Q&A: toddler practicing walking can't nap

Carly writes:

"My 11 month-old daughter just started crawling last week. She has progressed with lightening speed, though, to pulling herself up everywhere and trying to walk.

This is causing immense problems at nap time. We lay her down, she immediately rocks on her knees or sits or pulls up. I end up going in again and again and again resettling her, each time expecting it to be the last because she's so obviously tired (eye rubbing, yawning, blanket caressing). The past week this has been happening, it sometimes takes more than an hour of resettling before she finally conks out.

I am wound tight as a wire and severely stressed about this, as it tries my patience more than any other issue since she was born. Today I yelled at her for the first time, making her cry. I worry I'm going to snap.

Do I keep going in and resettling? Should I just ignore it and let her tire herself out (if this even happens...)?

I always used to snicker at moms who said their child was beating them, that they let the kid win. But she is totally kicking my ass, and feel beaten and desperate over what to do."

Give in. Surrender, Dorothy. She's not doing it on purpose, and she has no more control over it than you do. You and she are victims of the same out-of-control roller coaster. So try to cut yourself some slack, and maybe it'll help you be calmer with her.

Let me repeat: She's not doing it on purpose. Her body won't let her rest while it's doing this new learning-to-walk thing. That's why she's screamingly tired, rubbing her eyes, cranky, but still can't sleep. She's as upset about it as you are, except that she hasn't had the misfortune of reading the baby care books that say what she "should" be doing, or listening to advice from mothers-in-law and people at the grocery store saying all kids should be napping on the same schedule all the time by X age, or people telling you that she's trying to play you and you need to "show her who's boss." (Trust me--you won't win. Even if you win now, you won't win when she's 16.) No one's guilting her about this, and no one should be guilting you about it, either. (And she won't remember that you yelled at her, so just put that behind you.)

The best way to look at this is if you're partners, she and you, and you're in this together, and you help each other out. That way you take the power struggle out of the relationship. Because who wants to be struggling for control with a person who can't even talk yet? It's a vicious cycle that will only make you feel more frustrated and more disconnected from her, and will leave you both angry.

You're already saying you feel "beaten and desperate." What an awful feeling! Changing the way you look at it will give you back the confidence and mastery you know you have as her mother. Looking at it as an exercise in detective work or problem-solving will make you feel more connected and better at parenting her. So let's talk about some ways you can get through this time until she can walk and her body lets her sleep again like she did before.

How could you get her to sleep better during this time? And if there's nothing you can do about her sleep, how can you help yourself calm down during this time and remember that you're still a great mother, but now is about movement leaps and not naps?

Well, I'd start by looking at what's waking her up. It's the movement her body needs during this time. It might be possible that if you can create the movement externally, she might be able to sleep. You could try putting her in the stroller and walking her around so she can stroller-nap. Or putting her in the car and driving her around so she can sleep in her car seat. Yeah, she might not sleep as long as she usually does in her crib, but it's bound to be more than she's getting now. And at least you'll be out of the house, either getting exercise by walking or listening to CDs in your car.

Whether creating movement for her helps her sleep or not, you definitely need to de-stress. The mantra you should repeat during this time is "It's not my fault, and it's not her fault." You two are the innocent victims of a developmental movement spurt. You'll make it through this one, and then another one will come along, and you'll make it through that one, too. If you can try to think of it as funny instead of awful, you may be able to keep your calm. Have you taken any photos of her in the crib with her butt stuck up in the air, practicing? Both of mine were so freaked out by that stage. Sometimes they'd be asleep, and then would wake up because they'd be standing and they had no idea how they'd gotten there.

The other thing that may help is to just give up on the nap if it doesn't work after a set amount of time (my limit would probably be 30 minutes, but my patience seems to be decreasing as I age). Yes, she'll be extremely cranky by the end of the day, but you won't be as stressed out from trying so long. Then you can hand her off to your husband as soon as he walks in the door and just go out and do something for yourself. Exercise, or go drink a cup of tea somewhere, or just sit on the front porch by yourself and call a friend. If she's fussy or cranky because she didn't nap he can take his turn with her. You can probably bump her bedtime earlier by half an hour or so until this blows over.

And that's really the take-away from all of this: It is going to blow over. She'll start walking and then she'll start sleeping again. You won't believe how well she'll sleep, because she'll be so tired out from running her little legs off all day long. But in the meantime, please don't think of it as her "beating" you or as a battle of wills between the two of you. That's a road you don't want to go down because there's no possibility of either of you winning.

(If you're scratching your head about how I can advocate not trying to win against your kids, read the amazing book Between Parent and Child by Haim Ginott. It will change your whole way of looking at yourself as a parent--in a good way--and how you relate to your child.)