Q. "My very active 3 1/2-year-old is about to drive me crazy, especially at bedtime. While I would enjoy a quiet, leisurely time of bath, story, lullabye and bed, she is wild, teasing and generally uncooperative. Every step of the way becomes an issue at which I must insist, put my foot down, threaten to eliminate the story, walk out, etc.
"The upshot is that the day almost invariably ends unpleasantly: I am angry and frustrated; she is demanding and hurt. Now she is beginning to get out of bed and owl around the house after I leave her and that only prolongs the scene. I am aware that she is jealous of our 3-month-old baby and also that she is going through Oedipal rivalry with me. But I am at a loss for what to do to improve bedtime."
A. Oedipus is cold comfort, as his wife was one of the first to discover.
You can't do such about the Freudian whims of a child or the mid-year changes when she breaks apart to regroup for the stage just ahead. And you wouldn't want to do anything about the baby who's learning to coo and goo and make grown-ups go daffy, even though it makes the big sister get more jealous than ever.
You can, however, give her much extra attention, but on your terms, not on hers. Do something productive together in the morning, even if you have to keep her out of nursery school occasionally, but don't do housework. You're looking for something that will win compliments at the end of the day, when she's beginning to fray, and cooking is usually best for this. Help her make something for dinner, like a bottle of salad dressing or some rolls or chocolate mousse in a blender. So long as you only read the recipe, assemble the ingredients, show her how to measure them and tell her how to mix, she's still the cook, and she gets the compliments.
After lunch, give her a cuddle and a story and after nap hire a pre-teen to stroll the baby around for an hour while you and you daughter go on a walk too -- in the opposite direction -- or while you have a proper tea party with her doll dishes. If you have more quiet times together during the day, you may not mind if bedtime is a little rowdier than you'd like.
You can expect it to be somewhat better if you bathe and pajama your daughter before dinner rather than afterwards. A soak in the tub seems to soothe any adult, but some children find it a stimulus instead, especially if there are many toys in the tub.
Since your daughter doesn't seem to want a cozy bedtime scene, she shouldn't have to have it -- and you need to talk with her about it early in the day. Tell her you really enjoy a quiet time with her at night, and you can understand it if she doesn't, but that you don't have the energy or the patience to play at that time.
And tonight when she begins to carry on, you don't insist or threaten. You give a kiss and walk out instead, without any debate about it. And yes, she will howl and she will owl -- a lovely term -- and in fact, it will be worse than ever at first, even with all the attention during the day when she was good. However, the less emotion you show in your responses, and the less you engage in debate, the more your daughter will consider other tactics to get your attention -- like sweetness and snuggles -- although it may take a week or so for her to make the connection.
On the nights when you've had to walk out, go to her room later, wake her up, hold her in your arms, sing her that lullabye, tell her you love her and tuck her in again. The child who is surprised with sudden affection will appreciate it so much she won't ask for more, and if she does, you won't give her more than an extra kiss.
There is no rule that says every child should have lullabyes at night, and there isn't any that says a parent must put up with nonsense.