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Difficult Separations at Bedtime

Why can’t my child go to sleep without me? 

A common question I hear often. In our North American culture the desire is certainly to have independent children, and we see kiddos who can go to sleep on their own as more “independent” than their peers. 

But, what you must know is that forced independence actually does not breed independence in our children. It can actually make them more needy for relationships, as they seek you as their best bet to keep them safe. 

Dependence breeds independence. 

When we invite children to rest in the comfort of our love, and show them that they can relationship is the bottom line in all transitional times, this is where their independence begins to grow and develop. 

Separating from parents at bedtime is difficult for most infants, toddlers and preschoolers. Our children are hardwired for connection – for their safety, for their survival, for relationship. They are NOT hardwired for separation. They need to know that the relationship endures times away from one another, and that it can be relied upon in those future hours. 

When we ask our children to go to sleep at bedtime, they are entering a vulnerable, semi-permanent separation. This is hard for them. They know they go into sleep, you go into sleep often in another space, and they aren’t quite sure when and where they will see you again. 

It is important to first understand that this is difficult for them. They are not trying to give you a hard time. Their little brains are dysregulated and they are having a hard time. 

Secondly, we can help bridge the separation. We want our children to look into the future and focus on the time where we are going to be together again. This might be the next morning, but I often find it is helpful to communicate that you do check on your child while they are sleeping before you go to bed. 

A few suggestions that have worked for my own family, and other families I have worked with through this bedtime separation anxiety that exists… 

  • Cut out some paper hearts, or kisses. When you check on your child at the beginning of the night, leave a paper kiss on their nightstand or next to them on their pillow to show you have been there while they are sleeping. When you go to bed, leave a big stack showing just how many times you checked on them while they were sleeping overnight.
  • Place a special stuffy in their bed. A different one each night as a surprise visitor, so that they can see in the morning who joined them for bed.
  • Give their favourite stuffy MANY hugs and kisses from you during your bedtime routine. Tell your child that if they miss you at night, they can hug or kiss their stuffy and have a hug or kiss from you.
  • Place a think book under your child’s pillow while they are sleeping that you will read the next morning. This is something to look forward to when you reconnect the next day.

Any other ideas that have helped you bridge this physical and emotional separation between parent and child? I love when families share their ideas, so I can add to my list! 

Working on all the parenting things is a passion of mine, and I hope one day to add a toddler specific sleep course alongside Sleep from the Heart and my Night Weaning course. 

Thanks for being here, and for the support. 

XO

Lara 

 

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Play for Sleep Success

Play is a vital part of your child’s development: It is not only fun, but it encourages gross and fine motor skills, communication, and sensory development among other things. Play is also directly related to our quality of sleep believe it or not!

“Playing just helps burn energy and make them tired.”

Anyone heard that before?!

It is TRUE that play helps children expend the excessive amount of energy that they seem to have, but it does so much more than that in terms of sleep.

Being active (inside and outside) prompts our bodies to release endorphins which in turn helps produce melatonin – that wonderful, natural hormone that makes us sleepy. Daytime activity can also encourage longer periods of deep sleep, which is most restorative, and it encourages us as parents to get down at our child’s level, be hands-on with them, and make lots of eye contact right before that separation to sleep.

So how can we PLAY for SLEEP?

Try to incorporate a variety of activities into your day that encourage movement; climb up and down the stairs, make an obstacle course, play ball, provide push toys or help your child to walk, play music, clap your hands and dance or move your feet. There are so many ways to get moving.

The benefits of playing and developing gross motor skills will have a long-lasting effect on your child’s overall health and wellbeing. Being outside in fresh air and natural light to play, even if it is just for a short time, is tremendously beneficial for your child’s sleep as well.

  • Children are able to make bigger and faster movements outside. This not only uses more energy, but helps to build muscle and endurance.

  • Being outside signals the body to release even more endorphins than playing inside.

  • Light stimulus affects our circadian rhythm, also known as our internal clock, and helps us differentiate between daytime playtime and nighttime sleep time.

So get outside when the weather is nice – go for a walk, play in the yard, or sit on a park bench. And if the weather is truly Vancouver in Spring (aka.. Rainy af), make an obstacle course in the living room! Any playtime activity will contribute to better sleep and overall better health for your kiddo, and your family.

XO

Lara

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I’m a Big Kid! Time for a Big Bed?

I’m a Big Kid Now!

A popular question I have been asked a lot recently has been about transitioning your little one from their crib to a toddler bed (a.k.a. the big kid bed). It may seem like something small and simple but truthfully, IT’S A BIG DEAL!

There are any number of reasons a parent may consider making the jump to a toddler bed – another baby on the way or potty training being two of the more common ones I hear. But, there’s also an equal number of reasons to hold off on making the switch – increased chance of night wandering, increased anxiety, etc. Everyone you ask will give you a different reason one way or the other and that’s totally alright.

For most developmental milestones (when to start solids, crawling, walking, etc), there are some agreed upon guidelines, cues, and/or age indicators that help you gauge your child’s level of readiness. When it comes to graduating from crib to bed though, this may be the most individualized milestone for your little one.

Ok, so you may be thinking, “that doesn’t answer my question” or “there has to be some advice you can give me.” Don’t worry, there is!

Always consider safety!

If your child has learned and is engaging in the sport of crib jumping, it’s time to make the switch. The last thing you want is your child falling or getting hurt if they are PERSISTENTLY trying to climb out of their crib (I say persistently because there are always one-offs; just because they successfully climb out once doesn’t mean they will again). That said, for most kids, this new trick comes when they are about 35 inches tall or somewhere between 18 and 24 months of age.

For me personally, my first transitioned to a toddler bed around 2-1/2 years old as it made it easier for night time toileting which he was asking to do. My youngest on the other hand, is just 2 and is happy as can be in the crib and will likely remain camped out there for a good while yet – quick, touch wood for me so I don’t jinx it 😉

When the time is right, there are definitely things you can do do to help ease the transition:

Preparation: Make sure your child is on board or gauge their interest. Talk to them about the change that is coming. Find a book to read together; give them a glimpse of what it means to be in a big kid bed. Talk about when you will make the switch, and countdown together towards it in a toddler friendly way (eg., sticky note countdown on the wall of 3-2-1). 

The Bed: If your crib converts to a toddler bed, go with that! Even though it is different, there will still be a sense of familiarity for your child. If you need to purchase something new, allow your toddler to participate in the selection. Try to place the new bed in the same place, but do not keep crib and toddler bed in the same room together. If you are moving to a new bed, make the move a sure thing. 

Bedtime Buddy: Continue to use their favorite blanket or stuffed animal for comfort.

Safety First: Invest in side rails for safety (they will also mimic the comfort of their crib). Consider a baby gate at the door to prevent night wandering. Make sure the bed is low to the ground so if they were to fall or climb out it’s not too far a drop.  

Timing is Everything: Try to avoid taking on too many milestones at once. If you have another little one on the way (congratulations!), try to transition your older child well in advance of their arrival so you have time to iron out any kinks (ideally 4 – 6 months!). If you’re moving, potty training, or have other big changes happening, try to space things out so it’s not so overwhelming.

Perhaps the two most important piece of advice I can give though:

Try to keep all other elements of your bedtime routine the same. There is such a thing as too much change, especially for little ones.

If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it! If your child is still content in their crib and there is no need to transition them to a toddler bed, consider holding off a while longer.

And as always, if there is more I can do to help – please reach out. 

XO

Lara

Cute pic of one of my former clients here! Made the transition this week like a CHAMP! Thank you, K + D for the pic! <3

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My kid is a “crib jumper”… HELP!

You have spent the last several months encouraging your child to move; helping them fine tune their gross motor skills, build muscle and strength. A time may come, when your little one will utilize these skills for mischief, such as climbing out of their crib. A natural “test” for some, and a sign that they are becoming all the wiser for sure.

For most kids, between the ages of 2 and 3 is when they may attempt to “break out” of their crib. While this may seem challenging or fun to them, it can be incredibly dangerous as well. Neither of my kids ever tried this maneuver… although I wouldn’t put it past my little guy just yet (he is 23 months after all, and could very easily be scheming this up now for all I know).

If your child is a “crib jumper” make sure you’ve ticked off all of the boxes below.

Mattress Positioning: As soon as your child starts pulling themselves up or standing in their crib, move the mattress to its lowest setting. Some cribs can have their platform removed so that the mattress can safely be put right down on the floor. But, do ensure that there is no possibility your child will try to wedge themselves out any other way.

Crib Placement: Can you strategically put the crib in a corner against two walls? Would flipping your crib to put the front in the back, and the back in the front help some? The front of the crib tends to be lower, and the back higher. A change in crib placement might buy you a bit more time.

Sleep Sacks: Keep those sleep sacks on! If their legs are contained, they cannot get their legs far enough apart to climb out. If your child is resisting the sleep sack, ones with leg holes are available, and you can sew the leg holes a little closer together to make it more challenging to get legs up and over.  

Props: Remove any pillows, stuffed animals, or extra items from the bed. These can be used as steps or props to aid in their escape.

In spite of all your efforts, there may come a day when your little one does escape so it may be a good precaution to have a soft rug or carpet next to the crib to cushion any landings. Also, make sure that the rest of the room and surrounding area outside of their room is toddler proofed and safe. If you needed another reminder to latch that furniture to the walls – HERE IT IS!

If your child is repeatedly jumping out of the crib despite all of your best efforts, it is time to move them to a permanent mattress on the floor, or a toddler bed.

If you’ve trained your child to sleep in the crib and have relied heavily on the bars to keep them there, this can present its own very unique set of challenges you have yet to navigate. Many families fear this stage, and are unsure how to best keep their toddler with newfound freedom in their bed. I can definitely help you with that! I’ve navigated this journey with families whose toddlers advanced skills in crib jumping landed them in a toddler bed as early as 16 months. I would definitely not recommend moving this early to a bed if you can help it, but should you find yourself in this position I would be happy to use my knowledge and expertise to help you.

And to all of my toddler parents – I see you too. 😉 

XO

Lara

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Toddler Waking More Than the Newborn

Is this your life? Get new baby to sleep. Fight the toddler to bed. Baby wakes up to feed. Toddler wakes up for water. Baby wakes up to feed. Toddler wakes up to tell you about Star Wars. Baby wakes to feed. Toddler wakes and insists she needs to pee. Baby wakes to feed. Toddler wakes and needs a cuddle. Everyone is up for the day! And everyone is seemingly well rested.. well.. except mama!

Honestly. I can remember this time in my life like it was yesterday. It wasn’t yesterday… it was almost a year ago now, but I do recall the sheer sleep deprivation that is having a toddler and a newborn baby.

The birth of a sibling really shakes things up! This is a huge transformative time in a family. Everything you once thought you knew is no more. Everyone is just adjusting to their new roles. And since we know sleep does not exist in and of itself, there are going to be some repercussions to welcoming this beautiful little creature earth side. Your toddler has been sleeping through the night for weeks, months, years, maybe even… and now you are suddenly engaged in a game of “whack a mole” every night bringing them back to their bed.

Just going to take this opportunity to tell you all that after I had Theo I did not sleep for 36 hours. This is the longest I have ever not slept in my life. And I am alive to tell the tale. Haha! But, I will save that for another blog post at another time and stick to the task at hand which is, explaining what is happening when your toddler is sleeping worse than your newborn.

If your toddler was sleeping well before baby was born, I know this is a difficult transition to make. Your go-to strategy may be to draw a hard line in the sand, fire all systems up, and nip this in the bud before it becomes anything worse.

But, you have been following me a while so you probably know this won’t be my recommendation! Hehe.

Our children wake in the night for a number of different reasons.

First of all, they don’t sleep like adults. Their sleep cycles are not comparable to adult sleep cycles, and they spend more of their time in lighter sleep than we do, even at 3 and 4 years old.

Toddlers are also beginning to decipher the difference between real and make believe, which makes some of their nightmare experiences downright terrifying.

And another reason that our toddlers wake is for attention. They used to be the baby. They were the ONLY apple of your eye, and now they have to share you. Wah wah wahhhhhhh… not exactly what they signed up for. The amount of attention they previously received has likely been cut by more than half and so they begin to seek this attention wherever they can get it. Often this means more prolonged requests at bedtime, and various visits in the middle of the night. When you are their captive audience, they absolutely will seek you out. The baby is sleeping mom…. I can have you ALL to myself – and I will!

Now the other struggle you may find yourself in come middle of the night is the “power struggle”. Your toddler has essentially just lost a lot of power with the introduction of the new baby. He used to get what he wanted when he asked. Now he is being told to, “wait until the baby is done nursing,” or, “share your toys with your sister,” or, “don’t hit the baby!”. He used to rule the roost! Wait for a snack he did not. Share his toys he did not. He could play with what he wanted, when he wanted, and all the time he had a captive audience. Now suddenly you may see some powerful requests come middle of the night. “I NEED my Star Wars pajamas!!!” “I NEED my RED water bottle not the BLUE water bottle, and I don’t care if it is 2am! Find the bottle MOM!”.

Yeah.. you get the idea. Have kids they said. It will be fun they said.

And while you’re trying your best to be empathetic, I also know you just can’t deal with the fact that you are up more at night with your toddler than you are with your newborn. The new baby just wants to feed. She’s not making demands about pajamas, night-lights, or the like!

So what can we do to help our toddlers in this transition?

1. Don’t expect them to make big changes before baby arrives.

  • If you’re one of the smart ones and you are reading this BEFORE the birth of your second baby – here is my advice. If it is less than 6 months before baby’s arrival let them keep their comforting items. Keep them in the crib and order a second one for babe if necessary, let them keep their pacifier, and their bottle of milk before bed. Otherwise you are likely setting yourself up for a power struggle, followed by a sleep regression. And as you probably know – once you’re in a power struggle with a toddler, you’ve already lost. Your dignity. Your sanity. You know the drill.

2. Increase opportunities for attention.

  • Really hard to do at first. I know that. But it gets easier, and you will become a pro at this before you know it! Give your oldest child as much focused one-on-one time throughout the day as you can. Play at their level. Let them lead you through play, and engage you how they see fit without the distractions of phone, TV, cleaning, or the like.
  • Think about how much time they are spending with you in the middle of the night, and try to match that in the daytime. Ensure they are getting lots of positive attention in helping to do things for baby as well. “Thank you for getting brother’s blanket, you’re such a helpful big bro!” All these little thank you’s will add up to a big confidence boost, and a love bucket that is just a little more full.

3. Increase opportunities for power.

  • If power struggles at bedtime or middle of the night are part of your equation, increase your toddler’s ability to call the shots.
  • In their bedtime routine; do you want the red toothbrush, or the blue one? Purple pajamas or pink? Straw cup or sippy cup?
  • You can also give them a few cards to use at bedtime to make requests. A card they trade for one more hug, an extra sip of water, milk, or a cuddle. But once you have fulfilled the request, take the card away and return it the next morning. Show that the boundaries you do set are meant to be respected, but allow your toddler to know where these boundaries lie before insisting that they fulfill an expectation they know nothing about.

4. Ensure your toddler is not waking because of an environmental factor.

  • Do they know how to find their soother in the middle of the night? Can they pull their blankets back on when they are cold? Or, should they be in a sleep sack with foot holes like this one made by Halo. Are they falling asleep with a nightlight on, and when they wake in the night it is turned off? Can they turn it back on themselves?
  • Look at the things you do for your child at bedtime, and ask yourself if your toddler can be asked to re-create this come middle of the night. If the answer is no.. you may need to make some changes, or teach your toddler the skills to fulfill these requests and guide them in the middle of the night to do these things for themselves. I know it would be easier for you to just switch on the nightlight tonight – but then this becomes the expectation for tomorrow night too. Guide your child to do this in the night, and they will learn this is something they should start to do for themselves as well.

When it comes to making sleep changes everyone is usually playing the “short game”. The game that is going to get you back into bed as fast as possible on any given night. But I assure you, with a quick fix, a problem persists. I would encourage you to look for the root of your child’s behavior, and begin to work around resolving that need in particular. Lead with your heart. Treat your little one like the human being they are, and surely you will be able to troubleshoot this one in a way that works for both of you.

And a couple of last minute suggestions if it’s still not working out for you…

Repeat the mantra “this too shall pass”, and maybe tattoo it on your forearm so you see it at every turn. 😉

Or consider booking a toddler consultation with me. This is probably my favourite age group to work with and I would love to help you out.

XO

Lara

Thank you to this beautiful family, and feature photography by www.stacielynnphotography.ca.