Dealing with Sleep Transitions

Guys, I’m going to say it like it is. Parenting is HARD. The struggle is REAL! We’re all in it with unique kids that each require different parenting styles and approaches. What worked for kid #1 so well suddenly isn’t working for kid #2. And you’re about to lose it!

Well, at least that’s how I felt last night. I’m going to get honest…I am struggling right now. This past weekend we made the terrifying transition from crib to ‘big boy bed’. When we made with transition with Paige at 2 years 3 months, she took it like a champ. She was a little hesitant at first, but she heard the rules, learned how and where to climb in and out of bed, and stayed in bed until her special star clock turned from red at night to green in the morning.

Child #1 vs. Child #2

Paige is a first child. She’s not a dare devil. She waiting to climb out of her crib until she knew exactly how to physically do it in a way where she would not get hurt. Kip got it on video, and it was perfectly executed. The transition to a bed happened and happened remarkably easily.

Tyler, on the other hand, has been climbing things since he was able to control how to move his body. This kid climbs EVERYTHING. And I mean EVERYTHING. One time when he was 18 months old, we found him hanging from the car door handle, gently pulling himself up to do pull-ups. The first time he tried to climb out of his crib he fell and hurt himself. He was also 20 months old…and definitely not ready for the transition to a bed.

The Climb

Luckily for us the first time Tyler climbed out was really the only time. We lowered the crib mattress as much as we could and reinforced that he was not to climb out. And for a period of time that worked. However, over the last 10 months he has become very adept at pulling himself up and over his crib railing, positioning himself to the point right before he would completely climb out. It was very nerve racking to watch over the monitor, but we were confident he wouldn’t climb out.

And he hasn’t. About 1 month ago the blood curdling screaming began. At 2:00am. And I mean the blood curdling scream that makes you jolt out of a deep sleep because you fear something is severely wrong with your child. Not wanting him to wake his sister, I would rush into his room, expecting to find an inconsolable child. Maybe a child in the middle of a night terror. A child that I would need to comfort, talk down and help calm. Instead I was met with a child that looked at me and calmly asked for daddy… 🤬

Are you kidding me?

Kip and I discussed it and the decision was made to transition Tyler to a big boy bed. He has slept in a bed during vacation time without incident. He stayed in his bed, both during naptime and overnight. This should be a piece of cake. After all, Paige handled it without difficulty, right?

WRONG. I don’t know what I was expecting, but I can tell you what we have been going through these past couple of nights has not been easy. The screaming, the getting out of bed constantly, the “mommy I NEED you”, the climbing his furniture and we cannot forget the fabulous Desitin incident…

A brief moment for comic relief

Which would you have rather smeared all over your child’s room? Poop or Desitin? Now I want you to really think about this…because Desitin is not just some easily cleanable substance…it is a THICK white cream that once put in place DOES NOT MOVE!

The first nap period of Tyler in his new big boy bed ended with him coming out of his room about 1 hour after I put him down for his nap, COVERED in Desitin. Kip came to get me in a slight panic. The panic increased when we walked into his room…this thick white substance was EVERYWHERE! All over his sheets, his bed, his lovies, his cabinets, his drawers, his chair, his walls. And he had made a rather intricate little design of tiny Desitin fingerprints under his door, stretching the entire width of the door.

I couldn’t help but laugh at his ingenuity as I attempted to clean it all up. I couldn’t get mad at him. It wasn’t his fault. Afterall, we forgot to ‘Tyler-proof’ the room for him being out of his crib. He had never been in his room alone before without being in his crib. He was being a toddler…exploring his environment and finding new ways to use things. We forgot to put things out of reach…for a child that CLIMBS onto his changing table and gently climbs back down without hurting himself 🤪

Normalizing It

Today I want to talk about normalizing difficulties with sleep transitions. Because I have spent years working on this with clients, but it wasn’t until recently that I have actually experienced it myself. I’m not going to lie…not once have I thought it was an easy situation to combat, but I have never felt more depleted, and like a failure as a mother and professional than I have these past couple of nights.

Last night I actually sat in a chair in Tyler’s room quietly crying to myself. I was trying to get him to sleep by just being in the room with him. I felt like a complete failure as a mother and thought to myself that if I can’t handle this situation with my own child then who am I to assist others through the process.

We will get through this together

This morning I woke up and decided that I was going to turn to my resources and refresh my mind with how to handle difficult sleep situations. I took out my studies and reference materials that I have collected over the years and even looked into new courses and books just to make sure that I wasn’t missing anything or that things hadn’t changed.

And the truth is…there was not one piece of material that I didn’t already know. You see, as a professional I have one set of ‘rules’ that I ascribe to and then the mother in me wants to do something completely different. As a professional I have learned one way to handle situations like this. As a mother all I wanted to do was quiet my child and get him to sleep. Whatever I had to do to accomplish that is what I was going to do. But as a professional AND mother, I KNOW that is not sustainable or functional. I need to get back to the basics.

Consistency is key

The first thing I want to remind you of (as well as myself) is that sleep transitions take time, patience and consistency. No matter which method you chose to employ, it’s going to take 10-14 days of consistently doing the same thing before you are going to see any long-lasting change.

Can change occur before the 10-14 period? Of course it can. But in order for it to really become part of the routine, I would encourage you to stick it out for the full period of time. Honestly, I’m saying this more to myself than anyone else at this point. I, like most parents out there, want the quick fix and want the transition to resolve smoothly. But I also know that I need to be consistent and stick with it. We all need to mentally prepare ourselves that this is going to take time.

Set your routine

I’ve said it before, and I will say it again. Children crave structure and routines. If you haven’t already done so, now would be a great time to set a bedtime routine. This should be a series of events that occur before bedtime and should start about 20 minutes before lights out.

Examples are put on pajamas, brush teeth, go to the bathroom/change diaper, read a story and lights out. You can verbally remind your child of this, or you can use a visual schedule.  Click here to find the simple visual schedule that I created for bedtime.

With the routine in place, when you say “time to get ready for bed” you child knows what that means, and they will begin to participate in the routine. This will not only literally help them get ready for bed but will also contribute to deceasing any bedtime battles and anxieties because they know what is expected of them.

Establish your Boundaries

You first need to decide what your boundaries are going to be. If you decide that your child is not allowed out of their room once you have put them to bed, then you need to stick to that. (again…telling myself this more than anything else 😉) When your child leaves their room, you need to be there to reinforce that boundary. Not in a mean, punitive way. But in a calm, firm, boundary setting way.

“It’s bedtime. It’s time to be in your room. I’m going to help you get back to bed” and then calmly walk them back to bed. Your child will likely test this limit MANY times. I know mine do. Paige always has to “tell me something”. Tyler’s new thing is “mommy I NEED you”. It pulls at my heart strings and the mommy in me does not want to upset them or disappoint them.

The professional in me knows they are simply trying to break my boundary; therefore I need to be loving, but hold firm. I tell Paige she can tell me everything she wants to in the morning. And if she NEEDS to tell someone right now, tell her dolls. They are always there to listen to her.

They are allowed to feel all the feelings

The bottom line is we as parents need to gently but firmly hold the boundaries that we establish. As annoying as it is, we need to consistently bring them back to their room, over and over again, until they eventually stop coming out. Again, it’s going to take time…and they are going to get upset.

And that’s ok. You’re going to say to your child, “You’re upset. I see that. You’re allowed to feel upset. But it’s bedtime and that means you need to be in bed”. And they are going to cry. They are going to scream, and cry and cry and scream and you are going to say it again. You will sit with them until they calm down, saying it again, taking deep breaths and waiting it out. They’re allowed to feel upset. But its bedtime. And the boundary has been set.

Regulate Yourself

Toddlers and young children have a difficult time controlling their impulses (I refer you back to the Desitin incident 😉) and emotions. They often look to us to not only assist them with this, but to also teach them how to do it themselves. In order to effectively show them how to do this, we have to be regulated ourselves.

Look, we’ve all been there. Someone even wrote a book called Go the F*ck to Sleep! We’ve all wanted to scream it, and if I’m being totally honest, I may have said it under my breath last night while dealing with Tyler. But I know that if I get all worked up and angry, then I am doing the exact opposite of what needs to be done to calm my child.

It’s hard, but I try to stop and take a deep breath to recenter myself. I know that I need to be regulated to calmly take my child back to bed. I need to be regulated to be able to hold my boundaries and remain consistent. Your child will sense your calmness and feel safe. And the feeling of safety will allow them to begin to calm down.

After you’ve taken them back to their room you can go to another room and scream into a pillow or vent to your partner or a friend. But in the moment, you need to be able to hold it together. It’s really amazing, but it’s true. Kids feed off the energy of adults. Eventually your calm presence will calm their emotions and impulses.

Getting through it

Even though you’ve probably heard it all before, I know this information may still sound hard and daunting. Especially when you are in the thick of it. But if you are able to hold true to any of these basics, things will get better. It will take time, energy and patience, but eventually you will get through this and get back to ‘normal’…whatever your ‘normal’ is.

You can do this! I can do this! We can do this!

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