's picture


I'm looking for some advice. I'm a first time father, and my wife is a first time mother. We have a three year old son.

We started having trouble putting him down to bed when he turned two. He wasn't talking, yet. So, when we would put him down to bed, he would scream bloody murder, climb out of his crib, and pound on the door screaming! At first, my wife would just keep going back in there over and over and over, and even lay with him until he falls asleep.

We would get advice from books, blogs like this one, doctors, friends and family and they kept telling us not to do that anymore. They would tell us to just let him cry and scream himself to sleep, and eventually, he will stop doing it. So, we got him a toddler bed because him climbing out of his crib wasn't going to stop, and it was very dangerous. And, he just let him scream himself to sleep. That worked....for a while. He would go to bed peacefully, until he started talking.

Now, he's three and talks up a storm. Now, at bed time, when we put him down, he screams, "MOM!, MOM!, MOM!, MOM!, MOM!, MOM!, MOM!" over and over and pounds on the door. We tried just letting him scream himself to sleep, but he will literal do that for HOURS! He doesn't give up now!

Sometimes, my wife goes in there because he literal screams like he's being hurt, and all he wants is another hug and to say goodnight for the MILLIONTH TIME! He even goes as far as screaming that he's hurting, by screaming, "MOM, MOM, OUCHY!" And, when she goes in there, he just comes up with something random, like another hug, or to say goodnight again, or water again, or another blanket, or another animal to sleep with, or leave the door open, or close the door, or leave the light on, or turn the light off. And, as soon as she gives him what he wants and leaves the room, he starts screaming and pounding again.

My wife doesn't believe in spanking, and I'm going along with it. So, we don't do that kind of discipline. Sometimes, telling him we will take his toys away or that he can't watch his cartoon in the morning if he doesn't go to sleep will work, but most of the time it doesn't do anything.

We have found one thing that works every time, and I'm really embarrassed to even mention that we do this. It just seems SO wrong to do, but we've tried EVERYTHING that we could think of!

Here is how it started. We put him down like any other night. He started screaming at the top of his lungs, "MOM, MOM, MOM, MOM, MOM", pounding on the door and crying. My wife left for the store. So, I went in there and told him to stop, and he kept screaming, "MOMMY HUG, MOMMY HUG!" So, I said, "Stop it! Mommy is not here!" He instantly stopped and went to sleep. So, now, when we put him down to bed and he starts screaming, I go in there and tell him that mommy isn't home, and he goes right to sleep.

It works, but it seems so wrong to do. What exactly is the problem here? What can we do to fix this?


LHMom's picture

I hear and feel your concern. My gut and first instinct is to say that if it works and he settles down it is not harmful. If this was upsetting to him, he obviously would not settle down and sleep, but would escalate. It's more likely that he was being a three year old expert mommy-manipulator ('momnipulator' -- good coin)...
He has gotten responses from mom each time and this gives him control and power. If mommy's not there, she's not there. He can't control, and he knows that dad is not going to comply as easily. It's ok for you, mom to give in. That's mommy's role, but beware that it will be tougher as he gets older. (He will learn he can push your buttons). I know, I did, and I'm paying now!!!! But, not to worry. I'd bet that he's ok with your approach and soon, he will be out of his routine to cry and carry on. If there is a relapse-- testing time, I would try to just be firm, matter-of-fact and say "No-I'll see you in the morning" Or if it's too tough what I started and continue is to say "I'll come in and lay down with you later after I've finished XY and Z. This was/is usually satisfying and soon she will be asleep. Good luck. Anxious to hear how it's going!!!!

mayamay's picture

I disagree with LHmom. It is not okay for the boy to continue to manipulate mom. He may lose respect for her and if he does then when he needs an adult to stand up for him he will believe he can't count on Mom. Also, it is not good for him to have hysterical fits at bedtime when he knows Mom is at home. It interferes with his ability to fall asleep. She needs to get some earphones and half a glass of wine and take the lead in putting him to bed.

LHMom's picture

Mayamay, I actually agree with you that you disagree with me as far as suggesting mom should allow her son to manipulate her. Writing late at night, that did come out wrong. This was not my intention. I guess I was feeling as if mom should not beat herself up over this situation, or if later she feels the need to comfort in a different situation, that she realize the impact (short and long term) on her son's behavior towards her.

The bigger message, though, was to point out
1. that her son is manipulating her;
2. if temporarily removing her from the situation helps break this chain of behavior that this is not neccessarily a bad approach and
3. even if it seems to be wrong, it does not appear to be upsetting the child. Children get used to a routine. His had been to manipulate mom at bedtime to get what he wanted. At his age he needs to know that this is not ok, but to think that it's going to be as easy as sitting the child down and stating this is not likely going to work. If it is working to have mom not available to manipulate, than so be it. I would suggest that this old behavior would extinguish quickly as he gets used to the new better routine of going to bed as expected in just a few days. Then mom can begin to get back into the bedtime routine in a more positive way. Yes, I agree, when this happens she should be very loving, but very firm and not tolerate ANY manipulation in the bedtime routine. I was suggesting that she will pay for this in the future. It's not easy to break, but to look back and feel that you are a bad mom because you let things get to this point is counterproductive. As a first time mom, it's important to recognize this but hard to judge at what point you are crossing that line of giving attention and being manipulated. It's a learning experience. Sorry that that part of my comment was kind of misstated and missguided. Hopefully the larger message was somewhat helpful.