Thanks to The Baby Sleep Site for sponsoring this conversation and providing helpful tips!
When you have a brand new baby, you expect sleep to become non-existent. Newborns are not born knowing how to sleep; they eat often and sleep for short periods. But as your baby gets older, you start being able to get longer stretches between wakings. Older babies can learn to fall asleep on their own, but they do go through periods of sleep regression and may continue to have sleep problems. Do you know how to get your toddler to sleep through the night?
I have been a subscriber to The Baby Sleep Site since becoming a Mom and my infant board on Pinterest is full of their helpful tips. In this collaborative post, I would like to share the sleep problems we experienced with Baby H and share some wonderful tips from Nicole from The Baby Sleep Site.
Sleep issues we experienced when our child was an Infant
When Baby H was a newborn, he ate a lot. I often got only an hour between the end of one feeding (which took almost an hour on its own) until the next. This improved somewhat when we emerged from the newborn stage, but he still woke often and fed multiple times a night for a long time. This was obviously difficult when I returned to work but we did our best to streamline nighttime feedings and reduce the duration of each waking required.
When he was six months old, we moved him to a crib in his own room and soon began to attempt sleep training. I read about the various methods of sleep training and my husband and I started to ease into training. We started with the gentle sleep training approach, establishing a routine and slowly reducing the time we rocked, etc. We did the pick-up-put-down method for a while, but that seemed to make bedtime last so long. Sometimes it would take us an hour to get Baby H to fall asleep. He was just incredibly fussy and if we weren’t holding him, he acted like the world was ending.
We eventually moved to the check and console method, and eventually gave cry it out a try for a few nights. As I detailed in my post from that time-frame, cry it out worked well for us and faster than anticipated. You see, our fussy little man was born with a strong will, and we needed to be stronger than him to get him to cooperate. That is still the case today. After a short time, we were able to lay him in his crib and say goodnight, and he would smile and let us leave. I thought our sleep issues were solved for the most part (travel and other disruptions notwithstanding). Then toddler life threw us a curveball.
Sleep issues we experienced with our Toddler
I remember being happy when my child outgrew the infant stage because I thought that meant better sleep and easier times ahead. Baby H was sleeping well, he didn’t fight bedtime and rarely woke in the night. Then my husband went away for an extended Army training and then away on active duty, and things began to change. My son was 14 months old at the time and even though that is still quite young, he was sensitive to the changes in the house. He began to wake in the night, which I first thought had to do with sleep regressions.
Trying the cry it out method no longer worked, because he would scream and scream until I finally gave in and went to him. Sometimes he would fall back asleep after I consoled him. But there were times that he was inconsolable, and even seemed scared. I started researching night terrors, but it didn’t seem to be that. I started to think my son was having nightmares.
Solo parenting a young child and working full-time while sleep deprived was taking its toll on me, and I started relaxing my sleep rules. In order to get the most out of the night and having to get up and go to work, I started bringing the toddler to bed with me when he woke if I couldn’t get him back to sleep quickly. This started out with only one or two nights and soon turned into most nights. He would calm immediately when I picked him up but start screaming again when laid back in his crib. In my arms, he fell asleep quickly. So that became our new normal. From reading Nicole’s tips below, I can see I was reinforcing the behavior I didn’t want, by taking my own shortcuts. But I was in survival mode then.
My husband was able to come home between his 4-month training and before the next assignment started. He was home for a week, and for that week our son slept amazingly well. I realized that was probably because he had his family together and was more relaxed. His behavior was improved and his overall personality was happier.
When my husband went away again the difficult nights returned. The screaming was back and now he would scream even when I came to pick him up. As he got closer to age two, he started searching for Daddy at night and the wakings (and his behavior) got worse. I figured it was just “the terrible twos” as he was also acting out towards me, biting, hitting, etc.
I eventually started sleeping in his room on the extra bed after his wakings rather than bringing him to the master bedroom, so he had a carpeted floor to roll around and scream on (the master has a wood floor) so he wouldn’t hurt himself. There were nights where after his meltdown, he would cling to me so tight and sob. I couldn’t figure out how to get my toddler to sleep alone!
Now that my husband has returned, our little boy is an amazing sleeper again. He is generally happier and calmer and we haven’t had any more night meltdowns. I chalk the problems we had up to the disruption in the home and our child’s sensitivity to it. But I also understand that I may have contributed to some of Baby H’s issues as well by allowing him to see my stress levels and not being consistent with the sleep schedule and routine. While our issues were certainly temporary (though long term) and fixed themselves quickly upon the family unit being whole again, I could have definitely benefited from some help during that time.
Toddler Sleep Help – Tips from The Baby Sleep Site
Toddler Sleep Tips:
- Assess the schedule first and foremost – Although it may appear a baby or toddler has separation anxiety, sometimes we can project our emotions onto our children (mom guilt is real!). Separation anxiety (or “clingy-ness” as some would describe it) can be a result of a schedule problem. Being over-tired may cause short naps and numerous night-wakings and the more tired they feel, the more they want to be near you. Offering a nap and/or bedtime 15 minutes early can make a BIG difference. This is especially important if your toddler is at daycare or preschool where there is a lot of activity and stimulation. As working moms, it’s hard to get home and into bed “on time” but the more you do it, the better the sleep, usually.
- Re-evaluate your sleep routine – Sometimes we can unintentionally reinforce the very behavior that is causing sleep challenges. We want to be very empathetic when it comes to separation anxiety as it has peaks and valleys throughout childhood, but depending on your sleep routine, you could be reinforcing there is a reason to feel anxious. Have a predetermined and consistent end to your sleep routine and emote confidence you will “see you soon.” The more you give “one more hug” and drag on bedtime, the longer bedtime may become. It can be a vicious cycle.
- Think creatively – Try to think outside of the box as to what might help your toddler be more comfortable. Does he want to sleep with his favorite car or truck? Does she want to wear a dress to bed? Do your twins want the door to stay open, so they don’t feel “shut-in?” Toddlers can attach to all sorts of items that bring them comfort, so don’t worry about it being “weird.” A lovey (aka transitional object) can make a huge difference in their sleep. And, don’t hesitate to sleep on it for a few nights, so it has your scent.
- Be supportive, but don’t go overboard – It’s always important to support our children in the many things they do and we want to raise confident adults with high self-esteem. And, part of that is to support them in a way they can flourish independently. Of course, we can do a jigsaw puzzle with them and how fun that is. But, the look on a toddler’s face when he does it all by himself? Priceless. When it comes to sleep, this is no different. Teach him how to do it and then watch his prideful moment when he does it all by himself. Encourage and celebrate it. Support him when he needs it, but learn when it’s okay to give him some space to do it himself. Yes, he is likely to get frustrated at times just like the child who falls while learning to ride a bike, but when you all are sleeping well and having way more fun during the day without the irritability, your hard work is worth it.
- And, finally, be a tortoise if you have to – The tortoise won the race, not the rabbit. Independent sleep is a spectrum. On one end, they need you 100% and on the other, they don’t need you at all. My 9 and 11 year old aren’t at 100%, yet, and I’m thankful for the cuddling we do every night! It’s okay to move along the spectrum a bit slower when they are experiencing separation anxiety and a bit faster when they are feeling at their most confident. We all go through waves of feeling more or less confident in ourselves, so recognize that and adapt your parenting. BUT, continue to move forward towards your goals just the same. A child who is learning to tie their shoes will be slow, make mistakes, and get frustrated. But, the more you do for her, the less confidence she has she can do it, she won’t get faster, and won’t make progress. Teach, support, and give them space to do what you already know they can do. Have confidence in them and they will grow their self-confidence.
Have you had sleep issues with your baby or toddler? Did you consider getting a sleep coach?