Unless you are one of the lucky ones, it can seem damned near impossible to get a baby to sleep through the night. After gallons of tears and coffee, it can still feel like sleep is unattainable. No matter how you go about doing it, sleep is a struggle with babies. As for me, I usually end up deciding when they will learn to self-soothe and wean them from the night feedings when I no longer feel like I can parent them in the day because of how much I am parenting them at night.
Getting a baby to sleep is one thing.
Getting a toddler to sleep is an altogether different monster.
Cameron started sleeping through the night around 9 months. All was great until he became a toddler. Suddenly, words and wills and intellect and debate were thrown into our nightly routine. Eventually, each bedtime became a fight and each morning came earlier.
The worst thing about toddlers at bedtime can also be a parent’s best tool to getting a child to go to bed.
As children grow out of babyhood, they begin to realize that they have a power. It is the power of words and of will. They are smart and they are strong and they push and pull us away from our resolve whenever they can. The trick to peaceful bedtime routines is to give older children a way to feel powerful and responsible in a controlled way.
Before Gavin was born, we were in a really bad spot with Cameron’s sleep. He was still confined to a crib, but he did everything he could to fight sleep. And the sleep-training tricks we had used on him in the past were no longer working on my strong-willed child. He was fighting every step of our before-bed routine. And then he was so worked up that he was unable to sleep.
Children of all ages thrive on routine. But toddlers will push the boundaries of routine just because they can.
Sometimes solutions are so simple that we don’t even think about them.
All we needed to do to make bedtime smoother was to stop forcing our routine and let Cameron direct it. This sounds a little wishy-washy, but there is a way to give children the control (responsibility) they crave while also making sure that parents get the outcome they want.
I made a “Night-Time Picture” for Cameron. It was a chart that clearly laid out the steps in our bedtime routine through pictures. Instead of telling Cameron that it was time for bed, we would tell him that it was time for his “Night-Time Picture”. He would run over to the chart that we had on the front of the fridge and he would name the first step and then go do it. “Clean up toys” he’d say, and run back to his play room to pick up.
If bedtimes are constantly a struggle in your household and it is contributing to exhaustion the following day, I highly suggest giving your child more responsibility. Let them take ownership of their bedtime and travel along with them as they get ready for bed following your carefully drawn out map.
Here is our Bedtime Chart, available as a handy-dandy printable. I hope it helps! (Click on the picture or here to grab the file.)
What tips do you have for taming the toddler bedtime monster?