Unfortunately, due to the nature of prolonged lockdowns we are seeing a higher rate of anxiety and sleep refusal in the toddler age range. Many factors influence this, as the very nature of the lockdowns have meant that we are not seeing enough social interaction and stimulation in this cohort, we are not experiencing the usual day to day activities that allow our children to mix with others, say goodbye to their parents, say hello again and feel confident in being apart from them as well as being together. This often leads to challenges at bedtime with a reluctance to be on their own at sleep time.
The first point is that we are doing the very best that we can and so are our children. We can help to lessen their anxieties by creating certain dynamics and activities to alleviate the pressure for both parents and children.
Toddlers go through a multitude of developmental progressions, from learning to speak to learning to be more separate from the adults around them. Their sleep profile also changes rapidly between 18 months to 3 years with a nap-need shrinking and as that nap need is retired parents often must adjust the bed-timing later and then earlier until there is no nap and bedtime without day sleep is established. This transition can typically start from around age 2 but may not be complete until closer to 3- keeping all of us on our toes.
Daily life with a toddler can be both exhilarating and exhausting, they will benefit and enjoy spending so much time with you in a present, undiluted one to one capacity. If you are trying to juggle working from home and parenting too without childcare this adds another huge layer of stress. Create a rhythm to your days, with regular wake times, feeding times, nap time and leisure/play time
It may be a good idea to ensure that they do not have too many toys to play with all at the same time so that they can engage with what you are offering. As well, ensure that you can indulge in lots of eye contact and physical contact to enlarge the bond between you. Track their play with a running commentary and allow them to lead the play time. Do not be afraid to allow them to get messy under your supervision with food, water, paints, and sand.
When possible exchange the screen time for outside green time. Get them on their feet and engage in high level activity in the morning and the evening. If you are going for a walk in the buggy ensure that they can out and exercise too- think of a balance bike, a scooter, trampoline as good ways for you help them burn off their energy.
When possible avoid high sugar and processed food. Make sure that you are not relying too much on milk as this will impact their appetite for actual food that we are relying on to ensure that they are getting enough to eat. Staying hydrated is also important.
Within all your efforts create opportunities by day to allow your child to be on their own- always in a safe way- but that they have the confidence to see you leave and return. For example, create a play area in the living room and gently explain that you will go into the kitchen to get a drink – leave and return – you do not need to leave for extended times, but enough for them to register the chance to be solo and trust that you come back. Slowly extend the times and opportunities to do this so that allowing them to be alone at sleep time may not be traumatic. That said, being alone at sleep time is not a pre-requisite, but can create less vulnerability to sleep resistance and refusal to go asleep with ease.
In terms of bedtime, create a bedtime routine in the bedroom that your child sleeps in-allow 20-30 minutes to help make the transition from awake to sleep time. Think of connected activities like reading, storytelling and cuddling, that will all help to bridge the transition to sleep time with ease. Your child grows more confident than you may be able to start to slowly phase out your presence at bedtime at a pace that you both feel comfortable with.
Lucy Wolfe, is a sleep consultant, Author of the bestselling book The Baby Sleep Solution and All About The Baby Sleep Solution, creator of “Sleep Through”, a natural bed and body sleep spray and relaxing rub, and mum of four. She runs a private sleep consulting practice where she provides knowledge, expertise and valuable support to families across the country