The crooning of the white noise machine. The sweet refrain of lullabies in the nursery. The glorious sound of silence in the small hours. Oh right, and the deafening wails that pierce the twilight. I thought those angst-filled harmonies had ended after we sleep trained my daughter as an infant. Sadly, fellow parents, welcome to the toddler remix of “I Won’t Go to Sleep.”
Night terrors and more…
During the day, my daughter is happy, playful, and more often than not, cooperative. But when bedtime arrives, she is an outlaw evading capture; she kicks, she screams, she invents maladies to lure us back into her room. Perhaps she just doesn’t want to miss any excitement that might arise after she goes to bed. But there’s another factor in the toddler sleep equation these days: fear.
Nighttime fears and nightmares are common for toddlers, who may imagine monsters or other creatures, or simply might be afraid of the dark. My daughter often mentions the Big Bad Wolf. The Cleveland Clinic has a helpful set of strategies to assist your toddler in overcoming these types of fears, including identifying the specific fear and supporting your child by not minimizing or making fun of something that is very real in his or her mind. Their other recommendations include reassuring your child that he or she is safe, allowing night lights or security objects, and keeping your toddler in his or her own bed.
Sleep training 2.0
If these strategies don’t work, experts have other solutions to offer — ones that might sound familiar to those of us who sleep trained our infants… and have now arrived at an exhausting crossroads in toddler sleep. Revisit the fading method, cry it out, and camp it out methods (detailed here) to see which process best meets your comfort level.
Reward good behavior
Child health professionals would agree it’s better to reward good behavior than to punish bad behavior. And let’s face it, rewards often motivate our children and reinforce positive behaviors until they become habit; that promise of a sticker or a small toy might just help your child reach an important milestone. Unleash your inner artist by making a sleep reward chart (here are some templates to get you started), or buy one like this Bedtime Reward Chart on Etsy that helps reinforce routines like putting on pajamas, brushing teeth, reading a story, and most importantly, staying in bed!
Goodnight noises everywhere…
Don’t discount the importance of the things you’re doing before bedtime to help soothe your child: the evening bath, bedtime stories, even saying goodnight to stuffed animals all can help contribute to a steady routine that creates a sense of calm and security for your child. Sweet dreams!
For more about your toddler’s developmental milestones, read my blog The (Not So) Terrible Twos.