My daughter just turned two on the weekend. Two. Such a fun age. She is "talking" a mile a minute -- picking up on everything (good or bad) that I say. She is showing preference over which toys she wants to play with (Barbie is her go-to right now) and which foods she wants to eat (this week she wants red peppers and cake -- it's all about the balance, right?). I truly am blessed to watch this tiny little person grow into her great big personality.
And then comes the meltdowns...
It won't be news to you when I say that toddlers are learning so much on the day to day. They are soaking in every little bit of information they can and they go into complete overload (in the blink of an eye) because they are over-stimulated and overwhelmed and cannot process their emotions or communicate their frustrations -- cue meltdown.
So I'll be 100% honest -- there are days (mostly every day!) when I cannot wait for naptime... and bedtime. Oh how I love bedtime! With that being said, let's talk toddlers and bedtime...
How do these emotional outbursts have anything to do with sleep? Sleep is crucial to our toddler's development, physical growth and ability to function properly. Sleep (or lack of) will effect your toddler's temperament, social behavior and their ability to process emotions and their environment. I'm not going to get into the science of sleep here as I could talk until the sun goes down about how sleep works and why it is so important for our children (and us!), but I will say that as sleep consultants we focus on one major goal: QUALITY OF SLEEP. Quality of sleep can be broken down into 3 baby goals:
1. We want to ensure that your toddler is getting enough hours of sleep (in total)
Obviously the quantity of sleep is going to be important! 1 - 3 year olds need about 12-15 hours of sleep (day and night). At around 12-18 months your toddler will drop that second nap and need a bit of an earlier bedtime to adjust. At around 3 years old your toddler will drop the nap all together (stay tuned for more information on nap transitions). When this happens, put into place a "quiet time". This is a time of the day that children go to their rooms for down time (quiet play or stories). This will keep you sane, your chores done and also give your toddler some time to rejuvenate :)
2. We want to ensure that your toddler is having uninterrupted sleep
Yes, uninterrupted! No, uninterrupted does not mean they get up 3-20 times a night and come to mom and dad's room. No, uninterrupted does not mean they have to call for mom and dad to come and "put them back to sleep"! This means that they are going to bed at a decent hour, and sleeping through until a decent hour in the morning (no a decent hour is not 5am!)
3. We want to ensure that your tiny toddler is on a routine and flexible (ish) schedule
A familiar routine and consistent schedule is important as it cues the brain that sleepy time is coming (and kick starts melatonin production!) . Predictability will help your toddler drift off to dreamland more easily. Do not throw your toddler a surprise curveball, they do not like curveballs -- let them know what is coming -- through routine!
Most parents come to us seriously lacking all of the above -- and quite often they know why. Their children have either never had quality sleep (likely because they have never been able to fall asleep independently) or they once had quality sleep and "they really don't know how they got here". In the first case, you're going to have to do some sleep training to teach these important skills (please do give us a call for some added support -- toddlers are tough!). In the second case, it is almost always because boundaries have not been held firm.
Boundaries. Toddlers are natural born boundary pushers. They are developing their own sense of autonomy and they are pushing the limits like no others. They are learning how to behave in order for others to behave the way they want them to (manipulation -- this isn't "bad", this is natural!). Do not fail their tests! Toddlers need structure, rules and boundaries. Contrary to their behavior, this is actually what makes them feel safe and secure. Toddlers are not mentally equipped to be in control.
So how do we keep firm? Let me state the obvious: You are the parents. They are the children. If the rule is 2 stories before bedtime, then keep it that way if they ask for a third! If the rule is that the door gets to remain open a crack, keep it that way if they want it opened a little further! Do not let your toddler convince you that they need you beside them to fall asleep. Often this starts by asking mom to stay for 2 minutes, then 5 minutes, then 10 minutes, and so on. Before you know it you are dealing with multiple meltdowns if you want to leave the room before your toddler is asleep.
Every stage of parenthood is hard. Every stage is also SO good. Keep those toddlers rested and those boundaries firm and enjoy these tiny people while they are tiny!
Sleep well folks!
PS. If you'd like to chat with us about getting your toddlers back on track in the sleep department, please shoot us a message on Facebook (www.facebook.com/westcoastsleep) or through our website (https://www.westcoastsleepconsulting.com).