I still remember the exact moment my older toddler met his baby sister for the very first time. Every parent can agree that one of the highlights of having a new baby is showing them off. It is exciting and you want everyone to meet this perfect little bundle! But, the best moment out of all of the first encounters is when your toddler meets their baby sibling. Their eyes light up at the sight of the newest member of the family and you can feel the love between them grow instantaneously.
“Mom, is the baby staying forever?” is often the next crossroad in the hours, days or weeks after bringing home your baby. The new excitement may start to wear off and now your toddler is feeling a little left out. This is normal, and let me be clear that this has nothing to do with your parenting. One of the hardest things about parenting is dividing your time and let’s face it, when you have a newborn, you are a walking zombie! The Paw Patrol theme song actually starts to sound good when turned on because it means you might get 20 minutes to snooze or dare I say it, shower! We have all been there.
As a mom, I always try to remind myself that my toddler, is in fact, still a baby themselves. They seem like an older child the second the new baby arrives, but in the bigger picture of life they are still so small. They need us a lot and so when our time is designated elsewhere we often start to see the tantrums, the tears and the sleep battles.
I can handle the tantrums and the tears. Don’t get me wrong, they are tough, but having a fight at bedtime when I have no energy left to give is where I have always struggled the most. Every parent at one time or another has looked at the clock and longed for their child’s bedtime hour to arrive. Heck, I have even counted down the seconds until bedtime! All day you have fed hungry mouths, kissed bruised arms, wiped bums, drank cold coffee, sang songs, gave hugs, forgotten to eat, went for walks, wiped more bums and the list can go on and on. You are tired and ready for the day to come to an end and bring some peace and quiet. So, that moment when you tuck your toddler in and they start crying and begging you not to go or maybe you have tucked them in and they have now come out of their room for the hundredth time you are about ready to lose your mind. You might smile and be calm, cry, yell or you might pour yourself a glass of wine and hide in the bathroom. No judgment on this end!! No matter what you do to get through these tough moments you are also thinking about what you can do to eliminate them. Understanding why your toddler is acting out at bedtime and having a few strategies under your belt can help keep sleep on track and balanced through this busy transition in the home.
Why the Sleep Battles?
In many cases it can feel like the sleep battles start out of the blue a few weeks or months after baby arrives while other times they progressively gets worse right from the start of baby coming home. Either way, it often comes down to the fact that you just don’t have the same time to devote to your toddler as you used to. Your toddler feels left out and in a way they might feel as though they have been replaced. **cue mom guilt** The baby’s cries often take priority to their own cries, you may find yourself being short with your toddler in ways like “don’t stick those cheerios in your sister’s nose, you need to be careful” and much more. The day to day is usually focused more around the baby’s needs at this point and it is just a reality. Bedtime battles can stem from your toddler craving your attention.
There are ways that you can help your toddler through this new transition. It can take time and patience as they adapt to the new family member but with a little extra time spent with them and some consistency sleep battles can be reduced.
My Top 10 Tips To Help
1. Fill up their cup as often as you can throughout the day. Give hugs, kisses, smiles and I love you’s every chance you get during the day. I know that sometimes it feels like all we are doing is filling up other cups as ours is left draining at a rapid pace. It gets better and easier as time goes by but for now we need to focus on making sure that little one is feeling loved and supported during the big change at home.
2. Make bedtime a positive time of the day by creating a positive reinforcement sticker chart. Do NOT make this a “reward” chart where they earn stickers for behaviors you want and don’t get stickers for behaviors you don’t want. Doing this can have the opposite affect of creating a positive feel to bedtime because not getting a sticker can be seen as a punishment with elicits negative emotions. Instead, choose 3 things in the bedtime routine that they will do no matter what and let them put a sticker on their chart when this is completed. Examples could be: getting clean in the tub, filling up their belly with a bedtime snack, picking out cool jammies or giving the best goodnight kisses. This way they are always getting the sticker whether it is a good or bad night. The goal here is helping your toddler to feel good about bedtime.
3. Have everything they tend to ask for already in the room. This may include their drink, blankets, loveys, ect. “I need a drink of water” being yelled from the bedroom can be the need for a drink or it can be used as a stalling tactic to get you back in the room. By having everything already in place before you do lights out, you are helping to eliminate those struggles. Make sure their blankets and loveys are tucked in the bed with them, have the water bottle beside the bed and use the washroom before tucking them in so that we have everything in place.
4. Put baby to bed before going into your toddler’s room to finish the last steps of the routine. This works like a charm in many situations. Toddlers do not want to miss anything. This is the start of “why does she get to stay awake longer than me” and one of the many “not fair” moments you will encounter. If your toddler thinks the baby is going to bed at the same time then it can be easier for them to go to bed as well. They don’t feel like they are missing out on any fun or that the new baby is getting special treatment! During your routine, tell your toddler to help you put baby to sleep, go into the room where your baby’s sleep space is and put them down, say goodnight and then leave the room to continue on with your toddler’s routine. Once your toddler is in their room to finish off the routine, then you or your partner can go and grab baby.
5. Let your toddler have choices in the routine to help them feel more in control. Let them choose their pajamas, the bedtime snack, the books you are going to read and the songs they want to sing. Often times giving them 2 choices and letting them pick can go a long way! You are letting them know that you hear them and respect their needs/wants.
6. Extend the bedtime routine to give more one on one cuddle time. This could be an extra book and an extra song. Having that one on one time helps you connect with your toddler again during these busy days. When we bring home a new baby the opposite can happen and instead of adding more cuddle times we start rushing through the toddler routine because the baby needs us. If you can, extend the time with your toddler during the routine to help them feel safe and secure. No parent ever regretted too many cuddles!
7. Talk about the best parts of your day. Adding this into your routine right before turning out the lights can help draw attention on all of the best moments of the day which can help them forget about any times they may have been feeling left out. Use a time of the day when your toddler was really happy so they remember that moment and feel loved.
8. Talk about what you are going to dream about. This is also a great addition to the end of the routine as getting them to think about positive thoughts before drifting off can help eliminate fears around bedtime. Be sure to guide this conversations around things that they love so that no negative thoughts or bedtime fears sneak into the conversation.
9. Make sure their sleep schedule is appropriate. A toddler often experiences bedtime battles due to timing of sleep and so their schedule may be able to be tweaked slightly to help them be ready for sleep at night! Reading sample schedules for toddlers can help guide you to know if you have a healthy sleep schedule!
10. Identify and eliminate the battle. If there is a struggle because they are coming out of their room numerous times asking for different things or crying to get you to come back in the room then instead of getting frustrated eliminate the battle. One gentle strategy that can work great for toddlers is to use a chair method. After you tuck them in and turn out the lights sit in a chair right beside their bed and say “mommy/daddy will sit here with you until you fall asleep.” Then do exactly that. Once asleep you can leave the room. The first night or two you might rub their back, hum, shush, ect to keep them calm and in bed but you are eliminating the habit of the fight and any reinforcement from getting frustrated. Every couple of days shift the chair slightly further away from their bed which will naturally reduce the amount of soothing needed to help them fall asleep. It is a slower method but helps your toddler build trust that you are near while also giving them the independence to feel confident in going to sleep at night. Remember, this sleep disruption often stems from an emotional change…. feeling left out after the new baby arrives. This is why using a method that is more gentle can help build security faster than if you tried to use a more direct method.
“This too shall pass”
As with all difficult parenting moments, this too shall pass. Things will get better! There are many emotions around bringing home a new baby and everyone needs to do their part in adjusting to the change in a healthy way. Your toddler might need more one on one time and even though you feel depleted you might be surprised with how much those little hugs and cuddles actually give you just the right amount of strength you need to make it through another day! Soak it all in mama, the days are long but the years are short!