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Three Common Reasons for Toddler Sleep Regressions

With Toddler Tips below, to help you get through them!

Is your toddler refusing bedtime, having multiple night wake ups and seeming very clingy at night?

Toddler sleep regressions are common, often between the ages of 18 months and 2 years. Generally lasting for a few weeks.

I hope that lets you know that these push backs are totally normal, and short lived in the grand scheme of things. That may not make it easier to handle in the moment, but I hope the following insight and tips do.

I find that to best overcome a sleep regression, it’s important to understand why it’s happening. See the problem and address it, instead of bandaid it with new/unwanted sleep habits that will in turn create further sleep issues. I know it’s easier said than done, but I speak from much experience and can tell you the latter can really turn sleep on it’s head.

So, here are three common reasons for toddler sleep regressions…

3 Common Reasons for Toddler Sleep Regressions

1. Separation Anxiety/Stress: This is a big one at this age. Our children are really starting to understand what it’s like to miss us when we are gone. And that causes stress. Especially at bedtime or anticipation of bedtime, when our child knows we are not there when they sleep. If, in reaction, we begin the habit of staying with them when they sleep, this habit can stick and will create even more of an issue by the time we do leave. Now, they are conditioned to need you to get to sleep! Ah!

Toddler Tip: In order to get through this one, you will need to consider three things.

  • Time to overcome these emotions

  • Space for quality time with your little one

  • Maintaining routines and boundaries

First, understanding that you are coming back and feeling comfortable alone again takes time. Accept that your child has new feelings and give her the love an assurance she needs. She will soon learn that she will see you soon and that you are always coming back. Second, whether it’s during the bedtime routine or another suitable time in the day, give your child that quality time he may need to feel connection. A little goes a long way so long as it’s intentional. Third, keeping routines and boundaries will help your child understand what’s expected of them and that the rules still stay the same. This will ensure that new habits don’t creep in. You can give more love and attention, while staying on course with bedtime.

2. Change in Routine: Whether it’s transitioning into daycare, a parent going back to work outside the home, or the introduction of a new baby to the family, changes like this can feel insurmountable to a young mind. The first step is remembering just that, insurmountable (super challenging!). While you can recognize that these changes are huge, it’s important to truly understand that for our little ones, it’s life altering, and they don’t have the tools and understanding to process such change. This can often create bedtime struggles and nighttime wake ups, as your child is uncomfortable with the new routine and is triggered when they are alone and not distracted. Needing you there in the night or at bedtime may help to soothe them temporarily. However, consistent consoling at night will encourage the behaviour and leave your toddler, and you, with broken sleep. Remember that your toddler needs about 10-12 hours of sleep at night (plus daytime sleep), so many nights of broken sleep will create further frustration and crankiness come the afternoon.

Toddler Tip: Work on filling your child’s bucket during waking hours. Allot 15-20 minutes of special time for just you and them. It’s quality not quantity if you are a busy parent, with more than one child, and working, making dinner…the list goes on. Be realistic and intentional so you can truly support your child through this. Make the time meaningful, set boundaries for bedtime and nighttime, AND stick with it. When your toddler sees what the expectations are (and that they do not change), she will understand the boundaries better and will be less likely to cross them. It’s also important to give transitions the time they deserve. As I mentioned – insurmountable. We don’t go through a big change and come out the other side in a day. It will take some time to get used to.

3. Growth and Development: For a toddler there are a ton of new skills just waiting to burst out of their little bodies. A big one is a sense of independence. They want to do everything on their own, which can often make the bedtime hour long and tedious. PLUS, much push back at bedtime as they try to assume more control.

Toddler Tip: To support this, make bedtime collaborative. Create a visual bedtime routine chart where your little one can see the steps and take control of guiding the family through bedtime. You will want to stick to the bedtime boundaries but give your toddler some choices of her own to make. These choices should be simple and with limitations – the best kind are between two things that are already part of the routine, so her decision isn’t endless or won’t interfere with boundaries. For example, choose between the pink pajamas or the yellow pajamas OR pick two books from this pile. (What not to do: What book do you want? What do you want to wear to bed? You will find yourself waiting until they’ve decided, and nothing will be good enough. They may choose ten books or wear last year’s Halloween costume to sleep)

Toddlers are also becoming more aware of their surroundings and will feel that separation from you at night, as mentioned above.

Toddler Tip: To support this, it’s best to stay consistent with your schedule and routines so your little one knows what to expect. Predictability and familiarity are comforting for our children. Spend that quality time with them during waking hours, as mentioned above.

In addition to these two, at 18 months + our children are increasing their mobility and learning new physical skills, like climbing, jumping, running, throwing, holding utensils or crayons. This increase in mobility makes them restless and can affect their ability to settle and sleep when needed.

Toddler Tip: In order to support this development, ensure your child has lots of time for activity during the day to practice these new abilities. Give it time and they soon will grasp the skill and settle into sleep much more easily.

Toddler Regression Takeaways:

  • Create space for quality time

  • Maintain routines and boundaries

  • Make bedtime collaborative

  • Practice new skills in the waking hours

What else you can do:

  • Stick to your sleep schedule

  • Keep lights dim before bed and avoid evening overstimulation

  • Create a comfortable sleep space

  • Introduce an age appropriate and safe stuffy for comfort

This stage is definitely on the rougher side. I've had four toddlers of my own and I see the power struggle in full view with all my toddler fams. Collaborating with a toddler has a special place in my heart. If you're in the thick of it and can't see the best way out, let's chat. Book a free chat with me, and we'll discuss what sleep looks like in your home and how I can help make it great!

Thinking it's time to switch from a crib to a toddler bed? Check out my post including tips on how to best transition your toddler - 7 Tips for Making the Switch to a Big Kid Bed

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