As Toddlers Mature: Sleep Needs Change

sleeping-babyNo, I’m not talking here about the amount of sleep an older toddler needs and gets (this is likely another topic and post by itself). I’m talking about what I’ve noticed has changed in terms of what our toddler demands of us – the parents. Before this, the usual modified “cry it out” method seemed to work pretty well. We would let the young toddler cry for about 10 minutes or so, turn off all the lights outside the room, and the toddler will usually go back to sleep herself shortly afterwards. Back then, it seemed to be easier to slip out of her room in the dark as long as the door made no noise at the end of the bedtime routine, and she could usually put herself to sleep quickly soon after.

However, after our toddler turned 27 months, I noticed a change. It has become quite a paradox. On one hand, she has become more adept at being able to put herself to sleep for afternoon naps and at night, so that we do not need to be in there and wait until she falls asleep before leaving the room. On the other hand, she’s now more anxious in the sense that she wants us to be “ready and available”  and to respond ASAP. This means that if she calls out in the middle of the night, she wants us to respond immediately and attend to her needs. She is less willing to “cry it out”; instead she continues to wail LOUDLY and REPEATEDLY until someone comes. Once we do though, and attend to her needs (like going to the potty, patting her for 5 minutes, or giving her a backrub and hug), she is fine with us saying good night and then returning to our beds. The same thing happens at bedtime. If I try to slip out of her room in the dark 5 to 10 minutes after putting her to sleep, she somehow senses that I have left the room, and then immediately starts wailing until I come back. However, strangely enough, if I bid her good night after staying with her for 5 minutes, she usually just lets me leave the room. Or she’ll chase me out the room after a couple of minutes by asking me to leave!

In the morning, if she wakes up in the morning and starts to fuss and we don’t respond quickly enough, she goes into tantrum and then doesn’t want to get up. But if we respond quickly before she gets into a rut, she is usually more cooperative. I think her wailing is now more prolonged and louder because she has not only bigger lungs, but greater awareness and knowledge that we are around – we’re just not responding in a timely manner or choosing to respond her. That probably makes her more upset and determined to get us to come to her room!

Case in point: One night recently our toddler awoke at 6:56am screaming at the top of her lungs, with no sign of abating, and screaming, ”I want to pee!”. When I went to her and put her on potty, nothing came out of course. I then changed her diaper, and put her back in bed. I sat near her bed for 2 or 3 minutes before getting up and saying, “Mommy is going back to bed, because mommy and daddy need to sleep. See it is still dark outside!” She was lying down at this point in the bed, but she lifted up her little hand and waved ‘goodbye’ to me. So I left the room. And there was no crying since. It was actually already 7:20am, and the sky was starting to lighten up. I’m thankful for black out curtains and that she didn’t realize it was morning already! I ended up going back in about 45 minutes later, thinking she was asleep. However, she later told me when I came in that she didn’t sleep. I’m thankful she was still well behaved though (either that or she likes her crib too much)!

This is such a strange turn of events: on one hand, she seems more needy and dependent and wants us to respond immediately to her. On the other hand, after we respond to her, she is fine to put herself to sleep. I guess she now only wants us for comfort, but less so to physically help her to sleep. I guess it’s good that she’s now more independent and doesn’t need us to be near her all the time, but I’m not sure how I feel about having to be perpetually “on call”!


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