I Messed Up my Toddler's Sleep
So you’ve made a mistake. They happen, and all you can do is look forward and figure out where to go from here. I recently made a classic toddler sleep error - moving to the big bed too soon. And it’s ironic because I’ve written about this so many times. I’ve gone through great lengths to keep my child from climbing, I know all about the benefits of keeping your toddler in their crib as long as possible. And yet one night, at 26 months-old, when she grabbed her pillow and blanket and lay down on the floor next to her crib, my husband and I looked at each other and shrugged. “I guess she’s ready.” And so we immediately disassembled the crib, baby proofed her room, and set up the ok-to-wake clock (We have the Hatch Rest and it’s amazing!), DESPITE me knowing that she was well on the younger side for this transition.
To be fair, my first born is a unicorn. She’s been a good sleeper since day 1. She’s gone through the typical regressions, but has always settled back into a fairly predictable routine. She’d been saying her good nights, asking to be put in her crib, and then blowing kisses to us as we left at bedtime. I thought she was ready … she was not. I’m a child sleep expert so I know my stuff, but we all make misjudgments. In my professional community we are constantly turning to each other for advice and reassurances because we know that we can’t always view our own children in the same critically clear light we view the children we work with. And that’s ok - sometimes we don’t make the best choices, but what’s important is how we learn and grow from them.
The first night was a breeze. My husband and I were downstairs celebrating that our baby was finally in a big girl bed (and my back could finally fully recover from the slipped disc I had months ago). 2nd night was ok, but by the 3rd night she was in full meltdown mode before we could even read a story. It was separation anxiety to the max. Suddenly she’d lost the comfort of her confined space, and with the ability to open her door, she knew Mama and Dada were not close by (we were down stairs, which is an ocean away to a 2 year old). She’d cry at the beginning of our bedtime routine, she’d cry as we said good night, she’d wail after we’d leave, and it wasn’t getting better. What advice would I have given myself? Simple, put her back in her crib! Did I do that? Absolutely Not.
I felt bad that my husband put the effort in to take apart the crib, and didn’t want to admit my mistake. I had hope that she’d take to it, even after a week or two of fighting bedtime. When she started protesting naps as well, I knew she wasn’t just “getting over it”. But at this point we were about to go on vacation for a week, so why start something new. Fast forward through vacation and all her good sleeping habits have gone out the window. We were just happy to be home in our own environment to get things back on track, and she immediately did better back in her own room. We spent time talking about bedtime and nap time expectations, did some pretend play around sleep, and utilized some elements of formal sleep training (like gradual withdrawal) and she is doing much better. But it was a struggle for at least a month to 6 weeks after we made the transition, and even now I sometimes wish she was back in her crib (and not just because I want my baby back!). It’s still not perfect, and unfortunately she’s still not quite developmentally ready. And that’s not to say that children her age (or younger) can’t successfully transition out of a crib, but the way I did it probably wasn’t the best for her or for us.
So we all make mistakes, it’s impossible to get everything right 100% of the time. We’re far from it. Years from now we’ll look back at this time with our babies and laugh at all the things we obsessed over. When my first born turned one I looked back in astonishment at how much information we had absorbed over those 12 months. How little I knew about the intricacies of that first year before motherhood. And that’s what it is, a learning journey where we make mistakes, learn from them, and grow, just like our children do. So maybe you tried to sleep train a little too soon, or maybe your baby can only fall asleep while nursing, or they only nap in the car, or maybe you don’t know where things went wrong but things clearly aren’t right. Whatever the case may be, it’s OK. It happens. Tomorrow’s a new day. So let’s make a plan and do better.