Oh sleep. Just when you think you’ve got the knack, something changes and you’re back on Google desperately hoping the miracle answer to ‘WHY WON’T MY TODDLER STAY IN BED’ will appear. I’m four years into my motherhood journey, which in real life would make me a Tradie, only just graduating my Apprentice years, yet I have never felt like I’ve mastered the art of sleep for my kids. Newborn sleep, infant sleep, toddler sleep and even big kid sleep are all entirely different ball games!
Recently Jagger (freshly turned 2 last week) gave up his dummy. It was sort of forced upon us as it had holes in it and was getting a bit rank however he refused all other dummies. It had to be the YELLOW one. But in the interest of hygiene, he just couldn’t have the yellow one anymore. So I circumcised it. What I mean by that is I snipped the tip off so Jagger would lose interest in it. He did. And with that went his ability to settle at bed time. At one point, I went and bought new dummies, exactly the same brand and shape – but they didn’t have the yellow one anymore! Still, I begged him to take the dummy and he wouldn’t. He also rejected his comforter toy, Meeko. Meeko is a raccoon that I originally thought was a badass mouse with a mask. I was very tired and sleep deprived at the time of purchase.
This past week, Jagger would not stay in bed. Most nights it would be 15-20 times of him getting out of his bed and strolling down the hallway, before he would either come into bed with us or sit on the couch until he crashed. This was not something we wanted to continue!
The 100 Walk Method
This was an epic fail. Google turned this method up as a possible solution. The plan is that after the first time your child gets out of bed, you return them, tuck them in and firmly say ‘it’s time for bed’. Then, for any other time they get up, you simply walk them back to bed and tuck them in with no emotion or interaction. The key is to make it boring so they will get over it.
My kid did not get over it. EVER. He thought it was a game, and no matter how serious I looked, he still found it funny. I suppose it says something about him, that he can find joy in anything. Some of you will remember me posting on my Instagram story that I was up to the 18th walk back to bed but I would ‘not be beaten’. I was most definitely being beaten by a two year old, repeatedly. I would be half way down the hallway and he was already on his way back out to the living room. Did I cry? Yes.
Very simply, I called Ngala. Here in Perth, they are a FREE parenting line. They also run a sleep school where parents can take their very awake children and do day or night stays, leaving with strategies they can implement at home (you need a referral from your GP for this and I believe your health insurance can cover some of the cost). The call is entirely free though. This is the second time they have helped me and they were amazing. The first time, they helped me go from Jagger waking 9 times a night to sleeping through within a week.
When you go on their website, go to ‘Request A Call‘ and a sleep consultant will give you a ring within 48 hours. My phone call was only 3 hours after I submitted my plea for help, and just before bedtime.
I should have called them sooner instead of trying to work it out myself and putting myself through days of two to three hour long bedtimes. Don’t ever feel like your problem needs to be SO bad before you call someone for help. You don’t need to be at your wits end to be deserving of assistance. I was at my wits end…but I realize I should have called much earlier.
If you do request a call, when they do phone you, make sure you write everything down. Take notes!
That night, I implemented everything they said and it worked. Jagger did not get out of bed ONCE! NOT ONCE! He was asleep within 10 minutes.
The Wind Down
So, this is what they told me to do and how I did it.
A two-year old has a busy mind so the important thing to remember for their bedtime is:
- being still
Jagger’s wind down time needed to be a lot longer and more focused. I was told to swap dinner and bath time around. I know it makes sense to bathe your kid after a potentially messy dinner, but the priority here is to have them calming down before bed. Bath times are busy and kinda chaotic. Kids get all revved up from it as they splash around and play. Then comes the drama of trying to get them dressed and they become little naked blurs tearing through the house. So, get that out the way first, and then find a bib for them to tackle dinner!
We then follow the sitting down at dinner by some quiet time. This is usually watching TV. Ngala suggested always watching something they’ve seen before (remember the idea of repetition). A ground breaking suggestion she made was to read the books we have at bed, out on the couch during our first phase of quiet time. Those books will be read again at bed. I also gently handed him his Meeko a few times during our cuddles and he eventually accepted it!
After books, TV and a lot of cuddles, we prompt Jagger that bedtime is soon so he knows it’s coming. Another 5 minutes of cuddles, we let him know it is bedtime and he gives Jaxxi and the parent not putting him to bed a kiss.
Another vital suggestion made by Ngala was to do the settling in his room in the place we want him to stay. Obviously, this is the bed. So, this meant avoiding cuddles in the chair or reading to him in his sister’s bunk (as the kids share a room). We were reading to both kids in the top bunk and then moving Jagger to his when it was sleep time, so cutting this extra movement out would be helpful as we want to encourage him to be still. Jaxxi came in and helped me, and snuggled with Jagger in his bed. He kept trying to climb up to her bed but once Jaxxi hopped into his, he happily joined her. We read the same books (2-3 stories) that we had just gone through out in the living room. I also amped it up and had a ‘Sleep’ playlist going on my phone from Spotify and I rolled Lavender oil on his feet and wrists. Also, I am still on the Free version of Spotify, so the relaxation was slightly interrupted when an ad started blasting. Lesson learnt. Premium is now purchased.
After the books, Jaxxi said goodnight and she went back out to the living room to watch My Little Pony for the millionth time. I kissed Jagger, handed him his Meeko and once again he snuggled it. I said ‘It’s time for sleep. Mummy is going to sit in the chair and close her eyes until you fall asleep.’
Ngala suggested specifically that I close my eyes, and to sit on a chair. I was not to sit on his bed. Also, as Jagger is a bit older, he understands I’m only staying till he falls asleep. So if he wakes up and I’m not there, he shouldn’t panic (and he didn’t). For younger babies, this isn’t a good idea, because your baby will trust that since you were there when they fell asleep, you’ll be there when they wake. They will think you’ve gone to Guam or something, never to return, if they wake and you aren’t there.
I sat on the chair, closed my eyes, and relaxed. The relaxing music playing was helpful for me because I wasn’t getting too fidgety. I was also ‘pretend sleeping’, like kids do. I was really squinting so I could see him through my lashes. Within ten minutes, he had rolled over and dozed off.
The Next Steps
Over the next few nights, the routine will go as the above. But eventually, it will shorten and I’ll begin leaving just before he dozes off, and then when he is settled and then eventually, right after I kiss him goodnight.
Key Points To Get Your Baby To Stay In Bed
- Ask for help!
- Create a strong bed time routine
- Bath, Dinner, Quiet Time, Bedtime
- Repeat books during quiet time and bedtime
- Aim for minimal movement – we want them to be still (so don’t move around from room to room or begin playing. Go from dinner table, to couch, to bed)
I hope this helps! If these steps don’t seem like something that will work for you, just follow Step 1, which is to call someone like Ngala. Don’t hesitate anymore. They will help you!