When your baby gets overtired, she can be a real pain to deal with. Obviously you want to avoid letting your child stay up too late and getting to the point of tantrums, but when she’s overtired, her behavior isn’t entirely her own. Dealing with an overtired baby requires more care than with a little one who simply chooses to misbehave.
Symptoms of Overtired
When a baby or toddler is overtired, she will likely go through distinct phases of exhaustion. At first you’ll notice your little one yawning and looking a bit mellow. This is the ideal time to put your little one to bed. But if you miss this opportune mument, it will likely pass you by quickly and soon you’ll have a child that seems full of energy. The same “second wind” that hit you in school while pulling an all-nighter is now hitting your child. This energy is usually undirected and your baby may be literally bouncing off the walls.
While she’s in this state, she most likely won’t listen to you, sit still, mind her manners, or even eat. She will play frantically and might whine or cry the whole time. You may begin to hear screaming and squealing, and no discipline attempts will work as you’re not dealing with your child, but an exhausted version of her.
After the wild stage, your child will most likely enter a melt-down. She will start to cry, whine, fuss, and sob. All the while she might be rubbing her eyes, pulling her ears, and trying to pull or climb on you. The longer your child goes without falling asleep, the harder it is for her to fall asleep when she tries. If she’s overtired, your baby will very likely fight sleep as much as possible.
Dealing with an Overtired Child
If your child is overtired, you may try direct punishments and stern discipline methods to correct misbehavior, but they will likely only make the problem worse. Your child is not willfully disobeying wholeheartedly at this point the way she might by throwing a tantrum over ice cream. She is out of her mind with tiredness and needs to be handled with kid gloves.
If you see your child getting spun up, agitated and almost unstoppably out of control, the worst thing you can do is wait for her to run out of stream. Eventually she will sleep, but the damage will be done by the time she melts to that point. Every time your child winds up overtired, she sleeps more poorly and is agitated while she sleeps. Nightwakings and other night problems often stem from children who are constantly tired beneath the surface.
If your child seems to melt every evening, you need to work backwards to address the problem. If your child shows symptoms of being overtired at bedtime, start by assessing what happens throughout the day. Does she eat a good dinner or is she just whiney at dinner time? Tied children don’t eat the way rested ones do. If your child seems grumpy and tired at dinner time, consider experimenting with the time of your meal.
Many households with small children eat dinner by 5:30 or 6pm. This is no accident. Watch your child closely on a normal day and gauge her activity level. If she seems to taper off during dinner at seven, you need to move your routine much earlier so that you’re laying her in the crib at seven instead of trying to force-feed her. Move dinner to six and follow the meal with bath and bed. Try your new routine for a week and see if there is a change in your child’s behavior.
During a Meltdown
While working to find a perfect schedule for your little one, or if you are forced to follow a schedule that might not be ideal due to working hours or other considerations, you will need to be ready to handle the inevitable meltdowns. Rather than count on a large dinner from a tired child, feed her a large tea time snack and then give her a regular dinner. If she eats all of her dinner, great. If she’s too tired to focus on the meal, you’ll at least know she ate healthily previously.
When you see her starting to get wound up, know that she won’t stop the game of chase or the wilder antics until she is forced to stop either by an injury or a parent. When you see her play turn frantic, intervene as quickly as possible and redirect your child to a more peaceful activity such as a film, book, or coloring if she’s old enough. Quiet activities use less energy, so if you can help your child stay calm rather than race around the backyard, her energy might last longer.
Be patient rather than irritated when your child acts up. If you can’t put her to bed where she really belongs, at least be patient and help her during this tired phase rather than scold or punish her. If she appears to be upset in a particular situation such as a dinner out, rather than force her to stay at the table, get your own meal to go or take turns with your partner eating and taking your baby on a walk around the premises to break up the monotony of the meal. And as soon as it is possible, say your good buys and head out the door. It’s time to put that baby to bed.