Updated: Jul 23, 2020
'The Era of the Toddlenager'
Parents focus so much on infant and baby sleep- which is completely understandable because things seem so out of whack in the early months and can be extremely hard to figure out. It’s the understatement of the century to say that baby sleep is complicated and I believe each and every child requires a different approach.
So let’s say you are one of those parents who mastered the baby sleep game and you met your sleep goals. Ballin’! I’m picturing you raising the roof celebrating your newfound rest and alone time, not to mention reduced stress, improved mood and just the oodles of benefits from more sleep!
(OR you’re a parent who has always gone with the flow of sleep and that’s perfectly fine too)
WHAM. Something happens. And you find yourself a few years down the road with a toddler who acts like they're 16, or as I like to call them, a ‘toddlenager’ and all of your hard work seems to fall apart in the blink of an eye. Your once super manageable sleep situation blows up and it begins to feel like you have a newborn again.
Let me guess: 1. This child of whom we speak is between the age of 18 months and 4 years old. 2. Maybe you moved your toddler into a toddler bed or a ‘big kid bed’. 3. Or your little ninja started climbing out of the crib. What parents may not realize is that toddlers just simply do not have the tools or self-control to deny their curious little minds the pleasure of exploring their new freedom. They may have the best sleep foundation ever and have the ability to fall asleep independently, yet they still wake up frequently or wake up at the crack of dawn.
And you know what else stinks (but is important to keep in mind)? Toddlers can’t tell time! 5:15 AM feels like a perfect time to get the party started. .
So, are you one of those parents who thought you were in the clear forever because you had your baby’s sleep puzzle lining up just perfectly? Yep. Me too. What you need to know is that the majority of toddlers will go through a period of testing boundaries and limits- which is a very normal part of their development. This is actually a GOOD thing. The rotten part is, bedtime allows for so much opportunity for your toddler to do just that. This results in early risings, frequent trips to the bathroom, or perhaps frequent ‘pop-ins’ to your bedroom.
First, just know that is behavior is 100% normal. Good sleeper or not, your parenting had nothing to do with it. Here are some things to consider:
Maybe you transitioned to the big kid bed too early
o Need the crib for a new baby arriving? Think your baby looks too crammed in the crib? Neither of these are good enough reasons alone to make the transition, unless your LO is baby Shaq. Just hang in there, especially if your kiddo hasn’t started to climb out. I found baby #2 a great second hand crib super cheap! (Sorry baby #2, no pottery barn for you)
o If you can, wait to transition your toddler out the crib for as long as possible. ‘If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it!’ I usually recommend waiting until at least 3 years old because at that age, cognitive developmental skills allow for an increased ability for your kiddo to understand rules and boundaries.
o Toddlers like having a ‘nest’ and a more confined space-it tends to be calming. When moving to a much larger bed, you’ll realize that you wind up emulating the crib setting in order for them to feel comfortable and secure. They’re like…”what is this weird pillow at the end of the bed for?!”
Consider your Routine
o If you’ve made the plunge to the big kid bed or have a kiddo who tests boundaries with the crib, consider making a change to your bedtime routine.
o I always think that big changes in a child’s environment or in their developmental growth require a change in the routine to signify that we still need to be predictable and consistent, but we also need to recognize that the old routine just doesn’t satisfy the child’s needs right now. I know this can be hard, trust me, I was totally married to my baby sleep routine.
o Your toddler will appreciate and perhaps even look forward to the new and exciting additions to the routine! This is your chance to get creative. Some examples to add include lavender oil foot rubs, a calming meditation app like headspace or Moshi, or an incentive chart.
o From start to finish, try to keep the entire routine between 15-30 minutes. It can take quite a bit to wind a toddlenager down.
o Don't miss your window! Toddlenagers can go from 0 to 60 in a span of about 3 minutes. Avoid that bedtime meltdown and protest by beginning your routine before they are overtired.
o Give them some stake in it. Some sense of power and control is critical for toddlers to really feel like they are being heard. Get them involved in the new routine. Make pictures together, give choices, reward the desired behavior.
o Adding an OK to Wake Clock is a great option.
If this all seems a bit overwhelming, I get it. I’ve been there as well as countless other parents! My ‘Toddler Shenanigans' package will guide you through it step by step to get through this phase seamlessly. I have quite a few tricks up my sleep to appropriately satisfy their developmental curiosity and sense of control, to avoid forming bad habits that contribute to prolonged shenanigans, and get your family back on track. Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org or book online at www.childsleeplogics.com