Toddler bedtime. It’s usually a competition of holdouts, negotiations and who has more power of authority. Most of the time, bedtime for our toddler means: Up and down, up and down, up and down, up and down. And lots of squealing (which is funny, yes, but it’s getting more and more unfunny).
You think I’m kidding? I wish.
My first daughter was a dream when it came to sleeping in a big girl’s bed. In the beginning of her crib-to-bed transition, we’d occasionally find her on the floor instead of in her bed. Then we’d move her back in bed and that’d be that. Done.
My second daughter, now 3-and-a-half, is a walker, a stalker and a come-hell-or-high-water co-sleeper. (For the record, I don’t co-sleep with my kids except for situations involving bad dreams, sickness and/or vacations that only offered so many beds in a hotel room.)
Just for context, here’s our usual bedtime routine: Dimmed lights, bath, story time on the floor (2-3 books) with sliced apples, teeth-brushing, lights out… and then 2-3 lullabies while I gently scratch her arm. I then say “Goodnight, I love you,” and then leave the room… when she promptly calls me back in for “a kiss and a hug mommy!” So I do the kiss and the hug, say “Goodnight, I love you” again and head into the kitchen… which she then wanders into as I’m loading the dishwasher and says “Mommy I’m hungry…” I then usher her back her room and pretty much do the whole routine over again. She’ll then get the point, fall asleep… and the wake up in the middle of night, walk up and down the hallway and crawl in our bed…
I’m thinking you get it. I’m thinking you get it all too well. (I do admire her persistence.)
What do I do? I stick to my guns. (Ok, I sometimes turn mushy and enjoy the cuddles for a bit… but then I get back on track and into parenting mode.) I usher her back into her room without room for negotiation. “But Mommy I’m….” she starts in. “It’s time for bed. Time for night-night. No more snacks.” I hold firm. I don’t get mean about it unless I have to. I simply stay matter-of-fact and emotionless. “Let’s walk back. I’ll tuck you in.” I take her hand, and we walk back. I think my record is 10 times in a row over a 20-minute period. If needed, I physically pick her up (kicking and screaming sometimes) and move her back. I’ve threatened to take toys away. One night (after she refused to heed my threats about going to bed “or else I’m taking your toys away”), I took a garbage bag into the room and started filling it up with her toys before her eyes (in the dark), took the bag out and hid it for days.
Desperate times call for desperate measures. (That actually worked for while.)
It’s taking time, but she’s slowly getting it. Bedtime means BEDTIME. Kids need sleep to grow, parents need sleep to function. People of all ages need sleep to maintain good health. Sleep challenges with toddlers are nothing to laugh at…for anybody involved. I take sleep very seriously. (Maybe I’m just overly tired and cranky?)
My non-expert, every-mom advice? Try anything and everything to accomplish sleep for everyone. See what sticks. I once read something about using essential oils and foot massages to calm toddlers down before bed. My friend and Los Angeles-based sleep expert Jenni June teaches scientific benefits and techniques of a 30-minutes-or-less bedtime routine involving dimmed lights, soft speaking and room that’s around 68-70 degrees in temperature. (Not to mention MORE life-changing tips — look her up.) I’ve also found that more outside and/or physical play time during the day more often leads to less dramatic bedtimes. Try everything to accomplish what everyone needs.
Above all: We cannot let ourselves feel afraid or feel guilty for trying to protect our sleep. We must be consistent and firm with our actions. Sleep is just as important as good nutrition and adequate playtime. We’re not ‘mean’ if we usher our kids back to bed without sympathy… we’re responsible. Anything worth doing isn’t always easy and this includes getting rest.
Fight the good fight, moms. For everyone’s good.