Around the age of 12-14 months, some toddlers go through sleep problems which usually take the form of frequent waking and clinginess, or refusing to sleep and fighting sleep.
Lets find ways to encourage your child to fall asleep on her own in her own bed and get herself back to sleep on her own if she wakes in the night.
Your will need:
- Your child’s favorite comfort item e.g soft toy, doll, or comfort blanket
- A calm and loving but assertive frame of mind
First things first : If your child is waking frequently, make sure that he/she is :
1) Well fed and not hungry
2) Has a clean and comfortable diaper
3) Is tired but not exhausted/over tired. Contrary to what one would expect, when a child is overtired or exhausted, sleep interruptions are more likely to occur. If this is seen to be the case, then put your child to bed half an hour earlier than usual and see if this helps.
4) Has no sign of illness.
Assuming that all the above has been taken care of, if your child is still waking frequently, then other measures need to be taken especially if they are waking in a distressed state.
Many 12 month olds show the following pattern :
a) Would fall asleep with his bottle and me by his side
b) 10 mins later he wakes up and cries hysterically
c) I get him back to sleep with either comforting/rocking or with a bottle
d) He wakes again at regular intervals through the night with the same hysterical crying
If this is the type of sleep disturbance that is seen in your child, who otherwise slept well throughout infancy then the most likely reason is that he/she is going through a normal phase of separation anxiety and is looking for the comforting scenario that got them to sleep in the first place.
If this sounds familiar:
My son would fall asleep with his bottle and with his mother. when he would wake up, instead of just turning over and going back to sleep like we all do, he would look for extra comfort in the form of his bottle or mother.
If either of those things were not present, he would cry hysterically.
Teach him to go to sleep without the use of a bottle or rocking, but instead, replace it with a comfort item, for him, it was a soft blue baby blanket. For my daughter, it was her pacifier.
Though the idea is simple, it may take about 6 weeks for the method to begin showing results.
First reduce his bottle dependency by reducing the amount of milk at bedtime slowly to zero
Then introduce comforting stories in a dim light and repeatedly asked him to close eyes while we tell him a soothing story
No rocking, just a little cuddling perhaps if he wished
Constant encouragement till he fell asleep
Now, here’s when the improvement really started. We never brought him out of his room when he woke. Every time he woke, I would go into his room and soothe him IN HIS ROOM. I would repeat the same bedtime story in a soothing voice and calm him down from his sobbing and then lie him back down, rub his legs (whatever you think will help) to basically show him that its ok, nothing has changed and everyone, including mom is only a stone’s throw away
After 6 weeks of slow improvement, my son really got the idea. His separation anxiety returned with full force at 18 months and again at 22 months, but as of today (26 months) he sleeps peacefully through most of the night.
He does occasionally wake up and then I just go into his room, talk to him and soothe him saying “mamma is here” and he goes right back to sleep !
In summary :
1) Wean dependency off bottles and rocking because its something they will not find when they wake up in the middle of the night and they need to learn to get back to sleep on their own
2) Encourage your child to sleep on his/her own with eyes closed, listening to a bedtime story or lullaby
3) If waking/hysterics do occur, soothe your child to the best of your ability in their own room, but do not take them into your own room or bed as this will really not help them develop the self-reassuring skills they need. You may do whatever it takes to soothe them in the environment of their own room
4) Once the child is calm, reassure and soothe them to sleep by repeating the original story/lullaby that was used at bedtime
5) Once they show signs of drifting off, leave
Remember, this takes time and patience. But it can be achieved. The reason I say this is because my son was colicky and was rocked as an infant. He never really developed skill to sleep on his own and had TERRIBLE night wakings at the age of 12 months +. By sticking to this method and sticking it out, I taught him the skills to self soothe WITHOUT leaving him to cry. He is happy, well balanced and bouncing off the walls in the morning !!