NORMAN — Q: For the past several weeks, our just-turned 3-year-old has been waking up and coming into our room at all hours of the night with the usual excuses. He’s scared, hungry, thirsty, lonely, can’t sleep, has to use the bathroom, wants a kiss and so on. He goes to bed at 7:30 if he takes an afternoon nap and 6:30 if he doesn’t. We are a marriage-centered household, so evenings are for Mom and Dad. Neither of our kids has ever even napped in our bed. When we take him back to his room, we usually lock the door. The next time he wakes up and discovers he can’t get out, he begins crying and kicking the door, waking our 4-year-old. Should we be patient, hoping this phase will pass quickly, or should we punish? We are zombies.
A: The living dead, eh? I remember those days well. Our first, Eric, did not sleep the night until he was nearly three years old. The problem was a combination of colic and two very inexperienced parents. I was in graduate school at the time and supporting us by playing in a rock ‘n’ roll band. One night, after trying unsuccessfully to put Eric back to sleep, my choices were to go stark raving mad or write a song.
So, because it’s against the rules for a psychologist to go crazy, I wrote a song titled “Three O’Clock in the Morning Rockin’ My Baby Blues.” It was pretty good, actually — a heavy blues number. I started adding verses to it during those early morning rock-a-thons. When Eric finally began sleeping the night, the song was 10 pages long, typed, single-spaced.
It is not at all unusual for a child’s sleep pattern to change around the third birthday. Some children outgrow the need to nap around this time.