Just when you thought you had a handle on your baby’s sleep issues, toddlerhood hits. While you may have been able to lull your baby to sleep with a long walk or some gentle rocking, your toddler may have different plans. The fact is that you cannot talk your toddler into going to sleep. Actually, you can’t talk a toddler into anything. Your little ones’ newfound sense of independence means more than the ability to call for ice cream at will. It means that it’s high time for them to learn how to fall asleep on their own.
Toddlerhood is a time of monumental transition. Children are learning to walk, run, and climb, potentially out of their cribs. They are verbal, and they want you to know it. Not only do they call you when they want you, but they are hell bent on exerting some control on the world around them. Make no mistake. They are learning at an incredible rate, absorbing and processing everything they come into contact with each day. As each day unfolds, however, with freshly realized powers to test out, the prospect of shutting down for a nap in the middle of the day becomes less and less appealing.
Somewhere between 12 and 18 months old, your toddler will decide that he or she needs only one nap in the afternoon instead of the morning and afternoon naps he or she has probably been taking. This can be a rough transition. For some time, it will be hard to know if the day is a one-nap or two-nap day. Two naps may be too much but one not enough. Or your toddler may take a morning nap but then talk all the way through the afternoon nap but never fall asleep, making the day far too long and probably ending in a meltdown, one that only a toddler can produce.
To help minimize the challenge of going from two naps to one, when you start seeing signs that your child is ready to make this change, start inching the morning nap later and later over a period of two to three weeks, until the nap falls between noon and 1 pm. Initially, when your child moves to one nap, it may not last for very long. After a few weeks, your toddler will start to learn how to nap for an hour and a half or longer. Learning how to consolidate two naps into one is a learning process, and yes, it can be painful, but you can do it. When naps aren’t long enough, consider moving bedtime 30 to 60 minutes earlier until the nap starts to lengthen.
The Big Sleep
Toddlers undergo a period of heightened separation anxiety between 12 and 18 months, making bedtime that much more challenging. To make bedtime as stress-free as possible, follow a predictable and consistent routine in order to provide the comfort and security your toddler needs to face this extended period of separation. Toddlers thrive on repetition and predictability. When routines are changed or disrupted, little ones are often thrown for a loop, one they won’t let go unnoticed.
If your toddler isn’t sleeping through the night, I strongly encourage you to get help teaching improved sleep skills. As little ones become more involved in the ever-expanding world around them, a full sleep tank becomes even more essential. The truth is that most good sleepers aren’t born that way. Learning how to sleep well is a learned skill, one that you can teach through consistent and comforting routines.