Monday, April 28, 2014

Toddler Testing you at bedtime?

Here is a scenario I get all the time:

"Hi Tracy, I wanted to give you an update. She is doing very well with her sleep. She is sleeping right through the night now and has been doing so for a few months now. She was doing really great:  when we put her to bed, I would shut the door and walk away and she would put herself to sleep within a few minutes.  The last month however, she has deviated from this pattern.  Not sure what has happened because nothing has changed but now she keeps asking for ‘last’ hugs and kisses, or wants me to sing to her and freaks if I shut the door. She also wants me to sit outside the door and she keeps calling my name so I have to keep shushing her. If I shut the door and leave she gets so upset that she eventually throws up. Any advice? Once she falls asleep she sleeps right through the night, but getting her to sleep is becoming a long, drawn-out process."

This Toddler is Two!  She is probably testing you. That happens at this age as her brain develops.  Expect it again and with greater intensity around 2.5 years old.  This is probably where the label of “terrible twos” came from.  
She is expressing herself and testing the limits.  Mind you, this doesn't mean there shouldn't be limits.  She is trying to figure out what these limits are.  Be consistent when you say “no” and only say it when you mean to follow through.  All the extra kisses and requests can be put to an end by your consistency.
Offer to talk about more bedtime choices in the morning.  We certainly don't want her stress levels climbing so high she throws up, so consider going through your previous bedtime coaching again to help her get back on track.  That's what coaching is for.

Instead of giving in to her bedtime delay tactics, give her other areas to control:  which PJ's to wear, perhaps, or which story to read, which bubble bath.  Offer her choices even if the 2 options are the same:  Pull out two packs of fruit snacks or 2 apples, for example, and let her pick which one--even though they are exactly the same, it gives her something to have power over.  Be consistent about not doing extra things after your final “three things” at bedtime.  

This is also a good age at which to length the “wind-down” so start your routine a little earlier to fit in an extra snuggle with your story.  But… once you start your “final three”, they do absolutely need to be final.  I like “story, song, Kisses” as my “final three”.  Feel free to put anything you like before those, but when it's time to say good night, be consistent.   That may mean walking out, that may mean sitting in a chair or on the floor or standing by the door, depending on the method you are using.  Just don't get stuck at that step.  Do a bit less each night and fade out your support as fast or as slow as your child needs.

At bedtime, go through the motions of your responsive bedtime coaching again.  That gives you a gentle and responsive way to respond in a consistent manner without getting stuck.  You will be able to reinforce your bedtime routine's "end".

If you need help with a bedtime method to help your child sleep, call me.  That's what I do!
Tracy Spackman
Gentle Sleep Coach

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