Our children teach us a lot of things, particularly about ourselves. I have been told I have the patience of Job, but I didn’t know true patience until I had children. 😉
This article will tell you three things a toddler can teach you about sleep training.
Around two years old, your toddler begins to use her imagination and pretend. She might pretend she’s feeding you rather than the other way around or feeding her dolls. No doubt that imagination is a big part of playtime for toddlers and preschoolers. Unfortunately, it can also lead to nightmares, but that is a small part of this wonderful gift. My youngest son has such an imagination that when he was two he could play with a fork and spoon at the dinner table at a restaurant for 20-30 minutes straight!
You can use your imagination, too, when you are sleep training. When you are up for the tenth time at night replacing a pacifier, did you ever wonder what people did before pacifiers? I suppose that most of us would figure that moms would nurse their babies and be a human pacifier, as some of you might be right now. However, did you know that some babies don’t even fall asleep breastfeeding? Some families I speak with every day have a very specific set of steps to get their baby to sleep. It might be something like “Put on his pajamas, feed him, walk him around the room 4 1/2 times, then bounce on an exercise ball until he’s asleep, hold him for 9 minutes, and then lay him down. If I put him down at 8 minutes or 10 minutes, game over.” Okay, I’m exaggerating, but doesn’t it feel like that sometimes??
How can you use your imagination as your toddler uses his?
What if you went camping and literally forgot the pacifier? You’ve set up your tent and it’s now 11 p.m. and you need to go to sleep. What would you do? If you hurt your back and couldn’t rock your baby to sleep anymore, but it was the only way he could fall asleep, what would you do? If that exercise ball popped and you couldn’t bounce on it anymore what would you do? Just because these things didn’t actually happen, it doesn’t mean you can’t pretend they happened. Sure, bounce on that ball, breastfeed your baby, or rock him most of the way to sleep as part of the routine and then, when you and your baby are ready, imagine a “closed” sign on that ball, breast, or rocking chair. Use your imagination. Visualize where you want to go and DO it.
You may have noticed your toddler wants you to read the same book or play a particular game over and over and over again. It’s a little hard to miss, I know. Toddlers love repetition because they love to know what’s coming next. They love predictability and it helps them feel secure. This is why some babies do a lot better on a routine or schedule. How adaptable they are dictates just how much they seem to need structure and routine.
You can use this love of repetition to help your baby or toddler sleep better. Besides a strong bedtime routine, which is the first step to establishing predictability, you also want to use repetition in the act of teaching in the first place. Sleep training progress can come slow, at first, but consistency and repetition are what helps your baby or toddler learn long-term skills. Repetition is how your baby learns to talk, by repeating sounds heard by you, and practicing. Practice also makes perfect when our children learn how to play instruments, for example. And, my husband is still trying to perfect his game of golf. 🙂 He’s picked up some bad habits, just like our babies or toddlers pick up bad sleep habits that need to change to get better, but with practice, new habits can be formed.
Have you ever seen or had a toddler who really wanted that toy at the store and erupts in a tantrum in the middle of the store, throwing himself on the floor and will not budge? One thing you have to give toddlers is that they don’t give up easily and can be very persistent. Of course, we parents want to pull our hair out (at times) by the time they are three years old. Since it’s difficult to reason with a two or three year old, it can be frustrating. My three year old has recently learned to bargain, too (“Read books, then brush teeth.” when I just said we’d do the opposite) during our bedtime routine.
We can all learn something about commitment from toddlers. Once they sink their teeth in, they don’t give up easily, and I urge you to do the same when you are sleep training. Old habits just won’t go away overnight, so you need to make a commitment to your sleep training plan of choice. Inconsistency and lack of commitment will make it much more difficult to make any kind of progress and will only frustrate your baby or toddler, who yearns for predictability. But, just like your toddler’s tantrum can be futile when you simply won’t give him what he wants (such as playing with an outlet), there may be a time you also have to re-evaluate your plan just the same. Being the wise grown-ups that we are, we have to know when to hold ’em and when to fold ’em and when to deal ’em a different way.
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What has your toddler taught you about sleep training?