Consistency key to a calmer toddler at bedtime
Sometimes it seems that parents of intelligent children have their work cut out for them – that was certainly the case with Austin!
This wee two year old was a clever cookie and, despite having previously been a good sleeper, nap times and bedtimes had become a disaster.
Austin was having a hard time settling for bed – insisting that Mum or Dad lie in his room with him until he fell asleep and often crying so hard that he vomited (especially once he started getting a reaction!)
For his daytime sleep, Austin’s parents would have to drive him or walk him in the pushchair until he nodded off. Austin was testing the boundaries, and because he was so well able to verbalise his requests, his parents were left thinking he needed a lot of support to sleep.
The ‘boundaries’ were not the only thing in the household being tested; Austin’s parents were in a bad place.
While Austin’s Dad was strongly opposed to leaving Austin alone to cry, spending time in the room to get Austin settled was stressful for his Mum, as it was reminiscent of the trying times she’d had while suffering postnatal depression and anxiety in the early days.
Dad had taken to sleeping in a bed in Austin’s room, which was just the start of the divide; they couldn’t agree on how to tackle things, nor were they able to achieve any sort of consistency.
Austin’s behaviour was reflecting that.
A considered approach
Austin’s parents reached out to one of our South Island sleep consultants, Sophie.
They knew that they didn’t want to engage in an overnight consult; they understood that it wasn’t going to be easy and they wanted to be able to talk about, and work through, a plan in stages without having all the pressure on the first night.
They engaged with Sophie for a phone consult, with a total of six calls over a two week period. Sophie recalls that first call clearly. “My heart went out to them,” she explains. “They were so desperately hanging on.”
Fortunately, both parents had the same goal – just wanting Austin to be able to go to sleep happily – so they were open to whatever Sophie’s recommendations were.
Not only was Sophie able to talk through a plan with them during that first phone call, the full assessment she sent through had a range of options they could try.
Austin’s parents worked through the steps slowly – tweaking his day nap routine and the timing of meals for a few days, as well as getting their head around the plan – before employing the suggested settling techniques.
Because Austin was so bright, they engaged him in some positive role playing during the day and use stickers and stamps as reward for lying down in his cot successfully.
They removed the bed from the room, so there was no temptation (for anyone!) and got Austin a nightlight.
Austin’s parents allayed much of the anxiety around bedtime and took the pressure off by positively reinforcing him just lying down and closing his eyes. As a smart kid, Austin grasped these ideas very quickly.
Putting the plan into action
Following the daytime changes and initiatives, Austin’s parents – on Sophie’s recommendation – agreed on a ‘gradual withdrawal’ technique; sitting beside the cot initially to help Austin fall asleep.
Because she knew it wasn’t forever – just a stop-gap to solve the sleep challenges, with them working their way out of the room shortly – Austin’s Mum was able to get on board with the initial in-room settling method.
The plan was to be as boring and repetitive as possible while they were in there: not talking, helping Austin lie back down if he stood up in his cot, and not adding any fuel to the fire if Austin did make himself unwell – simply changing his bedding and pyjamas and carrying on.
The first night
That first night, Austin went to sleep in just ten minutes and woke once through the night, at which time they knew exactly how to handle it.
Twice that first week they had to go in and repeat the gradual withdrawal technique in the room, but Austin responded so well overall that they didn’t need to see through all the stages usually involved. Instead, by that second week, only a few minutes of ‘spaced soothing’ were required.
The turnaround in Austin was incredible. He was back to napping in his cot, which he hadn’t done successfully in close to six months.
Not only that but he was so much happier. Austin’s parents couldn’t get over how much better behaved he was generally too. They had achieved their initial goal and more!
Consistency is key
Austin’s parents had fallen into the all-too-common trap of doing anything and everything – whatever will work! – when they were tired.
Unfortunately, trying a hundred different things, and changing which parent went in and out throughout the evening, was disorienting for Austin.
With the confidence that came from having an agreed plan, and the support of knowing they weren’t doing it alone, Austin’s parents were able to get on the same page and be consistent and clear in showing Austin what needed to happen.
Austin was so much calmer, and more settled, as a result.
Austin’s parents maintain that the consult was “the best money we have ever, ever spent!” and are even now considering having a second child; something that was very far from the realms of consideration just a short time ago.
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