Nearly every time I scroll through Facebook, I’m met with desperate moms and dads of toddlers struggling with bedtime. I hear about everything! Tantrums, staying up until 10 p.m., escaping the bedroom or crib, parents sleeping in kids’ rooms with them, or only letting mommy put them to bed… These experiences put a strain on our relationships and can make for a very tired child and frustrated parents.
Here’s an example of what I’m talking about:
“My 3.5 year old refuses to go to bed for the last month.
We do our same nighttime routine of teeth brushing, read a book, cuddles and song then say goodnight then within 10 mins he’s up running around or asking for water or a toy or whatever. Bathroom breaks 3 times – we just dropped the night diapers, and he knows I let him get up to pee.
I have tried everything short of bribing him. I have taken away privileges like cartoons or videos. Taken away toys in his bed once he gets up – if he can’t sleep with them he can’t have them. Making strict no coming back for cuddles rule. Putting a baby gate up on his door so he doesn’t run around and keep up his siblings. Tried quiet house, tried putting laundry on for white noise – seems neither matters. Tried making sure he has his dedicated cuddle and goodnight song without his brother or sister coming into the room or making noise.
Tried the rabbit who wants to fall asleep on YouTube but didn’t work – perhaps the actual book would be better – any feedback appreciated.
This week I have resorted to sitting outside his door until he falls asleep. It’s up to at least an hour every night… feeling pretty tired, any tips?”
Twenty-eight comments later, this mom received advice including time changes, melatonin, locking the door, staying consistent, and cutting the nap. Not one single person addressed this issue as behavioral. No one identified it as an issue that needed love, comfort, and guidance to overcome.
This is why your toddler isn’t sleeping
Toddlers and preschoolers are boundary pushers in most areas of their lives. It’s their way of learning the way of the world and sleep is no exception to this. When they begin to discover their independence, they test limits to see where their limit starts and mommy and daddy’s ends. The interesting thing about bedtime boundary pushing is that if the balance shifts in their favour, it can leave your child feeling insecure about their role as a child and your role as a parent. This shift often leads to the behaviour worsening, as they want to see how much you will let them get away with.
As a parent, I will be the first to admit that bedtime is the easiest time of day to get the better of me because I am often exhausted from a busy day with work and/or kids. Many families share this same feeling. We are just too tired to deal with tantrums or inappropriate behaviour! We want to get some sleep!
Gaining back control means firming up boundaries and making consequences entirely clear for your child. You need to see those consequences through every single time. It is hard work to re-establish the balance of control, but it’s also extremely rewarding to see your child feel secure and happy and go to sleep each night peacefully and wake up happy in their bed in the morning.
No amount of Melatonin, bribery or begging is going to resolve the issue in full if you don’t address the root issue. You are going to need a game plan, something you and your partner can stand behind and see through to help your toddler get to sleep peacefully and stay there.
The Toddler Method
For my clients doing the toddler method, we spend lots of time looking at language. The way you talk to your child in all areas of life will gain a response, so it’s vital that you have loving, positive, reinforcing but crystal clear language that outlines expectations and consequences that you follow through on. There can be no gray area.
The results take commitment. Unlike infant sleep training, toddler sleep training needs weeks and weeks of consistency for the results to last long-term. It’s easy to fall into the trap of slipping back to old habits when things start to look better, and your toddler thinks “oh hey, she let me have that extra book or rub my back a little longer! Let’s see how many more books or back rubs I can get tomorrow”. It can literally revert back in a matter of nights if you don’t commit to the change.
Did you know it only takes 3 times of doing something with your toddler for it to be habit forming? Think about that in your daily life. Three times isn’t much, is it?
We work to reason, motivate and negotiate with your child to make changes, so that they feel in control, without actually having the upper hand.
Think your story is unique or special? I have worked with families whose toddlers have left the house in the middle of winter. One child was falling asleep all over the house out of exhaustion. Then there are the toddlers who become physically violent because of the sleep deprivation and twins that are ruling the roost!
If you are having bedtime battles, giving your toddler melatonin, locking your child in their room at bedtime, or sleeping for hours a week on the floor in their bedroom, please call me! It breaks my heart to see kids show up to daycare with bags under their eyes at 9 a.m. and mommy and daddy looking frazzled heading off to a day of work. I can help you, and your toddler love their sleep and have you all enjoying bedtime instead of absolutely dreading it.
Close Facebook and ask a professional. I look forward to hearing from you!