Toddler Sleep Training: Responsible Parenting

“How is she sleeping?” Asked my recently-became-a-mummy friend.
“Bedtime is at 9pm and she’s up at around 6am.” I smile.
“That’s not bad at all!” My friend beams and looks relieved.
“Mmm hmm.” I hastily move the conversation on.

Ok so I may have withheld some details there, like how my 18-month-old likes to wake up screaming at 2am, then 3am, and recently 4am and 5am as well. And how this has been going on for months. What makes it all the worse is that she was the perfect sleeper before this.

My daughter started sleeping 6 hours a night in her own crib consistently from 6 weeks old and we haven’t looked back. There were a few periods of sleep regression in the first year but none lasted more than a week. She’s a happy napper too, going down for regular 2-3 hour naps in the daytime. Willing, consistent and with minimal fuss – that’s my girl! Did I feel a tiny bit smug about this? Damn right! Was I one of those annoying twats who would post these facts in a sleeping SOS thread on Mumsnet? Guilty. As far as I was concerned, in our household, toddler sleeping troubles were N/A. We got this. *High Five*

How easily SuperMummy’s golden pedestal can be whipped away overnight. Literally overnight.

Just once or twice

A few things happened on Ellie’s 15 months birthday … monthday? … monthiversary? (What is the correct term for monthly milestones?!) Little baby Osci joined the family and Ellie got Rotavirus – this is one for another post. Not surprisingly, no one got much sleep that month. Hubby and I were tired and worried, Ellie was suffering and upset, and we were told to absolutely expect sleep regression. Those bleak weeks passed in a total blur – interestingly, the haze that was once fueled by jugs of cocktails on wild night outs gyrating to Don’t Stop Me Now, can also be achieved by shuffling around the bathroom with Calpol and breast milk while singing Wheels on the Bus on repeat.

Like with everything, we did make it through to the other side. Baby No.2 was sleeping longer and Baby No.1 was her normal, cheerful self again. Except for one thing: she didn’t go back to sleeping through the night. Sleep continued to be interrupted by shrieking once or twice each night, and no longer because of a diarrhea filled nappy. It was easy enough to settle her back down so I figured we were still in the recovery phase. We then went away on holiday for a month to 6 hour time zones away and sleep patterns became even more messed up. The children slept in our bed, we camped out in their rooms, they napped in carseats, sofas, the floor etc. We were all over the place! But everyone was having fun so I didn’t dwell on it much, convinced that routine would be restored once we came home.

 Excuses and denial

It wasn’t. It got much worse. Not only was Ellie now waking up crying 3 to 4 times a night (interspersed with midnight dates with Osci, we barely slept at all some nights), she flatly refused to settle without either mummy or daddy in her room. Every time she cried, one of us would run into her room to lay her back down and stay with her until she fell asleep. Exhausted, we would usually fall asleep too on the floor. I read and re-read SuperNanny’s toddler books, and poured over Mumsnet … look who came crawling back with her tail between her legs! One method kept cropping up: Controlled cry it out.

Hubs and I discussed it and came up with many excuses why it wasn’t a suitable technique for our situation – there’s no way she’d stop crying, it would only rile her up more, she’s too young to fully understand, it’s just a phase all toddlers go through, this is what parenting is about and was it really that bad? The little monkey goes back to sleep just fine as soon as you walk into her room, so we continued for a few more weeks, up and down like mummy and daddy yoyos in the night. Then one night we hit rock bottom. She woke up and screamed seven times. SEVEN!! As someone much smarter once told me: if you keep doing the same shit, you’re going to keep getting the same shitty results.

Controlled Cry It Out

The method is actually very simple: first time she cries, go in, say shhh then walk out. Second time she cries, leave it 5 minutes, go in, shhh, walk out. Keep repeating while doubling the waiting time … 10 minutes, 20 minutes, 40 minutes, 80 MINUTES! Holy cow, that’s almost 3 hours in total! I sure hope we were doing the right thing.

Bedtime came. We read our book together, had a cuddle and I say goodnight. It sounds ridiculous but I actually felt a little bit nervous. Leaving her bedroom, I braced myself for the yowling that was sure to start and it came almost immediately, angry and loud. I go back in and the noise ceases. Maybe she is manipulating us after all. I repeat, fully expecting to be doing this for hours to come but to my surprise, we didn’t make it past the 20 minutes mark. I watched on the monitor as she cuddled her monkey and fell asleep. Wow!

It was daddy’s turn the next night (I don’t want her to only hate me!) and we were both feeling more confident. I have to admit, it was much tougher this time. She had sussed out our game and was going to give it her all. She has totally been manipulating us, the little bugger! We were no longer advantaged with the element of surprise and she screamed. I mean, exorcist style SCREAMED! I’ve never heard such a hysterical noise before and it was a little scary to say the least. At the 10 minute mark, she climbed out of her crib. (I had no idea she could do this!) I walked in, picked her up and put her back in the crib without a word. Repeat. At the 20 minutes mark she stopped screaming and even from the blurry monitor images, I could feel her confusion. Heartbreaking. Maybe she needs a cuddle …. NO!

Day 3 was much the same story but from day 4, things finally started to click into place. There was minimal screaming and she even slept through the night. It’s now day 35 and things are good! In fact, even before we finish reading she’s bouncing up and down saying “Nap! Nap!”

Maybe we over did it ….


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