Joaquin has been an amazing sleeper since around 18 months old – before that, it was a hellish 1 ½ years of playing paci-pong all night long, which is why I vowed not to make the same mistakes with Miguel and why I wrote my last post How to Get Your Baby to Go the Bleep to Sleep (through the night). It should be entitled How to Get Your Baby to Suck Their Thumb Because It Doesn’t Get Lost in the Crib and They Can Put it in Their Own Mouth.
But then, right around oh, I dunno, the exact same time Miguel started sleeping through the night, Joaquin suddenly couldn’t go to sleep on his own. We’d put him in his crib (armed with paci and blanket), lay him down, and 2 minutes later he’d be calling “Mami… Papi… agua… mocos (boogers in Spanish)…” And being the suckers that we were, we’d go in, offer water, wipe his nose, talk sweetly to him, sing him “Dos Gardenias” one more time, and put him back to bed.
After the 4th time of this cycle, we’d start getting angry and end up yelling at him for manipulating us. He’d end up crying hysterically, snots running down his face until he finally exhausted himself enough to go to sleep.
Sure, he’d fall asleep eventually, but our scare-you-to-bed method made us feel terrible, and had we continued, could’ve seriously messed up his whole idea of bedtime.
During his crying fit on the 3rd night, while Javier was trying to reason with him, I got desperate for a solution and of course started Googling for solutions. Within 30 seconds, I downloaded The Happy Sleeper on my Kindle (thank God for instant technological gratification). Something I read resonated with me. It was about how sleep is not black and white, and that we as parents have to setup the expectation that sleep is important in our house and make sure to communicate that to our toddler.
I followed the advice in the book with something they called the Reverse Sleep Wave method. I’m sure it’s way more detailed and technical in the book, but the idea is to help your child feel comfortable falling asleep. Here’s what worked for us:
We developed a basic bedtime routine that starts 20 mins before bed:
- Turn off the TV
- Brush teeth
- Read a couple books
- Give pacifier and blanket (Yes, we still do the paci. You learn to choose your battles with a toddler. Plus, I don’t remember seeing any grown adults walking around with a pacifier in their mouth, so I’m pretty sure he’ll kick the habit at some point.)
Then, we go into his room, and we have a tender moment where I tell him how much I love him and how proud I am of him. We recall some of the fun things we did that day; we apologize for any yelling, forgive for any missteps.
Then, I tell him how important it is that he gets his sleep so that he has energy for the next day. I tell him that all he has to do is lay down, close his eyes and take deep breaths in and out. We practice.
Then I lay him down, tuck him in, and say, “I’ll be back in 5 minutes to check on you, and I’ll keep checking on you until you fall asleep. Just relax, and focus on your breath. I love you. Good night.”
I leave, shut the door, and wait about 1-2 minutes (because a toddler has no concept of what “5 minutes” means). I watch him on the monitor. The key is that I go in to check on him before he has a chance to stand up and call for me.
For the check-in, I literally open the door, poke my head in and say “Just checking on you. I’ll be back in 5 minutes to check on you again. I love you. Good night.” (It’s very important that you do not start a conversation with them, so be fast.)
I repeat this process until he falls asleep. The first night, I checked on him three times. And every other night since then, I’ve only done one check. It’s magic.
I think the real reason it works is because it gives them reassurance that you’re not leaving them alone, forgetting about them, having a party without them… who knows what goes through a 2-year-old’s head? Plus, if they’re afraid to fall asleep or just feel like they can’t do it, I think this helps them feel safe.
Make sure you talk to them during the day about what’s going to happen at night. Include them in the plan so they aren’t shocked when you start this new routine. Turns out 2 year olds understand way more than we give them credit for.