My toddler had been the perfect sleeper… that is, until the dreaded 2 year old sleep regression.
He’d go to sleep as he usually would, but in the middle of the night, would get out of bed, run to the door, and cry hysterically until I opened the door. But my going into his room only seemed to aggravate him even more, resulting in further kicking, screaming, and even slapping.
Other times, bedtime would already begin with terrible tantrums, and he’d refuse to go to bed. Any attempt to get him to sleep would be met with even more kicking and screaming. This seemed so unlike him—I had never seen him so out of control.
The worst part was that I knew he was tired—we both were. The lack of sleep didn’t help the fact that I still needed to get up the next day and go to work.
How to handle the 2 year old sleep regression
If you’re reading this, you can likely relate to these 2 year old sleep problems.
You may be just as exhausted as I was from the lack of sleep, not to mention frustrated from these antics that seemed to happen out of nowhere. You’re wondering how long this stage is going to last (or whether it’ll ever end).
Trying to get your child to sleep in his bed fail. Holding or lying next to him only works until you leave the room (at which point he screams for you to come back). The only “solution” you’ve found so far is to let him sleep in your bed, just to avoid the meltdowns.
Often, sleep regression coincides with changes in a child’s life. Yours might be welcoming a new baby, sleeping in a new toddler bed, or anxious about school. But other times, it can happen out of nowhere, or for reasons you can’t easily pinpoint.
For most parents, this stage will eventually end on its own, without having to do much. Trouble is, relying on letting him sleep in your bed or agreeing to his every demand sets up habits that can be difficult to undo.
Plus, not all parents know that there are things you can do in the meantime, other than waiting it out. These tactics will get you out of your rut much quicker and more effectively than continuing with the patterns you may be using.
Take a look at these effective ways that can help:
1. Talk about your child’s room
Sleep regression can happen because of new fears. The same room combined with your child’s growing imagination could be contributing to fears he never had before. The closet seems mysterious, and the lamp that had always been there now looks scary.
To tame these fears, “walk” around the room and point to things that are scaring him in the dark. Have him touch the base of the lamp so he knows it’s simply an object, or grab toys out of the closet so he’s reassured nothing is lurking inside.
Allowing him to claim his power over these once-frightening items in the room can be just what he needs to sleep well-rested.
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2. Spend quality time together during the day
As farfetched as it may be, your child’s behavior at night could stem from what happens during the day. This is especially true if she’s going through changes in her life, like seeing your pregnant belly grow or adjusting to a new daycare.
The night is, after all, a long stretch of time you spend apart. To you and me, we’re asleep and don’t see it as being separate, but to her, this could be the dreaded part of the day when she doesn’t have you to herself.
To combat these anxieties, spend quality time with her during the day, preferably alone and without distractions. Even a few minutes or pockets of time throughout the day can reassure her that you love her no matter what.
When she feels “full” of your affection and attention, she’s better able to cope with difficult feelings she may have at nighttime.
3. Have an early bedtime
Many of us have assumed that the more tired our kids feel, the more prone they are to sleep through the night. After all, how often have we conked out ourselves after an exhausting day?
But for many kids, sleep begets sleep. The more tired—or even overtired your child is leading up to bedtime—the harder it can be for him to fall asleep. In fact, the 2 year old sleep regression can often be a result of him already being tired long before bedtime starts.
The easiest way to experiment with sleep is to have an earlier bedtime. Have him sleep not when he’s beyond tired, but at that comfortable place of welcomed drowsiness. You could move bedtime up as little as 15-30 minutes at a time to see if that can help him sleep well that night.
4. Do as much of the routine in your child’s room
I noticed that my kids and I spent a lot of time in the living room, the kitchen, even my bedroom, far more than we did in their bedroom. Their bedroom remained almost untouched… until it was time to sleep.
You can imagine that this doesn’t always make the room as inviting or pleasant when we hadn’t spent a single minute in it since waking up that morning.
Making your child’s room feel welcoming and “normal” can ease his fears and anxiety come nighttime. And the best way to do that is to do as much of your routine in his room. After bath time, get him dressed in the bedroom instead of the bathroom, and read books (maybe those to ease his anxieties) next to his bed.
This can make the transition into sleep easier since he’s already in the room, after having spent a few pleasant moments in there with you.
5. Give your child a comfort item
Back when my husband and I were dating, he mentioned he used to have a monkey stuffed animal named Morris that he kept with him at all times. Of course, I bought him a new monkey stuffed animal as the “new” Morris.
Now that we have kids, Morris stays in fairly good condition… since we don’t let the kids play with him much. That is, unless they have a difficult time falling asleep.
In fact, when my 2 year old was going through a sleep regression, offering Morris to sleep with was enough to keep him in bed all night. Any fears that lurked didn’t stand a chance with Morris by his side.
Whether a special stuffed animal, a beloved toy, or even your own pillow, give your child a special, comfort item to sleep with for a few nights. He’ll recognize the importance of being able to sleep with something out of the ordinary to get him sleeping through the night.
6. Hold your ground
You’ve likely noticed that inviting your child to sleep in your bed isn’t exactly going to end on its own. It’s time to encourage her to sleep in her own bed—and stay there.
Watch the video below on why you need to hold your ground and remember the reason you’re doing this in the first place. As one parent said about the video:
Giving in to the tantrums may mean a quick solution for the night, but months of bad habits down the line. Yes, she’ll likely get upset, but catering to her tears means not doing what’s in her best interest: reassuring her that she can sleep on her own.
Comfort her throughout the night with frequent but brief check-ins so she knows you’re still here. But keep things subdued and matter-of-fact. Don’t give in to long talks, negotiations, or even hours of holding her in your arms. Let her know, calmly and confidently, that everything is fine.
7. Be consistent
Parenting is a bit of a balancing act, don’t you think? On one hand, you don’t want to be so strict that you can’t let little things slide. But on the other, you also don’t want to let chaos rule and confuse your child even more.
However, in the case of sleep regression, consistency in your schedule is key. Insisting that he sleep in his bed one night only to let him sleep in yours the next will only confuse him more. As mentioned above, hold your ground and be consistent with not just the rules but your intentions as well.
This applies to your routine. While you can experiment with an early bedtime, try to stay consistent with everything else leading up to it, from bath time to books. The consistency will help transition him into bed easier than without it.
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No doubt, the 2 year old sleep regression can catch any well-rested parent by surprise. Even a once-good sleeper could put up a fight overnight, whether over clear reasons or out of the blue.
Still, you don’t have to wait it out and suffer months of sleep deprivation. The tactics start long before bedtime, from walking your child around his room to spending quality time during the day.
An earlier bedtime ensures he’s not overtired, and doing the routine in his room makes the transition smoother. Offer a comfort item, whether a special toy or an item from you, to ease fears and anxieties.
And finally, hold your ground against toddler tantrums at bedtime, staying consistent with your routine and how you respond.
If anything, rest assured that these sleep interruptions happen to nearly all kids, even if yours had always been the “perfect sleeper.”
p.s. Check out Where Do Diggers Sleep at Night by Brianna Caplan Sayres to get your child in the mood to sleep:
Get more tips:
- How to Establish a Solid 2 Year Old Bedtime
- 20 Examples of a 2 Year Old Sleep Schedule to Try
- How to Create a Successful Toddler Sleep Schedule
- What to Do When Your Toddler Suddenly Won’t Sleep
- What to Do when Your Child Regresses Because of New Baby Jealousy
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