One of our favourite sleep experts Sarah Norris, The Baby Detective is here to talk about toddler sleep problems, persistent night wakings, and daytime naps.
Your toddler is dealing with a lot of changes and challenges at around two years of age. They can understand more than they can communicate and they want to do more than they are allowed, so there is much more frustration for them to deal with. To make things worse, they don’t have the emotional maturity to deal with this, so they are confused and conflicted as well. This will manifest itself as tantrums during the day, but can also spill over into their nights, as their subconscious tries to deal with things when they are asleep, hence the frequent wakings, dreams and nightmares.
Why toddlers need a sense of security
You, as the adult, have to be the one to help them through this, and one of the best ways you can do this is to create a stable, consistent foundation for them to rely on. They might not like the rules, but they provide much needed security.
As parents and carers, our first instinct is to try and ‘fix things’ by changing routines, or the way we deal with the toddler. Whilst it is always sensible to look at what we are doing to see if anything needs tweaking, any major changes can actually make things worse.
Strategies for toddler bedtimes
Ignore the toddler tricks at bedtime to remind her that bedtime is bedtime. Ensure bedtime is as calm as possible, even to the point of making things a bit boring, to help her wind down and settle.
Absolutely go in to comfort her during her nightmares a couple of hours after lights out, but if your child is waking consistently through the night, my general advice is to experiment with what will work best.
Leaving your toddler to settle
Try leaving her to see if she settles, and make a note of how long it takes. For those that have already tried controlled crying you might find that she has a bit of a cry and then goes to sleep herself, as she knows she can, she will sleep better, and re settle herself more quickly.
Should I re-settle my toddler at nighttime?
If you go in to try and re-settle her, you might find this reinforcing the wakings, as she will enjoy the company and the interaction. I would advise any parental settling to be as minimalistic and unrewarding as possible. If they try this and it works, then great, as long as the parents aren’t getting too tired.
Should I try self-setting or controlled crying?
If they decide that it is causing more or longer wakings, they can always revert to leaving the toddler to settle herself, and use the controlled crying to encourage self-settling. It is always a good idea to encourage babies to be able to wake and play by themselves for a while in the mornings, without parents going in straight away… This is how you’ll get the occasional lie in, so is really worth working on!
Invest in a sleep training clock
To help an older child like a 2 year old understand when to wake, it can be helpful to use a signal that lets them know when the day officially starts. You can do this with the sleep training clocks you can buy, that have a light or change colour at a certain time. You could also buy a simple plug in timer for a bedside lamp.
What to do about my toddler’s daytime naps?
On the matter of daytime naps, you might try bringing the nap forwards a little and see what happens, but I wouldn’t necessarily try and reduce the length of the nap. With all the frustrations and emotional challenges the toddler is having to deal with they really need the sleep, and it is more likely to be their subconscious/dreams waking them in the night, than them needing less sleep.
For those with toddlers who do fight naps, it is still valuable for them to have some time to relax, so I would put them in their cots, give them books, and tell them it is their ’Quiet Time’. It also means that you as parents don’t lose your own break, which is important when you are dealing with any child, let alone the terrible twos!
It’s only a phase…
The thing to remember is that this is just another phase, it isn’t good or bad, it’s just something that you all have to go through. The terrible twos may be frustrating and exhausting, but they will end eventually. Just hang on in there, trust your instincts and your parenting skills…you got this far, right ?
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