become good sleepers again. This may require a little more "re-training," but generally once the transition is over, it's a relatively smooth process. So, again, it DOES pass and just knowing it's temporary may help you get through it with less stress and heart ache. For those kids who were never good sleepers to begin with, the next window of sleep-training opportunity could be just the cognitive-emotional stage your child was waiting for to show his magic sleep-awesomeness.

A photographic demonstration of the pendulum swing that is child development

I've received several emails and comments asking: Is there ANYTHING I can do during these rough developmental transitions, apart from just waiting it out. Not surprisingly, many of these pleas have come from parents with 18-month old children (really, anywhere between 18 and 22-months old). We've talked already about the MASSIVE cognitive and emotional changes that are going on at that age and we've also begun to think about the sleep implications. Although there might be a few tips I could give you, most of what I've got, as you have no doubt caught on, is lots of developmental research and theory that will make you understand your child's world a little better and very few concrete, step-by-step plans for getting your child to sleep during developmental transitions. I thought I'd share with you my graphic reminder of what child development generally looks like. Early development is indeed less like a linear increase in one thing or another and more like a pendulum that swings between periods of sensitivity/vulnerability and stability/resilience. As I head myself into the next transition period with my boys (they'll be 3 1/2 very, very soon… gah!), I like to keep this pendulum swing in mind. It helps me to remember that "this too shall pass" and, also, how far we've come.

So, without further ado, one round of the pendulum swing chez moi… in pictures:

18 months

Here are the boys at 18 months. It says it ALL to me. The chaos, the
testing of boundaries, the emotional edginess, the unpredictability.

3 years

And here we are two months ago, at 3 years old. Same chair, same boys, whole different world. 

And soon the chaos will once again be upon us. Bring it on!

2 1/2 years old Part III: Sleep disruption, sleep setback, sleep regression call it what you will

As we already talked about in Part I and Part II, the typical 2½-year-old is a terribly cute little rebel, concerned mostly with getting caught, rather than the act itself. But despite their attempts to overthrow the world, or at least YOUR world, these children have one primary weakness: jealousy.

It is a little more difficult to talk about this period of development in definitive terms, because individual differences become more pronounced by this age, and what we might call a typical pattern of development becomes more blurred. In general, the older children get, the more "variability" or differences you'll see among kids in the various stages. Jealousy is a perfect example. Some children are highly sensitive to jealous feelings, and their sensitivity may result from temperament, from the fact of having a younger sibling to compete with, or from a combination of the two. Similarly, the degree of defiance and testing of limits varies hugely from child to child. At 2½  to 3 years of age, some children are more concerned with “being good” than anything else. They love being praised, cuddled, and simply being in the beam of their parents' affection. Others are little hellions bent on breaking every household rule and exploiting them to extremes. Still other kids oscillate back and forth between these two polar extremes (fun times, I tell 'ya).

Because of these growing differences among kids this age, my advice about sleep training can't be as general as it was for earlier ages. It depends on how your own 2.5 year old is fairing through this transition period. If your child is prone to jealousy, if your child is on the defiant end of the spectrum, or if your child tends to wage battles whenever rules and regulations are not carved in stone — wait out any sleep training until he's closer to 3 years old (the next relatively "stable" age). Once your child has pulled through this stage and has given up his world domination strategy everything will get easier—including sleep training. Also, take advantage of familiar routines and nightly rituals, including reading and telling stories, as these often maximize comfort and closeness for children who are emotionally volatile. But if your child is a relatively mellow kid, if he already seems comfortable and relaxed about his role in the family, it might not be necessary to wait any longer if you want to implement your favourite sleep training method. You have to make the call based on your own understanding of your child.

So, let's tackle again the last reader's question about what to do with a child this age who is calling for mommy (and ONLY mommy) 5 times or more during the night, but who falls back asleep quickly once mommy arrives to tuck her back in. All she seems to need is a little reassurance and then she goes back to sleep. Problem is… now YOU'RE awake. Here's my take:  ESPECIALLY if you think that your child has reason to feel heightened levels of jealousy and insecurity (relatively new sibling, moving from a crib to "big bed"), I'd wait this stage out and avoid any real sleep training. We all wake up many times during the night, at least for a second or two. What we are mostly good at is putting ourselves right back to sleep. But have you ever had periods in your life that were, oh, a tad stressful? And during those periods, have you ever had the experience of waking up and then not being able to fall back asleep? FOR. HOURS. What you've probably noticed is a tendency to ruminate during those times. We can't stop thinking about what's worrying us, what's making us insecure, anxious. Now… translate that to your child. She's working stuff out; emotional stuff that is difficult to deal with even for adults (jealousy). A mere month or two ago, she didn't fully comprehend that mom's affection could ever be anything except squarely aimed at her. What a rude awakening (tee hee… pun intended)! The 2 1/2 year old will wake up and feel just a tiny, small pang of anxiety and that little pang may wake her up fully and although she may not realize why, she needs you NOW. And then as soon as she realizes you're there for her, you aren't with someone else, meeting their needs, she feels better and slips back to sleep. Once she gets this out of her system, once she fully masters this stage transition, she will probably, naturally, without much training needed, stop calling out for you. If she doesn't, then 3 might be an easier age to reason with her and to help her learn to self-soothe.

Getting the book: For those of you outside of N. America

I've just sent out a batch of books to our very generous volunteer in Germany. She will subsequently mail out the book to all of you who have written me with your address in the EU and beyond. When I have a better sense of the timeline and total cost (considerably lower than ordering through, I'll put up a follow-up post. If you live outside of N. America and want the book but haven't sent me your address yet (via email, not the comments:, I've sent a few extras to Germany, so the first people to get me their names can still jump on this shipment.

Thanks for all your interest!

2 1/2 years old Part II: Reader’s question about the child’s mind

You know, sometimes it seems like I make these questions up myself just to provide the right springboard. Here's a recent email I received:

My daughter is 28.5 months old and it looks like she is approaching the
2.5 year developmental spurt.  She has been particularly fussy,
throwing more tantrums than usual and has started waking 4-5 times a
night. At night she will call out to ME to be covered usually.  She
falls asleep immediately after but this repeats itself a number of
times thru the course of the night.  I don't even rouse myself when I
go to her, but still it does interfere with a decent night's sleep.  My
question is what is happening in the head of a child this age and is
there anything I can do about being called repetitively throughout the
night?  I worry that if I don't respond to her calls, she will start
crying and then EVERYONE will be woken up ( especially her brother who
she sleeps with). I'm guessing during this regression there isn't much
I can do, right?

Let's tackle the first part here and the second part (about what, if anything, there is to do about multiple wakings) I'll get to in Part III (but yeah, unfortunately, there's no magic bullet during this age). So, what's going on in the child's head at 2.5 years old? I mentioned in Part I some of the highlights of the cognitive changes that are happening. Let's look at the emotional domain in more detail. Most of the following section was pulled from various parts of the book, but I had to add some extra commentary (and youtube clips) to pick things up a bit…

"According to Judy Dunn, a prolific researcher into the social side of early childhood, children this age begin to coordinate their newfound knowledge of people’s goals with their growing awareness of household rules. At about 28 months, the child can now understand how accepting or breaking rules asserts his own power over your goals, and hence your emotional states—no small advance in the diplomatic halls of family life. In fact, this understanding provides the child with a new level of social sophistication, social influence, and capacity for manipulation. When I'm talking about manipulation, I'm not saying they're these Dr. Evils in the making… But they ARE trying to figure out how far they can go in breaking the rules and what consequences will ensue; and the only real way to learn these things is to keep pushing up against their parents, the keepers of all that is good, safe, and powerful.

Toddlers will now test the limits, not only to see what they can get away with, not only to satisfy their basic need to assert independence, but to go a step further, to see how much social influence they really have. They will find a way to touch and eventually ruin or ingest whatever you least want them to handle: the kitchen knives, the computer, the bottles of detergent beneath the sink. With great concentration they will find a way to engage in the forbidden behaviour as soon as you enter the room. Why waste this potentially hazardous action on a parent who isn’t paying attention? And you know when they look at you with that glint in their eye? And say "NO way!" Or completely ignore your plea for compliance? Or… scream "SILENCE! you silly parent!" (forgive me… it's been a long day and these Dr. Evil references are cracking me up). But why do they do it? What could possibly motivate this obnoxious testing? It isn’t because they are truly evil—although we sometimes wonder. It isn’t because they really want to wreck your day, or be rushed to the hospital. It’s because they need to know how much control they have over the thing that matters most: how other people are feeling. And they need to understand what lies behind bad emotions as well as good ones. What they are exploring is the background logic of the emotional lives of those they love and depend on. If you suddenly had access to that kind of information, for the first time in your life, wouldn’t you dive in?

This is also the age that jealousy comes on line full force. Jealousy is certainly one of the most painful of emotions. Once it is let loose in the child’s mind, it seems to have the capacity to infect his thoughts and feelings, like a virus that self-replicates and makes the person sick. Nobody knows why it is so powerful, but we have all felt its sting. Nancy Friday, a brilliant writer who combines psychoanalytic and feminist principles in her work, shows how jealousy is inextricably coupled with feelings of shame and self-doubt. If the child feels that somebody else is more worthy of a parent’s attention, care, even love, then she cannot help but see herself as somehow inferior. Why her and not me? Am I ugly? Am I bad? Don’t you love me anymore? Not all children feel jealousy, and corresponding emotions of shame and self-doubt, with the same intensity. Not at all. Some children are just more sensitive to the loss of affection, or even the outright rejection, that all children feel from time to time. Those children will certainly be more prone to jealousy. Nevertheless, even the most sensitive child is less likely to feel jealousy if there is no sibling with whom to compete.

The 2 1/2 year old is particularly prone to jealousy if a new baby has shown up in the last 6-12 months (or if mom is pregnant). After all, there was no competition up until now. And the little baby is so…cute. And you spend an awful lot of time with her, you carry her around everywhere, you seem entranced by her, over the top with all your cooing and gooing. What’s that all about?! We don’t know of a cure for jealousy, but as parenting books and common sense will advise you, the best approach may be to make time for your older child, to reassure him about his specialness, to show him, as well as tell him, how much you love him, and to explain to him that babies need a lot of help because they are so…helpless. You can also enlist your toddler’s help with the baby, while commenting on how big, how cool, how ABLE he is. This will ease the sting. And then you can try to enlist a regular babysitter for the next 6 months to get you through the roughest patch. It is indeed going to be all about YOU (as the reader's question emphasizes) and kids this age will be the WORST behaved with mom in particular, and their parents in general. It's a rough patch to get through, but they DO get through it.

2.5 years old Part I: Just when you thought you could relax

So, piggy-backing on the last reader's question, let's talk about the next major developmental transition: two and a half years old. Dude. This is a doozy. And it can last up until the child is around three. I'll stick to the more "cognitive" changes for this post and tomorrow I'll add the emotional level.

So, here's a small excerpt from our book on the cognitive changes that come online around 2.5.  The implications for sleep training will start becoming obvious to you, but we can get more specific in Part II (and please feel free to leave comments about your thoughts).

From Bedtiming: "Findings from a broad range of studies point to several fascinating changes in how toddlers think and act.  The transition from Stage 5 to 6, at about 28–30 months (2.5 years), spells major advances in the complexity of the sentences, stories, and rule relationships children can understand and manipulate. For example, children can knowingly either follow or violate rules well before 2 years. They know that throwing food is frowned upon, but they do it anyway, with a maddening glint in their eye, and they know that cleaning up toys is a good thing in some vague way. Two-year olds can also be aware of people’s goals, and the feelings that arise when they are satisfied or obstructed. Mommy is happy when I eat my carrots. My sister is sad when I hit her. BUT!  And here's the big change: they don’t see rules and goal-seeking in relation to each other. Which means that they don’t really get the purpose behind rules. By 2.5, however, children come to understand that parents’ goals and feelings have everything to do with rules. Rules are a recipe for making parents happy or angry. Breaking rules now involves more than just a display of selfhood: it marks a true rebellion, and that’s an expression of real power. We believe this is one reason why the “terrible twos” often get worse, not better, at the age of 2 and a half.  But kids this age can also follow rules to make parents happy or to keep Grandma from scolding them. In sum, children can now follow rules or break them in order to influence other people’s feelings. This is why we call this stage, "Social Maneuvering." This level of social understanding, and its use for good, not evil, so to speak, may be an important start on the path of moral development, the ability to know what's right and wrong and make choices accordingly…

The other social acquisition we emphasize for this period is a different animal, and one often seen as a monster: jealousy! Now is the time when true jealousy first rears its ugly head, because jealousy involves the comparison of two social relationships: you and me versus you and him, that other fellow over there who you seem to be quite taken with! That little threat in mummy's belly, waiting to pop out and take all mummy's attention and love from me (unfortunately for so many little 2.5 year olds, many parents have their second child right around this time). The more attention you give to him, the less you have for me. That’s the cognitive computation underlying real jealousy. This level of cognitive processing is exactly the same as that required to understand and manipulate others’ feelings by obeying or disobeying the rules, and that is why it emerges at roughly the same age…"

I'll write more about jealousy in Part II, because of its intimate connection with shame, feelings of inferiority, and other negative emotional states. But you can already see why bedtime issues get a lot more complicated. It turns out that the success or failure of sleep training at this age may depend a lot on whether there is another sibling around to bring the green monster out of its closet. Being attuned to these potentially painful, confusing emotional upheavals in our children at the very least helps us understand them; it may also help us consider structuring sleep transitions in more sensitive ways (as well as helping us to help them with so many other challenges they might be facing at this age).

For those of you out there with kids this age (or kids who have already gone through it), does this description resonate with you? Does it make sense? Can you give "real life" examples of this newfound obsession with understanding (and breaking) rules explicitly? Anyone else seeing jealousy really flare up at this age?

Reader’s question: Siblings and cribs and big boy beds, oh my!

So here's a GREAT question. Great in that, "wow, it covers so many issues" way and, also, great in that "holy crap where do we start?" way… I'm doing this in parts because, well, there's lots of parts:

I figured why not ask you a question about M''s sleep because OMG I'm dying here. She's 7 months and unlike her bro (now 2.5), she's not yet napping
on a flat surface.

OK, right off the bat, I just have to suggest that whatever you're thinking, the 2.5 year old will have some problems with whatever transition you're going to make, given he's in a MAJOR developmental transition. Doesn't mean you shouldn't make changes, only means that you should be aware of the crazies that might ensue. I realize I haven't written yet about the 2.5 stage on this blog. Bad me. VERY soon I'll get into the details. Like… tomorrow. As for the 7-month old… If you're going to do anything dramatic, DO IT NOW!  8 months is just around the corner and that's a tough age for change.

With D, he had a nice smooth transition to me
laying with him on the bed to nurse, falling asleep and me leaving him
there for naps. I could even move him to his crib/co-sleeper and he was
fine as he got older. He'd cry at first and then be fine. Same happened
when I night weaned him. Easy CIO and was done. Q was a
completely different story. Actually, she's a lot like how M is

Little Miss M naps in her car seat in the Graco Sweet Peace
(swing) and I can nurse her, put her in there awake, and she'll scream
a bit and then fall asleep. But it's playing music and swinging. If I
do the lay down/nurse thing with her, she pops right awake when I get
up and it's all over. Of course, I have not actually tried putting her
in a crib (D is still in there) and the playpen was a disaster
because she'd stay asleep and then roll over a few minutes in and wake
up screaming her fool head off. Admittedly, I've been lax on the naps
because I'm chasing after the other two. But, for the most part, those
are okay (although I want to get her on a solid flat surface and not
always in the swing…

You're in a great time of resilience for your 7-month old, so any major
change you want to make will probably go reasonably smoothly. You seem to be ok with some pretty proactive
sleep-training methods: you can put those in place for naptime anytime
(like, now) you're ready.

Needless to say, at night, she's still in with me and I'm not
getting any sleep. She does fall asleep and most often stays asleep
(except for the last week = teething/separation) in our bed. But when I
get in, she wants to nurse constantly, and I give in, mostly to keep
her quiet so I can catch some z's. I know that if she was in her own
bed in her own room, she probably wouldn't need to nurse, but since
she's with me, I hear her and then pop a boob in her mouth.
We're ready to move D [2.5 years old remember...] into a big bed with Q [his almost-5 year old sis] (same room -
God help me) and then move M into his crib. I THINK. D still
naps so well in the crib, I'm afraid to make him sleep in a big boy bed
for nap time when I fear he'll just get out and never nap. And M,
well, I realize some training will need to occur because good lord, the
night time especially is really killing me. I'm not averse to CIO; it
never worked with Q but was great with D. She does seem to scream
and then fall asleep if she's tired. So that's a good thing.
We were waiting to do this all in one big shift (which probably
isn't that smart), but it needs to happen. I need my bed and boobs
back. I'm not interested in night weaning, and I'll go in there 1 or 2x
if I have to, but I need her out of my bed.
So should I move D? Get another crib for M? Move him just
for night and leave him in the crib for naps (and put M in a
playpen?) Move them both at the same time?

OK, everyone following that? Yeah, YOU try having 3 kids under 5… Here's my distilled advice, after making far too many flow-charts to get this all straight. M is at a great age to make the transition from co-sleeping to her own crib. Wait another month and it will be SO MUCH HARDER. And you're really fed up, which means a lot in my book. You can't be the flexible, connected mother you want to be when you're sleep-deprived and starting to feel fed up. So, I'd say: Go for it! Move M to a crib or crib-like thingy.

But here's the problem, D is 2.5 and that means real upheaval, developmentally. The short story is that he's going through a major cognitive-emotional transition period. I'll write more about it in a post unto itself tomorrow, but one of the main components of this stage is the onset of JEALOUSY. So, before this, he didn't have the capacity to feel the real force of jealousy (yeah, he might have been whiny when he wanted you and you had his baby sister in your arms or at your breast, but NOTHING like what he's feeling now or will be feeing very soon). Because of this sudden developmental onset of jealousy, moving him OUT of his bed/crib and substituting his sister in his place will be, in short, a MAJOR diss from his perspective. Now, you could just decide that it's worth the upheaval. You wouldn't be evil deciding that, given the various constraints of available beds, cribs, boobs, and sleep deprivation. But if it was me, here's what I'd do:

I'd move M to a crib or some sort of pack and play or something, out of your bed (too bad you don't live close to me… I have two cribs I need to get rid of soon). It's  a great age for this shift for her. I'd leave D in his crib for another 4 months or so. He's sleeping in there great, he's napping wonderfully, and everything is how you'd like it to be, except that he's got the crib you'd like to give to M. MANY kids drop their naps if they're shifted to a big boy bed during this 2.5 year old stage. First off, this stage often involves sleep setbacks to begin with. If you compound these developmentally-charged sleep setbacks with a change in sleep setting all together, you may be in for some real sleep upheavals from him. The rest you thought you'd get from M being out of your bed may end up being compensated for by the crazies that might come from D. Also, switching him back and forth from his new "big boy bed" to his old crib (just for naps but not for night), where his baby sister will be sleeping at night, will be very confusing for him and might make him less likely to sleep in both settings. Many kids really get comfort from the feeling of their own space, their own bed, their little den. To try to get him to switch back and forth, in a time of transition (nap and night), will probably be very difficult.

This is really, really hard because you're balancing the developmental needs of two children, one of whom is in a great resilient stage and the other who is in a vulnerable, sensitive stage. The oldest will probably do just fine with having her brother start sleeping in her room (5 is a nice stable age). Add to the mix that your own needs have to be met and you have space constraints and it seems silly to purchase an extra crib… well, it is really tough and very typical for many families dealing with siblings and their conflicting sleep needs.

But, of course, you guys should know me well enough by now to know that
I never think things are so absolute. So… if you're desperate, and
you really don't want to buy a second crib or move M to his brother's
room for a few months, you COULD try to play the "big boy" card big
time. If you go the route of change everything all at once (OY!), here's how I'd do it: You could keep in mind D's probable issues with jealousy and let
him know how SPECIAL and BIG and GREAT he's been, so much so that
you're going to move him to his very own SPECIAL, BIG BOY bed, in his
BIG SISTER'S SPECIAL room. Really make a HUGE deal of how much you love, care, respect, need him. In other words, make this transition the foundation for addressing his probable jealousy. Take some extra time to be sensitive to what this move means to him and make it clear to him how special his role in the family is. Also, pay extra attention to his emotions and perhaps connect with him on how hard it might be for him. I don't mean to sound extra hokey, but it really is a sensitive stage in his little world.

Any other moms with more than one child who are dealing with a similar situation? How do you decide whose needs to prioritize? What would you do in this situation?