Motherhood can be a rewarding experience, but it’s not easy. If you’re going through a two-year sleep regression, it’s no fun at all! Like any other sleep regressions, the 2 year old sleep regression sucks!
In the sleep department, the challenges keep changing as your baby 2-year-olds growing. You think you cracked it by 7 pm your baby’s sleep is under control, but once you get too confident, bam, your child goes through many ages and stages of life.
Let’s take this example of my friend Alexis:
My husband and I really wanted a baby and it was taking so long. We sought medical help and were blessed with a cute munchkin, J. We thought that our problems were now over until we got home and realized we had a colic baby who had neighbors nominating me for ‘the worst mother ever’ award. When he was past the colic stage at three months I felt victorious. He could sleep through the night, play, laugh and only cried when necessary. Just when I thought I had pulled through, he turned two and now I understand why parents call them the “terrible twos”.
At two your kid will discover a big secret.
A word like ‘NO’ exists!! He will be aware of his independent existence.
Your rules are no longer followed without resistance. Your child now has opinions too.
Sometimes it seems like a hormonal teenager (not to be confused with threenager) possesses your little angel.
No napping… check. Constant bedtime battles at bedtime….check. Asking to go to the potty when your child is still in diapers…check
So why does this sleep regression exist in the first place?
1. The desire to exercise their newfound individuality.
A two-year-old child is beginning to discover himself. He realizes that he can think and explores his feelings. He will question your authority especially when your decision is contrary to his feelings which he may not have much control over. He will also test your limits just for the sake of doing it.In such a case, you need to to be firm yet calm. You don’t want him realizing he is taking a toll on your emotions.
Sleep Regression Tip #1:
Limits and boundaries are what your child desires and craves (even if you feel otherwise). But, make your child feel like they have a decision within your limit. Have your child choose a toothbrush or PJs. Have your child pick a song or story they want to hear at bedtime.
These are easy wins and allow your child to feel empowered in the decision-making process.
If nap times are a battle, or you are experiencing a nap strike, take the pressure off the act of sleeping... forcing a toddler to stay in bed or a crib is one thing, forcing them to lie still or close their eyes is another. Use your words such as “it’s your choice if you sleep or not, but you must rest your body to have the energy for the rest of the day”.
Once the pressure is gone, your child will begin to go back to napping.
2. Parents converting too early to a bed.
This is a topic I hold near and dear to my heart since my oldest daughter was converted from a crib at age 2 and that was the WRONG THING TO DO! My daughter’s sleep wasn’t great, to begin with and it tanked once she didn’t have the confines of the crib.
Many parents struggle after they convert their child from the crib since their child realizes that they can leave the bed. Multiple times.
Sleep Regression Tip #2
What’s important now to get sleep back on track is to explain the rules of sleep and set a clear and actionable plan when your child leaves the room.
While closing the door causes a lot of anxiety for a young child, a tall gate (like these) can keep your child safe inside their room and treat their room like a big crib (once all furniture is secure).
3.The turns and twists in your two year old’s life.
A two-year-old has too much going on in his life.
You forget that everything is new to him no matter how obvious it seems to you. The kid feels overwhelmed by everything. He is enrolled in a daycare, or preschool or has playdates galore. He begins potty training, gets a new sibling, starts to make friends and so many other things that are so new and exciting and overwhelming all at the same time.
I am as guilty as anyone by over-scheduling my kids with daily activities but there are so many interests that I want to provide my children to get a taste of.
Unfortunately, these massively packed days can take a toll on a child’s sleep pattern.
Sleep Regression Tip #3
If sleep starts to suffer, make sure to end activities early to continue an age-appropriate bedtime. Schedule dinner between 5pm or 6pm to allow adequate runway for a solid bedtime routine. Try not to give in to the temptation to make your child your version of an achiever.
Predictability should still be a priority in his life.
4.Teething and illness = not fun!
Oh, two year old molars, those are fun! NOT!
The last of the molars are begin cutting out of your child’s gums right around age 2. Teething causes great discomfort for a kid and has can sometimes have a negative impact on his sleep.
So if you see your child up in the middle of the night gnawing on your crib rails, this could be a good sign those molars are hurting.
Good news is that these two-year-old molars should be the last of teething for a while!
If you are confident your child is teething, you can proactively provide pain reliever (safely according to doctor’s dosing instructions). After several days you should see things back on track.
Illness will also throw a curveball to sleep. Think of all the fun viruses your child picks up from his snotty playmates at school or daycare. Illness can include temperature change, change in body posture, change in stool and whatever else that is so unlike him.
When you have a sick child, all sleep rules are thrown out the window so feel free to make sure that your child feels better quickly.
Sleep Regression Tip #4
Once sickness and teething are not an issue, you may need to go back to set limits at night to get sleep back on track. Unfortunately, it is possible that your child is just set with some bad habits that unfortunately need to be changed with consistency on your part.
5. 2 year olds suffer from separation anxiety and fear.
At two years your child becomes more aware of the world around him. He realizes that a lot goes on when he is asleep and being left out may not be an option for him. His judgment of what is true and what is not is however blurred. He takes everything to be true. This is when his imagination can start to go wild.
He doesn’t like the shadows on his wall or the monster he thinks he heard outside the window. When your child is afraid, it’s always best to provide him security and but the message should be clear – all is OK in the world. You can always use comforting words and spend time making sure that you love seeing him all cozy in bed. The message should be about safety and security and “you’re right down the hall”.
Sleep Regression Tip #5
Don’t let his fear cause you to throw all sleep habits out the window. Don’t be tempted to let him come back to your bed or jump into bed into the middle of the night. You will need a solid plan in place when he wants to come to your room, even though you can empathize with his feelings but of course out of sleep times. The best course of action is silently returning him to his own room if he comes into your room.
6. The 2 year old sleep regression can be helped by a balanced and consistent schedule.
A 2-year-old requires about 12-13 hours of sleep each day (and some even require more) and the majority of 2-year-olds still nap around 1 pm. Make sure you balance your child’s need for sleep with their ability to explore the world. Scheduling lunch, nap, and bedtime at this age will be a win/win for all.
I typically recommend that a baby’s bedtime be flexible based on the quality of naps throughout the day. Starting around 2, I use a more consistent bedtime (give or take 1/2 hour), unless your child has not napped and is a hot mess and ready to go down.
Sleep Regression Tip #6
The consistency throughout the day will help your child understand what’s next and what’s coming adding structure and routine that your child needs. A worn out toddler is cranky so make sure that you prioritize your child’s need for sleep each day.
According to Marc Weissbluth, in a Today’s Parent, 90% of 2 year olds in his practice are sleeping at 7 pm (he’s now since retired, but I believe it!). It’s vital to get your child to bed in a calm state before he becomes wired.
When it seems too overwhelming, know that the 2-year-old sleep regression is just a fun particular period that you get to go through.. and survive all at the same time. With the above time, you can rest assured in the knowledge that it’s the last sleep regression episode you will have to deal with, and it doesn’t last long.