At Long Last: Sleep Training For The Exhausted Parent
Babies and toddlers don’t have many sleep issues in common. If you thought a baby’s sleep was hard to manage, wait until it grows up into a toddler. Toddlers don’t tend to mewl in the cot, but get up right away, jump on you while you’re still snoozing and make a lot of noise.
There are two main problems with toddlers’ sleep that many parents would like to see gone: putting them to bed and having them stay in bed until the morning. These two things tend to create a lot of drama. But does it have to be that way? Is there toddler sleep training?
Does My Toddler Need Toddler Sleep Training?
There are many ways something can be defined as a problem. This mostly has to do with your expectations, family relationships and the ability to live without much sleep.
There are parents who actually enjoy being half a day with their kids in a huge bed. Some play musical beds the entire night, and others must have their night’s sleep or they can’t function at all in the morning. This means kids go to bed and stay in it. Whether toddler sleep training will help you depends on your habits and endurance.
The same thing goes for bedtime. One parent might want the baby to be firmly asleep at 7 pm so they have the night off. Another parent might want to play Dota 2 from midnight on and want the baby sleep from that point on.
So, when you ask yourself, “Do we need toddler sleep training?” the only answer is — when do YOU go to sleep?
Making Toddler Sleep Training Work
In a similar vein, every family will have a different approach to the problem of toddler sleep training. One family might take a holistic approach and let things happen on their own. Another family will accept the kid’s crying and pleading as inevitable and just enforce bedtime.
First and foremost, this is about you and your wishes. What do you want the most? If you go with the flow and simply can’t stand seeing your little one miserable, then feel free to take the path of least resistance. Then, when the little one is exhausted, you will all get some sleep.
Alternatives To Toddler Sleep Training
There are different ways you can approach this problem. You might decide to stay near the child that’s constantly waking up. This means sleeping in the same bed or the same room. You might even have a mattress on the floor and sleep there. The idea is to help the toddler overcome fears of darkness and solitude, eventually giving the entire family some well-deserved rest.
The main thing is that you don’t need any toddler sleep training if you opt for this solution. There is no stress, screaming or lost energy. Of course, this means being a parent 24/7 and not having a single free moment for yourself.
Some parents can’t fathom their precious bundle of joy kicking them in the groin once. Now imagine them having to endure it throughout the night. For those who don’t want to wear a cup, here’s another solution.
Try to take things slowly and don’t rush anything. If your toddler has some behavior issues as well, you won’t be able to do proper toddler sleep training, so take a deep breath and apply your patience. First, the little one needs a steady bedtime routine. You can naturally start by getting pajamas on, the bottle of milk locked and loaded, and tell your child some interesting bedtime stories.
Though this might surprise you, a good approach is to treat your toddler like an adult. Discuss with them their sleep patterns and listen to what they have to say. If you try to scream and yell at them in an attempt to force things your way, you might alienate your toddler.
You should pay attention and find clues as to what the causes of sleep disorders are. This might save you so much time and trouble with your precious little one.
Making A Proper Bedtime Routine
A lot of parents loathe the very word “routine”, but it’s actually a very useful thing. When you want toddlers out of your way at the end of the day, there’s nothing better than a bedtime routine.
The good idea is to start winding the toddler down with the first hour before bedtime itself. Instead of allowing the toddler to continue its normal activities up until the very night moment, you can make your life easier and set it up in advance.
It is truly the exact idea behind bedtime routine — to have your toddler accustomed to the idea and make your job easier. As bedtime rolls around, the toddler is already snoozing and it’s only a matter of tucking in.
You can set up bedtime through a bath, tea, bedtime stories, soft lighting, light music, cuddling and sleep. There’s virtually no end to what you can do to ease the toddler into bed. It will take some effort to maintain the routine day in, day out, but parents who do it agree the payoff is immense. You will love the sound of silence.
When Toddlers Argue
We all know that toddlers don’t have a strong logical side. Instead, they like to reinforce their arguments with crying. This isn’t necessarily done on purpose, but once the toddler sees it’s working, it might be. Adults loathe the sound of crying children and want the toddler made comfortable whenever possible. That’s what adults do, right?
Over time, you will come to recognize different types of crying. A toddler might cry because of hunger, pain, cold, boredom or anger. Depending on the cause, you will want to take a different approach. The secret is to be responsive and sensible
Can A Toddler Fall Asleep Alone?
Definitely. If you do some of the bedtime routine tricks listed above, you will notice an improvement when it comes to toddler’s crankiness. It isn’t going to be like in the movies, where the toddler simply falls asleep after his mom, dad or a caregiver kissed on the forehead, but there will be a difference.
By the time your toddler learns to fall asleep alone, you will likely forget what it’s like to have an evening to yourself. In reality, toddlers want their parents present with them all the time. You might not like it, but that’s the simple truth of it.
You can use modern technology to help your little ones fall asleep. Or to entertain yourself while they’re dozing off, whichever works for you. Put the tablet or smartphone in front of a toddler and you won’t hear a peep out of them.
If you don’t like the idea of iPhone being a surrogate parent, you can try some (or all) of the following methods:
#1 - Bribe The Toddler Into Complacency
You can create milestones and award the toddler as it reaches different ones. For example, make a cute sticker or star chart. Award one sticker for going to bed without crying and one star for staying in bed the whole night.
The ultimate reward might be a new bike for 20 stickers or rollerblades for 20 stars. However, toddlers aren’t known for their patience and delayed gratification.
#2 - Promise You’ll Be Right Back
You might go with the tried and true trick of “I’ll be right back”. Technically, you aren’t lying. It’s just that toddlers can’t deal with a single second of separation, let alone minutes. The key to this method is keeping your promise.
It is the good way about how you build trust, and trust equals confidence. You can promise to be back and check up on the toddler every 5 minutes until they’re asleep. Of course, do it in a way that doesn’t disturb the little one. You can also wind a clock that goes off after a few minutes, wait until the kid goes to sleep, sneak in and switch it off.
#3 - Acclimate The Toddler To Being Alone
This is a method that does exactly what you would expect it to do — helps the toddler stay alone for longer periods of time. The idea is that you can eventually let the toddler go to bed alone. It probably won’t work if the kid has separation anxiety and keeps whining, “Don’t leave me alone”.
Try moving away with each successive night. One night fall asleep with the toddler and cuddle. The next night you might only hold hands and the following night sit on the bed. With each successive night, keep increasing the distance until the toddler is completely fine sleeping alone. Remember never to rush this process and if the little one starts crying, move in closer to comfort.
#4 - Simply Let The Child Cry Himself To Sleep
It’s a tough world out there, kid. You better get used to it. This method is easily described as “tough love”. Of course, there is some controversy attached to it. You go with the standard bedtime routine, but then don’t come back to comfort the child if it starts calling for you. Instead, you wait for 5 minutes and then enter the room. Over time, you increase the time interval to 10, 15, 20 and more minutes.
The idea is that the toddler realizes there’s no use in crying out for attention and just goes to sleep on its own. Some kids might intentionally throw temper tantrums knowing you’ll comfort them for as long as it takes and this approach nicely counters that. Whether this method will work for you is mainly down to how fed up with a cranky toddler you are.
In any case, you are well advised to talk with the toddler before trying out this technique. Simply be straight with them and explain that you can’t be there every second of the day. Otherwise, your behavior might be bizarre to the toddler.
Since toddlers can get up on their own, you also need to do “rapid return”. It means when the kid is forthwith told to get back to bed. No ifs, buts or ands. Go to bed and that’s it. If that doesn’t work, install a toddler-proof gate on the bedroom door.
My Kid’s In Bed - Now What?
There is a lot of science behind the simple act of sleeping. In essence, adults and toddlers go through sleep stages. There are stages where we’re firmly asleep and stages where the slightest noise will wake us up. The thing is, when an adult goes to a light sleep stage, he scratches his back, turns over and continues with the slumber. But a toddler will instead become fully awake and start crying for mommy.
The big issue is that toddlers’ and adults’ sleep cycles don’t match. That means that, yep, right when you’re about to get that restful night’s sleep, the toddler will get fully awake and cry the roof off.
When your deep sleep stage gets interrupted, you just can’t function the next day. You basically become a toddler yourself — cranky, whiny and unable to cope with the real world. Here are some tricks to get your toddler sleeping those few hours extra.
#1 - Bore The Kid To Sleep
Toddler sleep training? Nah, just whip out your 12 volumes of “Expanded history of philosophy” and put on the most monotonous voice imaginable. The incessant droning of your voice will knock the poor kid out cold. If you fall asleep as well, you can count that as some quality time spent together.
Though that’s meant as a joke, there’s some benefit to having a boring personality around sleepless toddlers. Instead of bribing the kid with cookies or stories, you bring out the heavy artillery straight away.
#2 - Sleep Together
This is one of those methods that can wreck your libido. But, hey, if it helps the kid, then it’s fine, right? Instead of having the toddler wake you up in the middle of the night, you simply sleep together. When the kid wakes up, you will be right there to put them to sleep.
In this way, you’ll cut down on time needed to wake up, get out of your bed, stumble to the kid’s bedroom and bring forth placation. Alternatively, you can set up a tiny cot for the toddler in your bedroom. When the monsters start gathering under the kid’s bed, he/she can flee to the safety of your room and crash on the bed awaiting him/her. In this case, everyone wins: you get to keep your bed space and the toddler can choose to sleep alone or in your presence.
#3 - Stubborn Return
In cases where all else fails, you might try to have your way through sheer stubbornness. When the toddler wakes up and stomps to your room, simply send him/her back to bed, again and again. You might need to carry them back physically, but beware — he/she might like it so much that they see it as a game. In that case, you will be gloriously failing in your intention to have the kid accustomed to sleeping alone.
This approach takes a lot of willpower, which doesn’t exactly grow on trees. But you might try it out, even for a little bit, just to see how the kid reacts. If it works, you will develop self-control and it might rub off on the kid as well.
#4 - Stay With The Kid The Whole Night
This is a different take on “stubborn return” method. Basically, you return the child to bed and then stay with him/her until he/she falls asleep. If you thought other methods were hard, wait until you do this 5 times a night, 2 months in a row.
Just like any other toddler sleep training method, this approach takes a lot of patience and you will need some time to get used to it. But, if you want to see any results, you will simply have to persist. Most parents who have tried this method confirm that it does work the best and it only takes 1-2 weeks to get in the groove.
#5 - Bribe The Kid
Your persuasion skills are rusty? Can’t you seem to convince a small kid you’re serious? It’s time to show them you mean business, as in, actually negotiate business with them. In this case, you will be buying a night’s sleep with a promise of delivering some consumables or other items or services sometime in the future.
We talk about kids and how to please them, but once you expose your weak side and plead for silence, you will see how ruthless kids can be. Anyway, you will finally be getting your rest and the toddler will learn the valuable skill of business negotiation. Well, it’s a silver lining.
How To Deal With Early Wakers
These are a special annoying, as they tend to serve as alarm clocks for the entire house. You can trick them into waking later by actually going in an hour early and waking them up. This is meant to disrupt their sleep patterns and hopefully, let you sleep a bit more.
Various products can help with early waking. For example, there are cutesy alarm clocks that feature an animal opening its eyes at a predetermined time. You can simply instruct the toddler to keep quiet until the bunny opens the eyes, set the clock to 7 am and enjoy your full night’s sleep.