Getting Toddlers to sleep

Piper has never slept through the night. Okay, that’s a lie. She has slept through the night one or two times since she was born. We didn’t do any sleep training, we thought things would be easier because she’s the second and we made one major mistake. Ellie slept through night at 3 months, then not at 6 months and so on and so forth until present. I wouldn’t say our girls are horrible sleepers, but they’re just not that good. Since we moved Ellie to a big girl bed she pretty much got out of it every night and joined us. She was also difficult to put down, so we ended up joining her in bed until she fell asleep and letting her go to bed a little later, somewhere between 8:30 and 9:30 usually. Often times we would fall asleep with her when putting her to bed, making it a less than enjoyable evening for whoever got groggily woken up by the other – usually Brian!

With the lack of sleep and the lack of our desire to invest time in reading how to fix the problem, along with my lack of desire to let her cry it out, we weren’t left with many options. Enter sleep doula. Yes, this is a thing.

We found a reputable one and she came to our house to meet and bless us with her sleep wisdom.

While she walked us through the training for Piper, we decided to start with Ellie. If you have a toddler that’s going to bed later, taking awhile to get to sleep and waking up throughout the night (and perhaps joining you in bed), you must read this. It seems I’ve had a lot of friends who have been in the same position.

First, there are a few products she recommends you invest in, of course! What parent doesn’t need more crap to buy?

        • Kinderglo Night Lights – we went with the Elephant (for Ellie), but there are lots of animals to choose from. The most important feature of this night light according to the sleep doula is the fact that it has a red setting. There is a great YouTube Video on how to use them if you don’t like to read instructions.
        • Extra Tall Baby Gate – this is the one we decided to go with, but there are plenty of others. The important thing is that it’s Extra Tall.
        • Kid’s Alarm Clock – again, lots of choices. The key is that they visually indicate to your little one when it’s okay to get out of bed. To be honest, we never used this, so I’m not sold on it. However, we have friends who swear by it, so it works for some and not for others.
        • Sound Machine – we happened to already have these for both the girls, but she did mention it’s best to use an app to test the decibel level. Sound machines are best at 60 decibels.
        • Lovies – many options, the most important thing is that you have more than 1 so that when one is lost or you’re washing one, there are back ups that look and feel the same.
        • Video Baby Monitor – I think this a nice to have for some people. For me it’s a must-have. Ellie makes some noise throughout the night and I’m one of those people who would respond prematurely. Having the monitor is kind of like my security blanket.

Once you have the goods, the only thing left to do is implement the steps. Sleep Doula follows a philosophy from The Sleep Lady®’s Book, Good Night, Sleep Tight. Here are the steps (as we recall them from months ago):

  1. Put the baby gate up on your child’s door
  2. Set the alarm clock and explain to them what it means, i.e. “When the bunny is awake, you can get out of your bed. If you wake up and the bunny is asleep, it’s time to go back to sleep.”
  3. No milk within an hour of bed time – apparently milk causes kids to go potty more than water
  4. Create a bed time routine and DO NOT deviate – the recommended one goes like this:
    1. Have dinner no later than 6 pm
    2. Take baths
    3. Go to the bathroom
    4. Brush teeth
    5. Read a book
    6. Turn the alarm clock on red
    7. Turn the sound machine on
    8. Leave a couple of ounces of water in a sippy cup next to their bed
    9. Tell them you love them and goodnight
    10. Make sure they have their lovie for comfort
    11. In bed with the lights completely off no later than 7:30
  5. Nights 1-4: Sit in a chair right next to your child’s bed until they fall asleep. Stay there for 10 minutes after they fall asleep. Do not do anything other than exactly this.
    1. It’s likely your toddler will say many things, but the most important thing is to comfort them with words and do everything you can to keep them in the bed. We found that things like “we can do that tomorrow” and giving options seemed to work. You’ll find your own communication wins.
    2. If your toddler will not listen, you have to threaten (and follow through if needed) to leave the room. It’s their choice to stay in bed and listen or if they don’t you’ll have to leave. If you have to leave, you can stand outside the gate with it closed. You can see them and talk to them and you can tell them you cannot come back in until they get back in their bed.
    3. If she gets up in the middle of the night and is genuinely crying (not just fussing – check your camera), you can go to the gate, but they have to get back in their bed before you can come in the room. Once they’re in bed, you can come in and hug them and give them kisses for comfort, but do not get in the bed with them and do not let them get out of the bed. You can sit in the chair until they fall asleep and follow the same routine.
  6. Nights 5-8: Move the chair a few feet away from the bed and do the exact same thing as #5
  7. Continue this process for four nights until your chair is at the door
  8. After you’ve sat in the chair for four nights right by the door, you move the chair and stand by the door
  9. After four nights of that, you stand outside the gate
  10. In order to get to the point of leaving your toddler in bed awake, you have to gradually leave for small periods of time and build up to leaving right after they lay down in bed. We said things like “I have to go help daddy with the dishes, I love you, night night.” At first I would leave for 10 seconds and come back (usually because she demanded it), then we got to 15, 20 and so forth.

After about 4 weeks (from the beginning) Ellie was sleeping in her bed through the night. Some nights are still harder than others, but it’s never an hour long ordeal to get her to sleep. She sleeps through the night most nights in her bed most nights and she’s much more rested during the day. She’s happier during the day and she naps well during the day, something that was challenging before. According to the Sleep Doula, kids who don’t go to bed on time get worse sleep at night and kids who aren’t well rested aren’t as happy, don’t behave as well, and have a hard time napping. For me, it was really hard to stand my ground on these rules because I want my girls to feel loved and supported always. I can honestly say with this routine I don’t feel like Ellie ever felt unloved, scared, or lonely. There were definitely times of adjustment and difficulty, but the end result is a much happier child, who has a routine and boundaries. When she goes to bed she says “I love you” and “night, night” back to us, she closes her eyes and she goes to sleep peacefully (most nights;).

Some day we’ll get to a solution for Piper – perhaps by the time she’s a toddler. Baby steps, right?

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