Tips for Helping an Overtired Toddler Rest
It’s happened again. Our little rug rat has gone past the point of sleepy and tired into the land of no return: over exhausted. OK, that sounds a little dramatic, but any parent of small children will tell you it can definitely feel that way! You know you’ve entered this excruciating place when your normally sweet and loving toddler suddenly starts to cry hysterically, crumple to the floor, and blocks any attempts at being calmed. Most parents know how to avoid this situation, but occasionally circumstances beyond control will interrupt a typically harmonious transition from wake-time to sleepy-time. So what do you do once you are in this space?
As you may have guessed from previous posts, David and I like to keep things as simple as possible in our busy life, including parenting. David and I have a pretty set routine for nap and bedtime. We read a few stories, turn out the light, say “get your wiggles out!” and then immediately lay him in his crib. It lets Ezra know what’s coming and what is expected. Normally he will go along with the course of events, but when he is overtired we have to alter our strategy a bit. Here are some mindfulness centered tips and tricks for settling an overtired baby or toddler that we’ve learned in our brief time as parents, if you’d like to read…
*Note: these pointers will only work if your baby is on a somewhat consistent routine. If you don’t have that set in place you’ll need to work on that first.
1. Act Fast. As soon as the meltdown begins, it is time to stop everything, pick the child up, and go to his or her room. Don’t try and stop the crying. It’s too late for that and you will only frustrate yourself and your little one even more than you both already are.
2. Take care of business quickly. Once in the nursery, you can change the diaper or clothing if needed, but then immediately lay him or her down in the crib.
3. Don’t react. Sometimes, if Ezra is really far gone, he will stand up, cry harder, or start throwing things out of his crib in protest. When this happens we calmly lay him back down, or pat his back, and say “it’s time for bed now.” The key here is to remain calm, not give eye contact, and try not to talk to him anymore beyond that simple phrase. It tells him that we are serious, his antics won’t get him his way, and then he will usually lay down and start to put himself to sleep after a couple of minutes.
4. Stay in the room. You may or may not need to do this. We stay in Ezra’s room until he falls completely asleep. We’ve started to phase this out now that he is getting older, but when he is overtired, we don’t leave until he’s out. It’s a trust thing. Ezra doesn’t like it when we just drop him in his crib and then leave. He calms down and falls asleep faster if we sit by his bed. We don’t touch him, or talk to him, we just sit there quietly. I’d also like to note that when he wakes up in the middle of the night, he puts himself back to sleep on his own. If he wasn’t doing that, it would be a sign that us sitting with him was a sleep crutch and we wouldn’t do it.
We’ve learned these tactics through trial and error, with a heavy dose of help from these amazing books by Tracey Hogg. If you find that in general you are having trouble getting your baby to sleep through the night, or your toddler has suddenly started boycotting sleep, her books are a valuable resource. Some people swear by the Ferber method. Others prefer the attachment parenting style promoted by Dr. Sears. We found both of those styles to be too radical for us. Tracy Hogg’s strategies were a nice blend of the two and ended up working really well for our family.
I hope this post is helpful for all you fellow parents out there. These are some of the sweetest years of our parenting life and I find any little bit of guidance which makes it as smooth and enjoyable as possible to be valuable. I hope you do too!