Q: My daughter just turned 3 and she is a middle child. We have a couple of problems. Number 1, when she wakes up from a nap or during the night, she cries like she doesn’t know where she is and it’s hard to "wake her" to tell her she’s ok. Second, she doesn’t seem to understand when we tell her not to do something and put her in time out. And the time out thing doesn’t work anymore because when she’s done, she does the same things again. Please help - I’m at my wits end and don’t know what to do anymore!
A: If she is truly asleep when she cries, it could be night terrors. But if she is just waking up crying, it's possible she isn't getting enough sleep.
1. Make sure she isn't exposed to scary images or T.V. during the day.
2. Make sure she is getting a good nap (I mean actually sleeping well).
3. Have a very strict, regimented bedtime routine. For example, 7:00 bath, 7:20 out of bath, get dressed, brush teeth, 7:30 in bed and read two books...etc. She needs to feel secure and loved and a routine gives those comforting boundaries and lets her know what comes next and what to expect. She needs to go to bed feeling secure and happy to maximize good sleep and decrease the waking up crying. However, when she does, just hold and comfort her with reassuring, CALM words and energy. When you are tense or frustrated, she feels it, so to help her out of it, project that love and calm. I know it's so hard with two other children to care for, but she needs you right now!
As far as the time outs - if they are not working, the approach is probably wrong. When they continue to act out, the negative behavior is being reinforced somehow - we do it all the time without even knowing it! My books detail the TAG method - how to figure out why they are acting out, how to use time-outs correctly, and how to stop reinforcing the behavior we don't want to see. You have to give her the opposite of what she is shooting for. For example, if it's your attention, the time out has to serve to give her NO attention. It's easy once you figure it out, but "getting" the concept takes some thought and guidance - which the books give. Life with Toddlers is a long book with plenty of advice. Toddler ABC Guide is like the cliff notes to Life with Toddlers – the quick read. So you can choose which will suit you best, depending on how much you like to read - or how much time you have!
Best of luck - and hang in there! Having three kids (especially when two of them are so young) is ....gosh, just…overwhelming - but you DO make it through somehow. Just take it one day at a time and remember to breathe!! You are awesome and I know you can do it!