If you’ve ever tried to put a toddler to sleep, you know pretty well that you may as well eat custard with a fork. They might be tired, they may show all signs of being tired, but when it comes to the actual act of putting them to sleep, it becomes a war. Your cute, cuddly little baby becomes a screaming, hissing demon that quite frankly, not even their mother could love. Seriously, my kids have the most evil tempers and I have no idea where these came from! *cough*
I recently realised, that, like grief and loss, Toddler Sleep also comes in stages. I’d now like to go through these.
Like the stages of grief, denial is also the first stage of toddler sleep. Your little one will be yawning, rubbing their eyes and dropping off to sleep in their cheese sandwich, but do not let this fool you. As soon as you make any preparations for their imminent slumber, they’ll wake. And they come prepared with a high pitched scream capable of shattering windows and the ability to snap to alertness in under 5 seconds. You can sometimes avoid this with a gentle transition to a milk bottle, or favourite toy, but if you miss the window, then good luck to you. They simply are just not tired, and no matter how many times they yawn or rub their eyes, they will not sleep yet. At this stage, it’s best to open a bottle of wine to have on standby. For you also, denial kicks in and you reassure yourself this is ‘just a phase’, and the end is only around the corner…
Anger follows denial. By this stage, you’re ready to just have that special alone time that only comes when your wee cherub is napping, however, they’re currently alternating between faceplanting in their lunch and screaming at you every time you mention the word ‘nap’. For their own safety (ie, so they don’t asphyxiate on the aforementioned cheese sandwich, or burst a blood vessel from screaming), you move them to their room where the anger intensifies. Objects are thrown with force at you, and you seek shelter behind cupboard doors against the onslaught of cuddly toys, books and bottles. Marvel at the talent your child shows in doing this whilst still clinging desperately to a cheese sandwich smuggled into bed. If your child is able to leave their bed of their own accord, you may spend a few pointless minutes chasing a red, screaming demon around their room trying to put them back into bed. Look longingly at that bottle of wine on the counter, but it’s a long way off yet. Take care to control your temper. You may begin questioning your choices in birth control … but take a breath.
You may think this one is about the toddler trying to extend their awake time. Nope. This one’s about you. In order to get them to stay in bed, you start trying to think of ways to get them into bed and stay there. “If you sleep, I’ll let you watch Peppa Pig/Baby TV/draw on the walls/eat from the rubbish bin. Just please, nap!” (Please note, I’ve never actually told my kids they *can* eat from the rubbish bin. I might have implied it in desperation, but I’ve never green lighted the experience for them. They don’t need a green light anyway – the best snacks are found in the vege scrap bin. Just ask them.) Bargaining is about trying to soothe the angry beast within and just trying to get them to go the f*** to sleep. Trust me – save your breath. Bargaining is done in desperation, and the beast you’re dealing with is an expert in your tactics. Bet that bottle of wine is looking REALLY good right now.
This stage is relevant to both sides in the nap battle. For you – it’s about wanting to go to the kitchen and put a straw in that bottle of wine to numb the pain. For your toddler, it’s the realisation that they are slowly losing the battle, but they still have enough fight in them to start that long, slow, whine. The one that resembles a whale going through a meat grinder. You know the one I mean. After about 10 minutes of that whine, you’re ready to bypass the wine and drink the floor cleaner. Hang in there. You’re almost at the end. And floor cleaner does not taste that good.
And the final stage.
For you, it’s about finally coming to terms with the fact that your demon spawn will not sleep. Walk away now. Close the door, and just breathe. You tried. You trudge downstairs, feeling defeat like Napoleon at Waterloo, and switch on the television to whatever can mask the sound of the whale in the meat grinder upstairs. At this stage, you’re also exhausted from the battle. You no longer care about the sounds from upstairs. You may have assorted bruises on your body from various projectiles, and an assortment of drool, tear and snot stains. You catch yourself dozing on the couch, and your brain is shutting down, immune to any sound.
For the demon spawn, it’s about finally coming to terms with the fact that they are tired. They will still protest, but the sounds become further apart and softer. Finally, they collapse in a pile of blankets (if there are any left in the bed, see “Anger”), cheese sandwich in hand, and cuddling something random they might have pulled into their bed. Like the box of wipes. Or, if you’re really lucky, they’re under the fitted sheet. (see image photo). Finally, you realise that everything has gone quiet.
THANK F*** THEY’RE FINALLY ASLEEP! Repeat process until … well, who really knows…