Friday 6 April 2012

Helping your Older Baby/ Toddler to Sleep

You may have read from my earlier post that I was able to get all three of my children to sleep fairly soundly from an early age.  This does not, however mean that my children’s sleep has always been trouble free…  no, far from it.
JJ and Miss E have not presented me with a problem; they both enjoy their sleep and continue to sleep soundly through the night.  JJ learnt to sleep through very easily, gave up his day time naps at 20 months and I cannot recall ever having a problem with him.  He took a long time to be dry at night (practically 6 years) but children all take a different amount of time to develop the trigger in their brain to wake when they need to pee in the night.  This is one side-effect of sleeping very soundly, perhaps he has inherited his good sleep gene from dh and I, we can both snooze for Britain.
Miss E will be 5 in July and she would love to still have her daytime naps, given half the chance in the car, off she falls to sleep.  At 7 or 7.30pm when her head hits the pillow she snoozes away and her night waking is minimal, just when she is ill or at the moment she seems to wake and cry very quietly that she needs the toilet.
You soon realise that there is no such thing as normal in the realms of parenting. While JJ and Miss E have been problem free Miss M has presented me with enough challenges to keep me going for a lifetime. Some of the challenges we have had to overcome include -

Constant crying in the cot
Miss M would scream and cry so much that she would physically make herself sick from about the age of 8 months.  This tried my patience immensely and consistency was the thing that won the battle. Only when she would calm and stop crying would I come over to the cot to give her a little stroke or pat and talk gently to her.  Never did I pick her up during this and believe me that was hard, I am not a complete ice maiden.  When she was sick I would be very matter of fact in changing the cot, cleaning her up and then placing her back in there.  She never got rewarded with cuddles for causing such a fuss.
Being scared of the dark and quiet
To help Miss M feel better about going off to sleep we purchased a CD from the Early Learning Centre with lullaby’s, she really loved it and very quickly picked up the signal that it was calm, night time. With regard to the dark we tried a nightlight and a glow teddy but neither of those helped us so in the end we just had a lamp in the hall so it was not pitch black, this worked for a while!
Once moved to a bed: Continuously getting out
We could have used a bed guard but for some reason it just did not fit on Miss M’s bed nicely.  After trying to talk Miss M into staying in bed and offering rewards the one thing that I found worked was to promise her more cuddles if she stayed quiet and in bed for a bit.  I took to cleaning upstairs once the girls were in bed; as long as Miss M could hear me pottering around she seemed to be happy.  At first I left her a couple of minutes between cuddles and then 5 minutes and then 10 minutes etc. It did take months to get her to successfully fall off to sleep on her own and in minimal time but it came with lots of consistency and hard work from dh and I.
As an older toddler, talking and playing at bedtime
Once Miss M got to about 2.5 years a new problem arose, she decided that life was far too much fun and she ought to stay up as long as she could. The method we used was to offer a reward for good behaviour.  Miss M learnt quite quickly that to have a story of her choice and a cuddle with either Mummy or Daddy in her bed, she had to settle down and stay in her bed. This is the method we now use to help her sleep.  A five minute chat, prayers and a snuggle seem a very reasonable price to pay for a full night’s sleep.
Night time waking screaming her head off
Miss M does not do things quietly, just not her diva style at all and when she shares a room with her twin who would get quite upset when rudely awoken in the early hours we were unable to allow Miss M to cry her tantrum out. I have a hard and fast rule that unless really ill our children are not allowed to sleep in our bed.  This is so easy to form into a habit. From about age 2.5 years Miss M would wake and it appeared she was having night terrors as she might be babbling about bees or spiders so I would cuddle her to calm her and then lie on a duvet on her floor and just hold her hand.  If she started to whimper I could whisper ‘shhh’  her and it seemed that knowing I was there was enough to help her go back off to sleep.  On the odd occasion I did get in her bed with her, but I soon stopped this as she wanted it as a matter of course. Slowly her waking’s became less frequent and I recall having to be quite strict with her once she got to about 3 years.  I remember one night saying to her in a quiet stern voice that she had to be fair, Mummy needed to sleep too and that I was going back to my bed and did not expect to hear another word.  Amazingly it worked.
Yep, it certainly has not been stress free with Miss M. Despite how difficult she can be, I do adore her.  She is a little replica of me as a child, strong willed and very clever.  Do wish me luck as she grows up and tries us even further.
One last thing to mention, I always feel it is important to help your child to be able to sleep wherever you are.  JJ learnt this from a very early age as he often slept at his nanny’s and got transferred home asleep.  Miss M was not that accommodating and would always wake and scream the house down, this is why once she reached about 2 years we started to take all the children away with us and got them used to sleeping in different environments.   Miss M and Miss E have become quite adept at sharing a double bed with Mummy at Nanny’s house and also sleeping ‘top and tail’ when we are in a hotel.
Good luck with helping your little one to sleep.  Remember that consistency is the key to making it work, whatever method you choose to use.  You know your child best! Trust your gut.
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