Here’s this week’s question: How do I encourage my 20 month old to go to sleep? Tonight she talked nonstop for 1.5 hours and changed position about a thousand times. Finally slept at 10pm. This just started a few weeks ago. Nothing has changed in our routine. Except she previously used to nurse to sleep. Now she says “enough” and I think she tries to sleep on her own. Except she keeps going on and on, even if I don’t reply, she sings to herself. Sometimes she throws a tantrum and starts crying because she can’t sleep and she’s too tired. Do I just leave it and let her figure it out in the next few months (hopefully not that long ?)?

There are three areas which I would investigate more on:

Nap time

I would first want to know, when she goes to bed at that time – could it be that she’s not tired enough? What time was her last nap?

At 20 months old, toddlers generally are on one nap schedule and that their awake window can stretch from 4-5.5 hours at a given time.

If the afternoon nap was late, say from 3-5pm, her biological sleep drive would tell her body to feel sleepy/tired by 10.30pm or so. If you had tried to get her to bed at 8.30pm or 9pm, she’s simply not tired enough and would want to invite you to engage with her.

Perhaps that’s why she’s been talking non-stop for 1.5 hours until she feels ready to sleep.

Nursing to sleep association

The next thing I want to know is about the nursing to sleep association. How did that association end?

Usually when a baby has associated their mom’s body as a comfort mechanism – through rocking and nursing – stopping this comfort mechanism from putting them in a temporary trance to sleep can cause them difficulties to fall asleep in the beginning.

They toss and turn, change positions, get on all fours with head down on the pillow, lifting up their legs in the air and placing them down and so on. For me, I see this as a symptom of pent up feelings and the baby is distracting herself from crying to release those feelings. It’s apparent that there’s some agitation in her body that’s getting in the way of her relaxing.

Most babies would get frustrated after a while so they start crying and throw tantrums. I consider this as their own natural mechanism to heal from big feelings of upset or fear. They need to cry so that they can go back to the normal emotional state and then drift easily into sleep.

As parents, our role is to hold them lovingly and allow the crying to continue until they fall asleep.

At first it will be long and hard crying and you will have to prepared for this to happen for a few days until you see improvements.

Some practical things you can do when she’s babbling and singing are to hold a loving limit and offer connection. “Hey sweetie, we have sang so many songs together. It’s time we try to go to sleep. It looks like you’re having a hard time to relax. I’m right here sweetie, I’m listening.”

By offering our love and connection while holding the limit, your toddler may feel safe enough to ‘tell’ you about her agitation, fear and upsets and begin to cry. This is good. You’re forming a listening relationship with her.

No more distraction by nursing or rocking anymore and stay present to listen.

You are tense

One last thing to note is I would ask mom to be more aware of her own feelings when she puts her toddler to bed. If she’s tense, anxious or rushed, the more your toddler would not sleep. Especially if she’s particularly sensitive to other people’s mood. She can pick it up and make it very hard for her to relax.

In that case, try to find ways to fill your own needs. The more relaxed you are, the easier it is for your baby to drift into sleep!

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