Make your toddler sleep17 Nov 2015 – 6 minutes to read
At the age of 6 months a child can learn to fall asleep by itself without the help of breastfeeding, being carried around or huddling together. This is what we learned amongst other things when we sought sleep advice for children when our son was 18 month.
Toddler sleeping problems
Not so much sleep itself constituted a problem for our kid but the process of actually falling asleep. He just was not able to calm down. Instead of lying down comfortable, cute, and cosy he was jumping around, giggling and doing gymnastics. Every evening one of us had to lay with him for hours to help him calm down. In the last couple of weeks prior to us asking for help this evening ritual usually took around 2 1/2 hours!
We could never be sure when we parents would be able to call it quits for the day and spending some time together as a couple became more and more impossible. As soon as the child would wake up for the first time during the night one of us had to put him to bed again.
The only place for an afternoon nap seemed to be the stroller. I took it as my daily workout to go for a walk after lunch for about 1.5 hours. But that did hardly seem like a long-term solution. Especially since I had to be careful not to cross tracks with an excavator or crane on our way, since this would make him wide awake again in an instant: “craaaaane”
Sleep advice for the rescue
I must admit that the social network and support for families in Augsburg is very advanced. This is mostly due to the fact that the city had an excellent head of the social devision not that long ago. Also the churches play an integral part because of the historic importance of the Religious Peace of Augsburg. Me and the toddler arranged a free appointment for family counseling at a nearby SOS Children’s Village and community center without a problem.
The conversation with the child psychologist and family therapist was very tiring. Since I was there by myself and had to recall exact details about my own childhood, the process of giving birth to my son, and how we organize our family life. These are bold themes to recollect and express in front of a stranger.
The diagnosis of the therapist: our child is in charge of the situation and decides who has to stand next to its bed, when and how long. This is an exhausting position to be in for the child, because it actually wants to behave like a child and longs for direction form its parents. The situation is also tiring for the parents because it is never pleasant to lose control over a situation.
Therefore the goal had to be resetting the family relationships and clarifying who is in charge of the situation.
The path to a better family sleep
We started with the readjustments of the evening rituals when the Oscars were televised. The child had just recovered form a sickness and seemed fit and healthy again. I figured when drama of falling asleep should drags on for hours again I would at least be able to to watch a couple of exceptional dresses.
With this in mind I started the usual bedtime procedure, but was careful not to assume a reclined and sunken position next to my son. He should not get the idea that this was comfortable for me :
- Brush and undress in the bathroom
- Put on Pajamas in the nursery
- Close the blinds together and open window for ventilation
- Lay down to sleep, wrap in and tell some recollections of the day
- Close windows again, sit down next to the kid singing or humming
- Goodnight kiss and leave the room
Said and done according to the plans. As our child was not sleeping in a crib at the time, he was able to walk around when he desired. Therefore he got up after a brief surprise and went looking for me. I put him back to bed and walked out of his room again. We repeated this little game for 50 minutes. Then all of a sudden all was quiet and still while the Oscars broadcast had not even started yet.
On the second day I had success after a period of 10 minutes. The third night our game ended after 5 minuted. One could only start shaking one’s head in amazement!
I think it is important to mention that I do not believe that the tactics applied will work as a blueprint procedure for other children, since there are so many small details you have to watch out for. The child should not suffer during the transition period since it might get traumatized in the worst of all imaginable cases. Should you have a similar problem, then look for the offerings in your city for consultancy. There are therapists you have to pay yourself, but also many community backed or free of charge alternatives. You should certainly consider these possibilities.
For a long stretch our family life had greatly improved. Florentin knew how he could manage to fall asleep all by himself. At first he had about one or two nights a week where he slept the whole night (without crying or whining). But soon most if not all nights started to get very relaxing for me and Christoph.
Back to the start
But then his second Birthday came around and it seemed that all the problems started again on the exact day our son turned two. All of a sudden we were confronted with dramatic temper tantrum coming with a lot of crying and screaming and lashing around. The sleeping drama started again as well. But the difference this time around was: he now knew how to undress. As soon as we would leave the room he would start to put off his pajama and diaper and eventually even pee on his pillow. The mountains of laundry grew to record highs around that time and the process of falling asleep became a stressful one again. We sat calmly next to the door of his room and listened closely for every little sound coming from the inside to immediately rush in as soon as we would hear the plopping of the pajama buttons.
Again, we had to sit for hours on end. The afternoon naps became especially horrible, because when he would finally fall asleep all the other kids would be ready to get up again. All of a sudden all our playdates had to be cancelled.
But with every phase also this particular period ended when our son all of a sudden would fall asleep almost without any hue and cry. Still we experience pleasant and not so pleasant surprises when it is sleeping time. Just today Florentin called for us when we assumed he was already fast asleep. As we went looking for him he stood naked inside the door to his room proclaiming that he had to pee and therefore needed to remove his wet diaper and also his sleeping gown.
As you can imagine we can hardly wait for tomorrow’s episode of “bedtime for our boy”.