How can I get my toddler to stay in her Big Girl’s bed?
Parenting comes without a manual. It’s a whirlwind of chaos, uncertainties, and epic fails so when you encounter someone like Julie Mallon who holds a flashlight to illuminate an escape route, well, let’s just say, I am clinging on tightly to this woman.
Julie Mallon comes across as classy and soft spoken, excited to share her lollipops of wisdom. I felt like we should be sipping tea with my pinkie outturned, but that was just a reaction to her British accent. She’s all blonde, blue-eyed calm. No doubt she’s glad to be passed the tantrums and shoe battles herself although she assures me that each phase has its challenges. As a midwife she’s delivered hundreds of babies. As a mommy, she has three daughters – none of whom have any problem sleeping in their own bed.
Julie works with Babies and Beyond, a Dubai Healthcare Authority-licensed home healthcare company based in Dubai, as a certified sleep expert with 25 years of experience.
I fight my urge to reach out for a hug as some sort of a primal greeting and instead wait for what I came for. I want the HOW. Not the why, when or what, but the how. How can I get my toddler to stay put. Yes, God forbid she would enjoy her Pottery Barn bed with the fluffiest of feather-filled pillows and Disney-princess duvet. I mean why would she? That would be logical. That would be reasonable. And she is the farthest thing from it. Remember, I’m talking about the same individual who wore her shoes on her hands yesterday. You know, just ’cause.
This is unsustainable. I need an intervention. I can no longer continue dipping in and out. Children live in the moment and I need to decide to keep her in her big girl bed… alone. Or let it go and opt for co-sleeping or some other option.
And Julie delivers the goods, never chiding me that my tactics are all wrong, but allowing me to reach that conclusion all on my own. It’s less ouchy when, “That’s wrong, isn’t it?” comes out of my mouth instead of hers.
Helping your child fall asleep is apparently much more than freeing up your evening to waste channel surfing. Learning to sleep independently has the knock-on effect of helping a toddler “get through their day.”
According to Julie, our role is to build up our little offspring to be strong enough to go into the big bad world and survive it. I’m onboard with that. Toddlers explore, they need to know why by experimenting – not by us spoonfeeding (or yelling) why. As in, If I don’t sleep my mom is going to get pissed, possibly have a breakdown, and not be able to dance with me tomorrow.
Bear in mind that what she told me had a war in my head with what I initially heard. We cling to our established habits until new ones are formed. And so until this clear transition is made I have to trust this active mom who hates sun holidays, but enjoys skiing although she claims she “isn’t very good.”
What She Told Me vs. What I Heard in My Head
Sleep pressure is intuitive
When overtired, adrenalin kicks in and we become physiologically stressed at night. Yes, mmmh interesting. I saw myself nodding vigorously like those hula girls and dogs on springs that people drive around with on their dashboard.
I had to take it at her pace
What’s the ideal age to switch a toddler from crib to bed? Okay, so there was no ideal age. Got it. No. Ideal. Age. It’s all about needs. Her needs or mine. I couldn’t decide for her. I also should never use criticism or judgment. I did have to be the grown up and gently call the shots though. I had to look like I knew what I was doing. And be coherent. Tough stuff for me.
A child’s brain is like a firework
Brains are like fireworks, crackers, fuses. Snap Crackle and Pop….wow I love ice cream. I could live on it. So, these fireworks have times in the day that they ignite.
Give children the ability to grow their brains to be able to explore. Even with a temperamental child I still had to be the parent to help make that choice. Respect and acknowledge their feelings. The minute you lose it with them, the connection is lost. So I guess throwing her doll across the room was similar to the 4th of July in her bedroom?
Black or White
Things required for sleep: 1. Sleep pressure, 2. Biological clock
Not: 1. Mommy yelling at her to lie down and shut her mouth and eyes. How’s that for pressure? 2. Urine output and a thousand, “Do you need to pee?”s.
Kids’ hard wiring
Okay, I get it. “To do no harm” kids are hard wired to get attention for survival and power. You cannot make them: sleep, eat, do a poop (well, depending on what you slip into their breakfast cereal). As a parent if you prepare expectations, work towards showing them how. For instance, be consistent with your attention. Put down the phone – no, not in a toilet. Use eye contact.
Guide them, give tools so that as the years pass they can make right decisions when you’re not with them. So, I have to allow her to make herself happy. Ummm letting her “eat grass” would have made her happy. Yet I should not be reinforcing anxiety. “That’s not helpful” the over-explaining. The scaffolding should follow basic health and safety requirements.
Underestimating new baby
Even though she’s partly independent, another part is not ready for change and equates her new baby with an attention-grabbing rival. Kinda like if my husband came home with a new wife. Children need predictability and consistency. Ooops.
I need some Xanax
So my daughter has clearly been picking up on my nerves. Mommy is lost doesn’t know what to do here. Mirroring that “I’m lost” vibe. Creates confusion. Children like clear not fuzzy lines. All I have been giving her is fuzzy.
Every child has a currency
Every child has a currency – the first born is the family’s lifeblood, second borns are adults at 5 learning to drive, third arrives saying no so the boundaries are tightened. Figure out what makes your child tick! She keeps repeating that it takes two weeks to break a habit. I need to be in 5th gear. My approach is crucial.
How to be a pirate to get the treasure
Mommy should be staying in the room until the child sleeps gets them into the habit of falling asleep with you there – move chair back, move outside door, let them learn how to nod off without you beside them. Why is this so hard?
Who’s the boss
Children need to know who is central to world and not in a sense where they control it. To be loved does not mean being a slave to our children. Mommy and daddy have finished growing, they’re in bed to grow their brain. Shows respect and in case of resistance, ignore it in a genuine, scaffoldy way. “Mommy trusts me so I can.” Powerful message for their brain to work on.
Giving mixed messages doesn’t work. Saying, “I know you can sleep tonight, like you did before, like mommy does.” Except mommy doesn’t sleep much and she knows that judging by the way she’s been staring at the poofy black bags under my eyes.
It’s all about the scaffolding. Get the foundation right. Doing everything you can to get them in the right place to make a right decision. When they ask for guidance, tell your toddler what to do. As a parent, you have to decide between a bullying opportunity and a learning opportunity. Change emerges from clear actions. They’ll always test boundaries. But at least, the fact that teaching her the skill to sleep alone and that it was taking forever should tell me she’s developing normally.
Biggest take away?
“They are people… show them how through scaffolding and they’ll be out of the house dodging your calls before you know it!” Is it bad to want to fast-forward to that?
And now for the very casual plug:
Julie is running sleep workshops on December 8th for ages 1- 2 and on December 9th for ages 2-4 at the Babies and Beyond offices in Business Bay, Opal Tower. To register for the workshops, please email email@example.com or call 04-2789832.
Julie is also available for private 1:1 sleep consultations. For bookings please call 04-2789832 or email firstname.lastname@example.org. For more information on Babies and Beyond, please visit babiesandbeyond.ae.