In my world of being a sleep consultant I have to say that some of the most challenging cases I have met to date involve toddlers. And for good reason, once a baby passes the one year mark and begins their journey into toddlerhood, they begin to learn they are a member of the world around them.
Even better, they begin to really experiment with cause and effect on a grander scale. Any parent who has a child over the age of 4 can probably identify with that last statement and how the “Terrible Twos” seemed to last for over 2 years. I myself have two daughters. One who has just graduated from being a toddler to being a full fledged preschooler (yay!). The other, will be turning two in less than a month and is currently in the thick of what I call “The Epic Toddler Revolution”.
I bet some of you may be wondering why toddlers are so frustrating and test our patience and sanity time and time again? The answer…because that is what they have been programmed to do (to a certain extent). And here’s why…
Toddler Sleep Training Struggles-Toddlers are born boundary pushers. It’s most surely coded in their DNA and part of their new found sense of self awareness. Give them a rule and they will break it to see what will happen. And then they will attempt to break it several more times in different ways to see if they can get away with it.
Draw a line in the sand and they will cross it without a moment’s hesitation. This especially comes into play during kids’ bedtime routines and bedtime in the form of stall tactics. One more glass of water, one more kiss goodnight, just one more story or my favorite I have to go potty. Stand firm and stick to the bedtime plan. Do not waver. Push back on the bedtime boundary and reaffirm that bedtime is non-negotiable. In the end, although they push, they end up feeling very insecure when boundaries are shifted.
Toddler Sleep Training Struggles - Toddlers are born manipulators. Again, this is a natural part of development and a very handy tool. They have learned by perfecting this art, they can get what they want. It is a tool that will serve them well in life.
Toddler Sleep Training Struggles - Toddlers love structure and routine. Just as babies do, toddlers take comfort in knowing what to expect from one day to the next. If their world is every changing with different things occurring at different times every day, they won’t be able to adapt and deal as easily as most adults do. But if you offer a child the same basic framework of a schedule every day (when meals and snacks are, when playtime is, when nap time occurs, when bedtime is) they will respond better and more consistently to your requests. I can tell you with 100% certainty that both of my girls LOVE their schedule. Bedtime for us is usually a pleasure and carried out without drama or manipulation.
Toddlers view the world in black and white. “A place for everything, and everything in its place.” For many toddlers, they are unable to transition to sleep in a room where their toys are out of place. My sleep tip here is to spend several minute before nap time or bedtime (but not right before) cleaning up the toys and putting them away. In the evening before the bedtime routine, we “tuck” all of the toys in bed for the night. The girls love to say good night to their toys and sing the “Clean Up” song made famous by Barney.
Toddler Sleep Training Struggles - Consistency, consistency, consistency! Toddlers can be extremely persistent. They will diligently push to get what they want. Especially if the behavior has worked in the past. Decide how you are going to deal with infractions and stick to it. Do not waiver or let some behaviors slide as your child will see that rules can be broken without consequences.
All of the points that I have touched on above can extent to all areas of a toddler’s day to day life. But the majority of my clients who have toddlers who are not sleeping well tell me that it seems to reach a boiling point around bedtime and during night wakings. I 100% believe them. Being tired and frustrated is no way for a parent or child to live. But with time, patience and a well laid out plan, we can right where things have gone horribly wrong and get an entire family back on track to a great night’s sleep.
And in closing, now that I am a seasoned vet, I feel like I am ready to handle the irrational, dramatic and often incredibly funny antics of a toddler. Katie and my future little clients be on alert. I’m on to you!