Last week I wrote a blog about infant sleep and the importance of responding to the needs of our babies.
I decided that I would follow that blog up by writing about toddler sleep.
I mean, is there anything more exhausting than an almost two year old refusing bed time or a three year old needing to pee 486 times before drifting of to snooze land?
I don’t think so.
So, here is my advice for how to help a toddler sleep…..
Hear the need your toddler is expressing!
Yes, just as I suggested that we should listen to our babies I truly believe we should make sure we also listen to our toddlers.
If they need help to fall asleep, be there. If you find them stalling at bedtime, try to figure out a way to help them feel more happy about getting ready for sleep.
I found myself holding my children until they were asleep, singing and stroking their little cheeks. As they grew I also found relaxation exercises really helped to prepare for sleep.
When my oldest was 18 months old she was going through a really difficult developmental leap.
She was really struggling to wind down and relax enough that she was able to go to sleep. I remember spending hours cuddling her. She would twist and turn and almost whimper from exhaustion as she wanted to drift off to sleep but couldn’t find the peace to do so.
I remember feeling frustrated and even angry at times. Not with her really, but from the utter helplessness and not knowing how to make it better for her.
At this point I was told that the bedtime resistance displayed by my toddler was my own fault as I hadn’t “taught” her to “selfsoothe”, and many insisted that I still had a short window of opportunity where I could teach my child that bed time was bedtime and that I was the “boss”. I just had to leave her to “cry it out”.
Just leave her to cry, alone, in a dark room. Scared and unable to understand where I had gone and by doing so breaking the trust that we had built together. There was no “just” about it.
Every time someone shared this opinion with me I internally questioned it. I mean to teach means to guide, right?
How could I possibly TEACH my daughter to sleep if I was separated from her, waiting in another room?
All I felt leaving her to cry would achieve was her learning that regardless of how much she cried I wouldn’t listen to her and I wouldn’t help her because of what time the clock showed.
I would demonstrate that I only offered parental love and support between 7am to 7pm.
And that just feels wrong.
I have to admit that I find the idea that we need to teach our children how to sleep, ludicrous in the first place. I’m a firm believer in empathy and guiding them in the direction of healthy sleeping habits but I believe this to be achieved more efficiently if I’m actually there to help them when they need it. Holding them, stroking their precious curls and inhaling every second of this very small part of our lives.
I send my daughter to school. She goes there to learn and of course she has a teacher; someone who has been educated to provide my child with knowledge and is able to guide her through the educational system.
I can’t imagine my daughter ever bringing home a letter stating: “Today we practiced math. The children were struggling to understand some of the calculations so to make sure I really taught them how to work them out, I locked them in the classroom and left them to sort it out for themselves. After all they need to know who the boss is and math is a very important life skill”
It just wouldn’t happen.
So, how come when we discuss sleep we assume that leaving a young child in a cot, alone will somehow help them learn to go to sleep? We don’t perform any other kind of “teaching” in this way, without support, so why is this considered a valid teaching method?
Are we sure that they actually fall asleep feeling happy and peaceful or are they in fact feeling worried and stressed but have understood that crying is pointless. No one will come anyway.
During the toddler years there is a huge amount of development going on, the entire brain rewires and there is crazy amount of new connections made every day.
Combine this with a rapidly growing body and the molars arriving, toddlerhood can make it almost impossible for some children to relax and fall asleep.
Your toddler may need that reassurance, comfort and parental support for a little while longer; and considering the big picture does that really have a negative impact on your life?
We live in a world where more and more adults are feeling stressed and anxious. Where the pressures of life are constant.
A toddler will feel these emotions too.
As an adult, if you’re finding sleep difficult you can speak to medical professionals and therapists.
You can meditate, take part of relaxation exercises and feel supported in ways to learn how to try and resolve outside stressors enough for a positive sleeping experience.
If these exercises do not work there are herbal aids and even pharmaceutical medicines, all there to help us sleep!
Isn’t it quite baffling that as adults with complete brain development and fully developed communication skills, we have the right to receive support with sleep that a brand new little human doesn’t? A generation of sleep trained adults yet we still have trouble “self soothing”!
Sometimes I do wonder, if we had instead normalised the idea of offering children sleep support via methods of relaxation rather than leaving them to cry; would there be less adults in the world still finding it difficult to enter dream land?
impart knowledge to or instruct (someone) as to how to do something.