If you would rather read than watch my above video then here is the transcript of this week’s toddler sleep problem video:
Hi, Kim West, The Sleep Lady and in today’s video blog, I’m going to answer this mom’s question about her toddler sleep problems. Here’s what she said,
“Hi, Kim. I saw you speak when my son who is now almost 3 years was only 6 months old. It seems from day one he’s had sleep issues. Recently, he went through about six months of great sleep patterns until his sister was born last year. Since then, there’s been lots of change and some changes in his sleep patterns as well. He refuses to allow us to leave his room at night until he falls asleep. If we try to leave before he wakes, he’ll scream mommy and daddy until he wakes my 1-year old up next door. If we’re lucky to escape after he falls asleep, he’ll wake again at 1, 2, 3 a.m. only to scream again and wake the entire household. He has one nap at daycare from 12:45 until 2:45 and we put him down at night after his routine at 7:30 p.m. He will spend hours with his eyes open making sure that we are still seated by him. We are beyond frustrated.
Then there’s my 1-year old who would love to continue to nurse around the clock still. We recently returned from a trip to Mexico where she woke nearly every hour or two. The only way to keep my son asleep was to succumb to nursing her, so now we’re in a whole new pattern of sleep trouble with her. She has two naps approximately an hour and a half each and most times less. She routinely wakes at 3:30 a.m. and stays awake until 4:30 or 5. We are truly at our wits’ end. This is literally been going on for years. We’ve tried cry it out and sitting with them. We are up and down in our patterns. We’ve tried it all. Help.”
Wow, that sounds tiring. There’s a lot to talk about here. Let’s talk first about your son and his toddler sleep problems. Pick a period where you’re going to be home for a few weeks and are going to dedicate yourself to working on his sleep and being super consistent. I would do everything that I lay out in my book for long enough. I recommend you have a family meeting and talk about how he’s going to have to learn how to put himself to sleep and to sleep through the night. Create a sleep manner chart.
I noticed that you said you’re sitting next to his bed. I don’t know how long you’ve been sitting next to his bed or whether you’ve ingrained that habit, which means of course any move he will not like. Staying in one position too long can cause that sort of hyper vigilance—like he is trying to sleep with one eye open to make sure you don’t leave. The other thing that can cause that is if you were getting impatient and leaving too soon before he was asleep so that he can’t really trust that you will stay like you promised if you have not. So that means that you’re going to have to stay until he’s completely asleep and move your chair every three nights. The longer you have been sitting in one place the harder the first move will be and the more he will act out. I have worked with parents who have been sitting in one position for weeks, months and even years. Be prepared for a temper tantrum (especially if you always caved in the past when he screamed or acted out) and for him to inadvertently wake up your 1-year old, who I will discuss in a minute.
I want you and your spouse to divide and conquer. So, let’s say you mom are going to go in to the 3-year old and he wakes up the 1-year old, I don’t want you to say, “Oh, great. Now, you’ve woken up your sister.” Okay? Because now he’s going to know what gets you especially if you’ve been, as you said, succumbing to whatever it takes to make sure everybody goes back to sleep. Instead one parent goes in to the 1-year old and one person stays with the 3-year old and you basically try to ignore that the 1-year old is with the other parent crying and offer your physical and verbal reassurance without lying down with him or giving in and putting him to sleep. It is essential that you are super consistent for long enough. Reassure him of his safety and that you are there for him. Talk to him about throwing his scary thoughts out and replacing them with a more positive thought. Give him some examples. There’s a lot to go over and all the details are in the 2.5 to 5 Year Old Chapter of my book “Good Night Sleep Tight”. I wanted to make sure to give you really helpful starting points.
Okay, let’s talk about your 1-year old. I believe you are going to have to sleep coach both of your children at the same time. I mean honestly, you’re up several times during the night any way and it will take longer with more sleep deprivation for you if you sleep coach one child and then the second one afterwards. The more sleep deprived a parent is the harder it is for them to be consistent. You will run out of steam which is completely understandable.
Since you are nursing your 1-year old during the night you will have to attend to her during the night at the times that she needs to be nursed. Check in with the pediatrician and ask if she needs to receive calories during an 11 hour period given her age, weight, health and growth. If she only needs one feeding then build that in to your plan. If you decide to completely wean her at night then read about the various gentle weaning methods you can use in my book. Start the sleep coaching at bedtime after a great day of naps. Have your usual soothing bedtime routine, nurse her with the light on, burp, kisses, song or even a little quick book if you want and in to bed awake. You can switch off at that point and have Dad sit next to the crib and you go and attend to your 3 year old. Once you start it is essential that you are super consistent. Continue to make sure your 1 year old is well napped. She will more than likely start sleeping thru the night before your 3-year old. Sleep coaching tends to take longer when a child is older and there is a pattern of inconsistency but it’s not impossible!
So I hope that you and your husband can support each other and get both of your children sleeping through the night!
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