The biggest issue with toddler's sleep problems is that they've been happening for a very long time!
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The proverbial light at the end of the tunnel that you desperately clung to, has seemingly blown a bulb because the tunnel is long, it's dark and you cannot see the end of it.
As weeks of night wakings become months, parents either enter each night with an eternal sense of optimism and hope that tonight the problem will just resolve itself or, they become caught up in a spiral of pessimism and think that it will never, ever, be fixed and they will NEVER. SLEEP. AGAIN!
A client we recently worked with referred to 'the night time terror'. She said she goes to sleep with a feeling of dread about when her little one is going to wake. The result of this is obviously heightened anxiety and affects her quality of sleep, even when it isn't being disrupted.
Whilst I am sounding like the eternal voice of doom, the other obstacle to overcoming toddler's sleep problems is that there is a behavioural aspect to it. When your little one was a baby, hunger or discomfort had to be eliminated as reasons for waking but now they are bigger, you can feel confident that it isn't either of these, it is purely habit.
They have become attached to how you settle them to sleep and when they wake in the night, they want you there to resettle them. The good news is, it is fixable.....it really is! However, convincing tired parents that things will get better is hard, asking them to take the time to fix it, is harder. It's not because the goal isn't there; we all know that everything feels a little easier after a good night's sleep. The reason it's harder is because making the changes are going to take time. We all do whatever it takes to get back to sleep as quickly as possible, that is a perfectly reasonable human reaction. But toddler negotiations at 2am may involve tears, there will certainly be resistance (because you are changing things) and a little voice at the back of your head is saying, if we just do this, we can all go back to sleep!
If your toddler learns they simply need to resist for ten, twenty, thirty minutes before you give in, every time you give it a go, they will simply learn to hold out for a little longer. They will become confused and unsettled by the boundaries being moved and you will feel disheartened and less likely to believe that things will get better.
The first thing to do is sit down with your hubby/partner and work out how you want the weeks and months ahead to look. Take a few steps back and look at your parenting style and the sort of sleeping arrangements that compliment them best. If you would prefer to have them in your bed and everyone is sleeping, that is fine. If you would like them in their own rooms so everyone can sleep, that is fine too.
Next, look at the obstacles to success. We know tiredness is an obstacle and possibly a lack of confidence but it really is going to be worth it long term, you will all sleep. What are the changes that need to be made? What is it that is stopping you from making the changes? Who is going to support you through this? Support is absolutely key to this process, it doesn't take much for the doubt to creep in so you need someone strong to keep you on track.
Finally, set aside a quiet week in your diary to put your plan into place and go for it! It is important that if your toddler gets upset, they know that you are there, they are ok but it is time to go to sleep. Give them the same message over and over again, they are looking to you for guidance. Keep remembering why you are doing this and the long term gain to you all.
Once they are sleeping well, lap it up, recharge those batteries and have sweet dreams.