Toddler tricks are no match for sleep training
They say it takes a village to raise a child
– but what if you don’t have access to one?
In a large state like Western Australia, this can often be the case, with new parents living in some of the smaller centres, or a long way from other family or services.
Despite having access to Mum’s groups, these aren’t always non-judgmental places that mums feel safe sharing, and the feeling of overwhelm can still linger… It’s in places like this that our phone consults really come into their own!
Lots going on for Lily
3 year old Lily had always been a relatively good sleeper, but some upheaval at home had caused some challenges. Not only had a new baby arrived on the scene, Lily’s mum’s pregnancy had been tough and she’d spent much of the last trimester in hospital in Perth (six hours away!)
While Lily was well taken care of by her dad and grandparents who came to help at home, and life should have been (relatively) back to normal with Mum and Lily’s little sibling now home, Lily was continuing to battle bedtime – sometimes for hours!
She was also waking early, which although counter-intuitive, is also a result of taking a long time to settle at night.
Not only that, Lily was refusing her daytime nap. Although she was probably ready to give up her daytime sleep altogether, her night sleep was not settled enough for this to be successful.
Her mum had tried a really hands off, ‘cry it out’ method herself, but Lily was too strong-willed. Being well into her toddler years, and sleeping in a bed as opposed to a cot, she was getting up to far too much mischief when left in her room for the evening (opening the door, flicking the light on and off, even removing her PJs and nappy!)
How to teach a toddler new tricks
Lily’s parents engaged with Perth-based consultant Abby for a phone consult, which took place late one night so that both Mum and Dad could partake in it. It was quickly apparent that it wasn’t that Lily couldn’t settle or sleep; instead there had been a ‘perfect storm’ of upheaval that she needed help working through.
The conversation quickly moved to what could be put in place to remedy things.
Leaving Lily to cry wasn’t working, so her parents wanted to explore other options. Because Dad was often away doing shift work, they had some concerns about the reality of a more hands-on approach to settling Lily for the evening, when they were also coping with a new baby – often with only one set of hands.
Because Lily’s sleep challenges stemmed from a need for security, Abby suggested an ‘in the room’ technique to start with. The sleep training was going to be more intensive at first – to get on top of her overtiredness – but that needn’t be the case for the long term.
Lily’s parents picked a few days that Dad was going to be home and, after they got the baby down for the evening, started implementing Abby’s recommendations.
Consistency and clever techniques were key
Lily’s mum did the first two nights in the room with Lily, encouraging her – time and again – to stay in bed and to lie down, before Dad took over for a couple of days. That first night there was still a relatively long process involved in getting Lily to sleep.
Toddlers are all about having fun, so there was a need for consistency in the approach and a few clever fixes like getting Lily a pair of drawstring PJ pants, which they put on backwards to dissuade Lily from removing them and her nappy.
Because of Lily’s age and cognition, there was lots that they could do throughout the day to instil expectations around how bedtime would go. They role-played and practiced with both Lily and her doll having a turn going to bed – and they talked about rules around bedtime, creating together a large poster that reinforced the agreed behaviours at bedtime.
Getting results: a toddler transformation
Lily’s parents stuck with it – ignoring the bad and rewarding or praising the good – and the results came quickly. After that first night, Lily still had her daytime sleep, but bedtime that night was still a battle so the next day, Lily’s parents pushed through the day and got Lily into bed much earlier.
By the third night, the time it took to settle Lily to bed was just 45 minutes – a lot less than the more than two hours it had been taking initially.
For Lily, adjusting to her day without a nap took a couple of weeks, during which time she still seemed tired throughout the day.
However, as her times to settle to bed at night continued to reduce and her early wake ups diminished, the eight or nine hours of sleep that Lily was getting overnight became closer to 12 hours of restorative sleep each night.
Abby continued to coach the family, providing phone and follow up support along the way and although it was a process (after all, one night of good sleep can’t erase accumulated sleep debt all at once!) the family are thrilled with the transformation in Lily’s sleep.
Ready for more toddler hints and tricks?
Watch this video for all my toddler sleep strategies.