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How to Break Bad Toddler Sleep Habits

3 common toddler sleep crutches and how to deal.

How to Break Bad Toddler Sleep Habits

What's more challenging that bad baby sleep habits? When that baby turns into a toddler.

It looks like this: Cute Baby Ava, 4 months old, goes quietly down for bedtime in her crib. An hour later she wakes, and starts crying. You enter right away, feed her and sing her a gentle lullaby while rocking in your luxurious cotton-blend upholstered glider, with your daughter’s little perfect body in your arms. While gazing at her and memorizing every part of her, even the curvature of her perfect ears, you feel complete, and wish that this feeling will never end.

Now fast forward a few months to 1 year or even 2, and little Ava is still being fed, sung and rocked to sleep. The main difference now is that she is older and way bigger. Your focus and functionality level is beginning to deplete because your lack of sleep from the amount of time you need to rock her has increased. So instead of a 10-minute rocking session right before bed, now it’s more like 10 minutes rocking plus 10 minutes bouncing plus singing a lullaby in your most talented Mariah Carey voice. You’re beyond exhausted and want to stop, but don’t know how because it’s the only tool you know that has worked to get Ava to sleep.

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These practical behavioral tools--rocking, bouncing, using a pacifier, etc.--are very common. They have many positive associations. Yet when they begin to interfere with sleep or become a necessity in order to fall asleep, then it becomes a negative association, better known as a “Sleep Crutch.”

Think about it: If you consistently rocked yourself to sleep every day, you begin to assume that the natural process for you to go to sleep is to be rocked first. Without this tool, you will feel uneasy since you have become accustomed to it. But I’m here to tell you that it IS possible to help your child and yourself to be free from these crutches and begin a healthy sleep foundation so they can go to sleep, stay asleep and wake up happy...including you!

Below are the top 3 common Sleep Crutches for Toddlers. But before you begin implementing the solutions, try them at night first, then follow through during the day. Consistency is key and nighttime is the longest period where your new tricks can begin working their magic.

Sleep Clutch 1. Falling Asleep In Your Arms

THE DILEMMA: The only way your child will fall asleep is if they are in your arms. Then you gently place them in the crib doing something I call "The Ninja Move." Your baby falls asleep FINALLY! You place them in the crib, SLOWLY. All your joints are locked like a submarine going underwater--safe and secure. You’re scared that the smallest release will unleash the wake-up. The eyelids shoot open like a firecracker. They lock eyes with yours because, uh oh, they know you’re going to escape. Then the mouth slowly opens and a siren sound comes out. You quickly jump back into position to save the rest of the family from the cries. Once you finish counting up to 200 in your head, it’s time! The Ninja Escape Route begins.

THE SOLUTION: Put your LO down drowsy but awake. We want him to be aware of his surroundings when placed in his super comfy crib. We don't want to fake him to sleep. Meaning, if he falls asleep in your arms, the last thing he remembers is you holding him. If he wakes up at night and is in his crib with no recollection of how he got there, that could stir up the heebie-geebies in anyone. So for all bedtimes and naps, put your LO down drowsy but still aware of their surroundings.

Sleep Clutch 2. Pacifier Withdrawal

THE DILEMMA: When your toddler is hooked on the paci for nighttime or naps and can’t fall asleep without it.

THE SOLUTION: With a toddler, you may confront pacifier withdrawal more directly or with a more gradual approach. If you notice yourself constantly waking in the night searching for his paci in his crib or on the floor, with the lights barely on because you don’t want to “fully” wake him, then it’s time to withdraw. Here are 2 approaches:

  1. Limiting the pacifier for bedtime and naps only
  2. Cold Turkey – Out of Sight Out Of Mind! Do a trade-in. I got this idea from my friend Susie Parker over at Sleep Baby Love. Meaning, you can trade the pacifier in for a special treat or toy at your child’s favorite store. Literally have your child hand the pacifier to the cashier so he can’t get it back and, in return, he will receive a new toy. Then praise him for being so brave and strong.

In my opinion, pacifiers only become an inconvenience when they have to be repeatedly given back to your LO right after it falls out. Yet, if he just needs a pacifier to help self soothe at night, and if it falls out when sleeping and doesn’t need to be replaced, I think it’s perfectly fine to let it be. I honestly don’t think he will be going to college with a binky in his mouth.

Sleep Crutch 3. Constant Movement : Rocking / Bouncing / Strolling

THE DILEMMA: These are the most popular Sleep Crutches and often begin at a young age. It is wonderful that you can hold and rock your precious baby to sleep. But once he starts needing you as his own personal soothing technique, that can be uncomfortable, in which this once-special bond now interferes with your sleep as well.

THE SOLUTION: I’m going to be honest here: cold turkey is the best way to go. I know it sounds like the impossible, but trust me, it’s the easiest and best option in the long run for your child and for you as well. When you’re in constant motion, you don’t give your body and brain the chance to fully relax, re-energize and grow. For instance, when you’re in a moving car and you fall asleep (in the passenger’s seat), you’re still in awake mode. Once the car stops, you automatically awake. Same thought process for when bouncing/rocking/strolling.

14 outdoor toys your kids will want to play with beyond summer

They transition seamlessly for indoor play.

With Labor day weekend in the rearview and back-to-school in full swing, most parents are fresh out of boxes to check on their "Fun Concierge" hit list. It's also the point of diminishing returns on investing in summer-only toys. So with that in mind, we've rounded up some of our favorite toys that are not only built to last but will easily make the transition from outdoor to indoor play. Even better, they're Montessori-friendly and largely open-ended so your kids can get a ton of use out of them.

From sunny backyard afternoons to rainy mornings stuck inside, these toys are sure to keep little ones engaged and entertained.

Meadow ring toss game

Plan Toys meadow ring toss game

Besides offering a fantastic opportunity to hone focus, coordination, determination and taking turns, lawn games are just plain fun. Set them up close together for the littles and spread them out when Mom and Dad get in on the action. With their low profile and rope rings, they're great for indoors as well.

$30

Balance board

Plan Toys balance board

Balance boards are a fabulous way to get the wiggles out. This one comes with a rope attachment, making it suitable for even the youngest wigglers. From practicing their balance and building core strength to working on skills that translate to skateboarding and snowboarding, it's a year-round physical activity that's easy to bring inside and use between Zoom classes, too!

$75

Detective set

Plan Toys detective setDetective Set

This set has everything your little detective needs to solve whatever mystery they might encounter: an eye glasses, walkie-talkie, camera, a red lens, a periscope and a bag. Neighborhood watch? Watch out.

$40

Wooden doll stroller

Janod wooden doll strollerWooden Doll Stroller

Take their charges on a stroll around the block with this classic doll stroller. With the same versatility they're used to in their own ride, this heirloom quality carriage allows their doll or stuffy to face them or face the world.

$120

Sand play set

Plan Toys sand set

Whether you're hitting the beach or the backyard sandbox, this adorable wooden sand set is ready for action. Each scoop has an embossed pattern that's perfect for sand stamping. They're also totally suitable for water play in the wild or the bathtub.

$30

Water play set

Plan Toys water play set

Filled with sand or water, this tabletop sized activity set keeps little ones busy, quiet and happy. (A mama's ideal trifecta 😉). It's big enough to satisfy their play needs but not so big it's going to flood your floors if you bring the fun inside on a rainy day.

$100

Mini golf set

Plan Toys mini golf set

Fore! This mini golf set is lawn and living room ready. Set up a backyard competition or incorporate into homeschooling brain breaks that shift focus and build concentration.

$40

Vintage scooter balance bike

Janod retro scooter balance bike

Pedals are so 2010. Balance bikes are the way to go for learning to ride a bike while skipping the training wheels stage altogether. This impossibly cool retro scooter-style is built to cruise the neighborhood or open indoor space as they're learning.

$121

Wooden rocking pegasus

plan toys wooden rocking pegasus

Your little will be ready to take flight on this fun pegasus. It gently rocks back and forth, but doesn't skimp on safety—its winged saddle, footrests and backrest ensure kids won't fall off whether they're rocking inside or outside.

$100

Croquet set

Plan Toys croquet set

The cutest croquet set we've ever seen! With adorable animal face wooden balls and a canvas bag for easy clean up, it's also crafted to stick around awhile. Round after round, it's great for teaching kiddos math and problem-solving skills as well.

$45

Wooden digital camera

fathers factory wooden digital camera

Kids get the chance to assemble the camera on their own then can adventure anywhere to capture the best moments. With two detachable magnetic lenses, four built-in filters and video recorder, your little photographer can tap into their creativity from summertime to the holidays.

$179

Wooden bulldozer toy

plan toys wooden bulldozer toy

Whether they're digging up sand in the backyad or picking up toys inside, kids can get as creative as they want picking up and moving things around. Even better? Its wooden structure means it's not an eye sore to look at wherever your digger drops it.

$100

Pull-along hippo

janod toys pull along hippo toy

There's just something so fun about a classic pull-along toy and we love that they seamlessly transition between indoor and outdoor play. Crafted from solid cherry and beechwood, it's tough enough to endure outdoor spaces your toddler takes it on.

$33

Baby forest fox ride-on

janod toys baby fox ride on

Toddlers will love zooming around on this fox ride-on, and it's a great transition toy into traditional balance bikes. If you take it for a driveway adventure, simply use a damp cloth to wipe down the wheels before bringing back inside.

$88

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This is my one trick to get baby to sleep (and it always works!)

There's a reason why every mom tells you to buy a sound machine.

So in my defense, I grew up in Florida. As a child of the sunshine state, I knew I had to check for gators before sitting on the toilet, that cockroaches didn't just scurry, they actually flew, and at that point, the most popular and only sound machine I had ever heard of was the Miami Sound Machine.

I was raised on the notion that the rhythm was going to get me, not lull me into a peaceful slumber. Who knew?!

Well evidently science and, probably, Gloria Estefan knew, but I digress.

When my son was born, I just assumed the kid would know how to sleep. When I'm tired that's what I do, so why wouldn't this smaller more easily exhausted version of me not work the same way? Well, the simple and cinematic answer is, he is not in Kansas anymore.

Being in utero is like being in a warm, soothing and squishy spa. It's cozy, it's secure, it comes with its own soundtrack. Then one day the spa is gone. The space is bigger, brighter and the constant stream of music has come to an abrupt end. Your baby just needs a little time to acclimate and a little assist from continuous sound support.

My son, like most babies, was a restless and active sleeper. It didn't take much to jolt him from a sound sleep to crying like a banshee. I once microwaved a piece of pizza, and you would have thought I let 50 Rockettes into his room to perform a kick line.

I was literally walking on eggshells, tiptoeing around the house, watching the television with the closed caption on.

Like adults, babies have an internal clock. Unlike adults, babies haven't harnessed the ability to hit the snooze button on that internal clock. Lucky for babies they have a great Mama to hit the snooze button for them.

Enter the beloved by all—sound machines.

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My 3-year-old is eating peanut butter toast with banana for breakfast (his request), and we are officially running late for preschool. We need to get in the car soon if we want to miss the morning traffic, but he has decided that he no longer wants the food that he begged for two minutes earlier. What started off as a relatively calm breakfast has turned into a battle of wills.

"You're going to be hungry," I say, realizing immediately that he could care less. I can feel my frustration rising, and even though I'm trying to stay calm, I'm getting snappy and irritable. In hindsight, I can see so many opportunities that fell through the cracks to salvage this morning, but at the moment… there was nothing.

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