Has your two-year-old begun to fight naps and bedtimes? Here are a few strategies that may work with your little one to help them get the sleep that you and your child desperately need.
Oh the amazing, incredible two’s! The independence, the laughter, and the intelligence….uh, wait a second. No, I’m sorry. I mean the terrible two’s with it’s independence, incredible climbing skills, wicked fits, and sleepless nights. Yes, that’s more like it. Let me start off with a little story about a stay-at-home mom.
Oh this stay-at-home mom was just getting things together. She had moved past the sleepless nights and colicy days of the newborn stage. She dusted her boots off and began to finally get the hang of a cleaning schedule and meal planning. She toted her toddler around everywhere she went because, well, he enjoyed it and was happy all the time. Her husband and her decide to add another to their home because things were getting easier. Motherhood flowed a little smoother. Soon, she came pregnant with baby number two, but no worries! She had this down.
One day, her two-year old decided he could climb out of his crib. So he did. And once he did, there was no going back. The parents moved him into a toddler bed thinking, “No biggy! How exciting!” Well, this two-year old loved the idea of being able to get out of his bed, but he didn’t want mommy and daddy to leave either. Little boy began refusing nap time. “Oh no!” he said. “This is not for me. I’d rather play.” As if playing in his room for hours before he passed out wasn’t enough, he began crying and screaming when his mommy and daddy left. “What is this?” mommy cried! She was tired and her back hurt from running around after said two-year-old. She deserved a break!
Little boy began to have massive fits. “Is he teething? Is it his mollers? What is this?” mommy asked with no one able to reply. She was exhausted and too pregnant to keep putting this crying baby in his bed, Little did the mommy know that this was just the beginning. What was this mommy to do??
Sound familiar at all? Well, unfortunately, this mommy was me a few weeks ago. I was going crazy. Everything had been great. We had been figuring life out with our little boy. We were getting rest and I was beginning to take care of our house and even myself better because I could find the time. Then, the day of cries and screams and tantrums came….the day of infamy. It was awful. For weeks I researched and cried to my husband because I didn’t know what to do.
Today I was reading a mommy group message on Facebook about the 2 year sleep regression. I realized that we had found our answer. We had tried many different things, and we had found a rhythm that worked for us. I sat back and realized that, without even knowing it, this problem was solved for the time being. I had actually begun to move on! Woohoo! Mommy win (knock on wood)! How did I do it? Well, let me give you the low down of what I learned along the way. Hopefully, this will be a one-stop-shop for you. A place where you can learn about all of the tips and strategies I tried to decide what may work best for your little one. Good luck, and as a wise mother once said, “this stage is only temporary. It won’t last forever.”
Before I begin, let me say that these are our experiences. I am not a child therapist nor have I had enough training working with toddlers to say which strategies work to build a healthy identity in your little one. These are methods I have researched and combined with our own experiences. Hopefully they help!
- Spank/Punishment: Ok, right away you are gonna be turned off by this, but let me explain. This DID NOT work for us, but I have to provide it as an option because it does work for some parents. Even if you are completely against spanking of any kind, you may consider this option when you are exhausted and your little one screams at you for hours. But just know, this may not work for your little one. If it seems to be making your babe more stimulated, don’t do it. It will just make the situation worse, and when the situation becomes intense, it can be very hard to control those spanks. If spanking is not for you, maybe time outs will work. If you expect little one to stay in their bed and they continue to get up, time outs on a chair may help. These were the first things we tried because we felt, at first, like our little boy was manipulating us. We learned later that this is a part of development, and they are just trying to figure out their world. We decided it was best not to punish for that. Just our experience but none-the-less an option.
- Extend your sleep routine: I’m not going to go into why you should have a sleep routine or what it is because there are great resources out there for this topic. If you don’t have a sleep routine, begin one today. It will make a huge difference! Children need that consistency. Our routine consisted of quiet play, reading, prayers, some singing, and finally leaving the room. The second strategy we tried was to stay in the room a little longer. We tried staying and singing for 20 to 30 minutes longer than usual. This did not work. Our hope was that baby would fall asleep, but again, it may not be a great lesson to teach your child to only be comfortable sleeping when you are in the room. Your choice, but this did not work for us. Little boy seemed to become more stimulated by our presence.
- Supernanny: I used to watch the Supernanny and loved her! In my research, I found that she had a method for toddlers that got out of bed. You tell the toddler to stay in bed and that you will come back and get them when nap time is over. If your toddler gets out of bed, you take their hand gently, place them back in bed, and tell them to stay in their bed until you get them after nap time. When they get up again, you don’t say anything, you just take their handle and place them back into bed. No force is needed. No anger is required. Just a calm action of taking their hand and leading them to bed. You may have to do this 175 times, but they will get the hint. We tried this for a week to no avail. Our boy was very determined. Mommies pregnant back could not take picking up a toddler that was screaming/throwing himself everywhere and putting him in bed 150 times. It does work with some toddlers though! Some little one’s just need the reminder, and if you have the stamina and the patience, this gentle practice may work for you. It is completely worth the try!
- Co-sleep: When we had our little boy, we wanted to make sure he had the best possible relationship with us, and a secure relationship is formed when they are babies through their younger childhood years. I’m not a giant believer in Baby Wise, but I have a lot of friends who are, so more power to them. I knew our little one was sensitive and needed extra attention and love. Many things we tried were of the attachment-bonding lifestyle. We didn’t co-sleep, but we kept a looser schedule and tend to form many of our parenting practices around what works for him. With that said, co-sleeping was a big no no for us because we had heard too many horror stories of people smothering their babies (which is a legit fear to have). Needless to say there was no way I could really sleep like that. If you have a toddler who won’t sleep, co-sleeping may be an option for you. It may help him feel more secure. I’m not sure I fully recommend this practice, but it is hard to refute how many parents believe in this to help their child through some insecure years. It is not on our list to try, but it is still an option and may work for your family.
- Baby gate/Closing the door: Yes, we love the baby gate! This was the first method that actually worked for us. We bought a strong baby gate, kept the door open (so baby could see us and knew we were within reach), and kept him inside all of nap time. The baby gate helped symbolize the end of our routine. Baby would cry and scream when we left and run to the door, so I stayed at the door, assured him we were right in the other room, and gave him one last kiss before I left. I let him cry at the gate, and before long he would go and play with toys in his room or go to bed. I found that he played for about an hour with toys before he put himself to sleep on his bed. Um, score! Even if he didn’t sleep, he was still able to play quietly and rest his brain during “nap time.” Plus, I was able to go lie down and rest my own body that was building a second human, so it was much needed. Some parents threaten to close the door, but I felt like that might mess with my little boy’s sense of security so I opted out. I’m not a fan of making him feel trapped just to get him to go to sleep, but try what you need to! Tip: Get a strong baby gate because those little two-year-old’s are strong suckers!
- Color-changing nightlight/alarm clock/sun: In my frantic search for a solution, I came across this gem. Some parents tell their kids that when the sun comes up, they can get out of bed and mommy and daddy will come get them. I actually tried this after we achieved our baby gate method, and it worked. Having a solid symbol for when he could get up in the morning and when mommy would come get him helped assure him we would be back. This method made nighttime easier for us, but not necessarily nap time. That’s when I found a method of introducing a musical alarm or a color-changing nightlight that tells your little one they can get out of bed. We bought a little alarm clock where when it goes off, it plays a sweet tune, lights up, and fish swim around. He loves it! Now he gets so excited when that fish tank goes off, and he runs to the door to get me. It’s a lot easier putting him down for nap time and bedtime now because we use the alarm for both (the sun rises at different times and I wanted more consistency).
- The intercom monitor: This is only the greatest thing ever invented. See, we tried a lot of methods, and found one method that we were okay with. It still did not keep little boy in his bed, and sleeping as long as he should. I read, in my research journey, that you want to try to train your child to stay in bed because when they wake up in the middle of the night they will see their toys and get out to play instead of sleeping. If they are trained to stay in their bed, they wait and eventually may fall back asleep. One day, the in-laws gave us this video monitor. You can zoom in or out, play music, check the temp of the room, and even use the intercom to talk to your little one. Um, awesome! I didn’t think I would use the intercom, but one day I was tired and little boy wasn’t sleeping. So I used it to tell him to get back in bed. He ran back to his bed and started crying. I didn’t want to scare him, so when he woke up, I tried to help him see that it was me talking out of the monitor. After a few days of waiting until he got out of bed and telling him to go back to bed, he didn’t get out of bed anymore…..um, woooooohoooo! Party time! He doesn’t seem scared of the intercom anymore, but he doesn’t like to be caught getting in to trouble. That’s not such a bad lesson to learn, especially if he is getting more sleep this way.
Tips and Tricks
- Make your toddler’s room comfortable for sleeping. Limit distractions, like toys or things that make too much noise. Make the room dark (blackout curtains, anyone?) and cool. If you would like, set up some ambient noise, like a fan or humidifier. Make it a room for your little one to get cozy in with some stuffed animals and cozy blankets. These things plus a sleep routine will help get your toddler into the mindset of sleep.
- Invest in a snuggly that plays music. This was one tip that worked for us. We tried a Glo-worm when our little boy was a baby, but we decided to get another little snuggly that would play some nighttime music. It definitely helps him calm down when we turn it on before we leave.
- Wear your kiddo out. Take them on plenty of play dates. Get them out of the house. Make them run, run, run to get that energy out. Our little boy sleeps so much better when he has been active in the morning. I even find that after an active morning, he tends to not need to be as active in the afternoon before going to bed.
- Keep him/her in the crib as long as you can. Transitioning your babe to a toddler bed is a rough experience. It can be a scary adjustment for your little one to go from having 4 walls to 3. He/She may feel insecure or afraid without that 4th wall. I’m not sure our little boy was completely ready to move into a toddler bed, but we felt we needed to start the transition because he could hurt himself crawling out of the crib. If your kiddo is just fine in the crib, leave him/her there! Don’t start the transition unless you have to! Beginning too early may cause your little one to get less sleep and fuss more about going to bed.
- Make sure they aren’t sick, etc. We just learned that our little boy may have large adenoids which may be causing him to get less sleep. Our doctor told us that some children don’t have a lot of space in their throats to begin with and may develop Sleep Apnea. These types of conditions can make it difficult for your kiddo to get the amount of sleep he/she needs. If your kiddo has an ear infection or has a cold, sleeping can be uncomfortable. They may be avoiding sleep because they are hurting. Just watch out for any health symptoms and see your doctor if you are concerned.
- Stick to a schedule at nap time. I’m not a huge believer in having everything planned and scheduled for the entire day, but I have seen how having a schedule for nap times has helped my little boy calm down at the same time every day. I can even tell that when we are a little late getting to bed, it affects his nighttime behaviors. He becomes overtired and wired….which is no fun for mommy and daddy. Sticking to a schedule of nap time and nighttime routines around the same times each day has helped our little boy know what to expect.
These are just some ideas to try. We have tried many of these options, but eventually we figured out what will work with our little boy. Your kiddo will be different. What works for me may not work for you and vice versa, but that is the beauty of a unique world filled with all types of people! Skip over the things that don’t work for you, and try out the methods that look intriguing. Finally, don’t forget that two-year-old’s have a mind of their own. This year is very much about evolving with your little one. Just remember that all of these stages are temporary. You will find what works for you. Just hang in there, and God bless!