I suppose that sleep training sucks no matter the age of the "trainee," but it really sucks with a stubborn toddler. I'm pretty sure that it's human nature for children to test boundaries, but it's really getting old in my household. I feel like I'm engaged in a never-ending dance of two steps forward, one step back. Though I am the parent, there are times that I have the sinking suspicion that my son is the one calling the shots.
My 2 1/2-year old son used to be a fantastic sleeper. He slept at least twelve-hours every night once he started sleeping through the night - 7 to 7. I credited having a consistent and soothing bedtime routine, but I think I may have just been exceptionally lucky to have a SuperSleeper for a son.
As is always the case, my luck ran out.
He was totally potty trained shortly before his second birthday (luck again, no doubt, but read my blog posts about it if you're interested in my method), but he still wet himself every few nights. I moved him out of the crib to a "big boy bed" so that he could come get me if he had to pee in the night. Though it stopped nearly all night accidents, that's when all of our sleep troubles started. I would have moved him back to the crib, but this is also around the time that he discovered the joy of climbing and, since our floors are tile, I worried that he might end up seriously injured if he climbed/fell out of his crib.
After many weeks, he was back on track and sleeping through the night in his toddler bed. All that work was unraveled when I left the state to attend my only brother's service and I could not bring my son with me. I was gone for a week and I had never previously been away from my little guy for more than four hours in his entire life. It really messed him up to have me gone so long. Heck, it really messed me up too!
When I returned home, the little one slept in our bed for weeks afterward. We had never co-slept even once, but I figured that he needed the extra love & assurance so we obliged. We started transitioning him back to his own bedroom and what ultimately worked was lying down with him in the twin bed that is also in his room (he refused to sleep in the toddler bed) until he fell asleep. At that point, we'd sneak out of his room. Yes, we're lame sometimes. . .aren't all parents??
Obviously this was not be something that my husband and I wanted to do for very long, but it bought some much-needed peace in our home at bedtime and that is absolutely priceless to a young (ish) family. No jokes about our ages, okay?
Anyway, we inadvertently helped him develop what I consider to be a bad habit so we've been working with him to get him to fall asleep on his own again. It hasn't exactly been easy, and it has downright sucked sometimes, but I feel that we're making progress so I am encouraged to stay the course.
I simply tucked him in one night and did not lie down beside him. I told him that he is a big boy and we are proud of him. I gave him a kiss on the cheek, firmly massaged the area around his occipital bone, covered him in a blanket, and tucked him in. I added that we expected him to go to sleep and stay in his bed until morning comes. Does he understand even half of what I say to him? I have no idea, but I do it nonetheless.
I do not keep a baby gate in front of his bedroom door and he ran out of his room for about 1 1/2 hours that first night. I sat in a dining room chair out in the hall and I calmly returned him to his bed each time he opened his bedroom door. I told him the first couple of times that it's bedtime, but then I didn't even say anything as I put him back in the bed. Receiving no reaction must be terribly boring to a toddler because he went right to sleep once I began mechanically returning him to bed as though I were some sort of android.
By Day 4 of this sleep training experiment, he only left his room once before staying in his room and falling asleep. However, on Day 5 he ran out of his room five times - while we were trying to watch Iron Man 2, dangit!. . .two steps forward, one step back, right? In any event, I feel like progress is being made because neither my husband nor myself are forced to stare into the darkness of our son's bedroom while the little one falls asleep.
Note that I did have to cut his nap down to only one hour (it used to be between 1 1/2 to 3 hours every afternoon when he took one) and he doesn't get one at all if he doesn't take it by 2:30 pm. I drag him outside and let him run around for a bit if it is 2:30 pm and he is still awake. He doesn't take a nap, but he is practically snoozing at the dinner table on those days.
Sleep training. You know, it's a real drag sometimes. Stay the course and continue moving forward. Remember that so many parts of childhood are a temporary phase. If your "temporary" phase is lasting longer than you desire, try changing up how you deal with it. You never know what might work!
I want this post to be helpful and offer hope to other parents. For you veteran parents out there, how did you handle bedtime battles with your young ones?