Sometimes parents worry that if they sit with their toddler they will never be able to sleep independently again. This is your shark music. You won't need to help your toddler forever. If a day or a week is more challenging, it is ok to sit with your child and give them what they need and then offer less help as they are able to do more for themselves. Challenging naps are often associated with life changes, routine disruption, or developmental growth.
Typical Timeline for Getting Back to Normal
Day 1: Your child is having a challenging nap. You end up holding them as they cry to fall asleep. (Sometimes that's it. It was just a simple disruption.)
Day 2: Your child makes a plan to fall asleep independently but cannot calm. You help and they cry themselves to sleep.
Day 3: You decide to just help from the start. Your child cries in protest, but it's not a huge upset like the days before. He calms and doesn't actually cry as he falls asleep.
Day 4: You sit near, but he mostly goes to sleep by himself.
Day 5: He asks you to sit near and he falls asleep by himself.
Day 6: You make a plan with him and he sleeps independently again.
One more example for a two year old. Often two year olds will insist, “Do it myself.” We recommend working to respect children’s desires to do it themselves and respond, “Show me you’re ready to go to sleep by yourself by keeping your body still and your mouth quiet all by yourself.” Sometimes even though children want to go to sleep independently, they cannot settle down. You can empathize, “I know you want to sleep by yourself but your body is wiggling all over. I’m going to rub your back to remind you to lay still.” Sometimes two year olds will tell us they don’t want to nap. You might respond, “I can understand if you don’t want to sleep but your body needs rest to have energy for play in the afternoon. You can rest on your mat quietly and calmly then see if your body falls asleep.” Making a plan is also helpful. Talk to your child before nap time asking, “I know it’s important for you to find your sleep. What could you do and what can I do?” Commonly a child will plan, “You rub my back.” And you can respond, “What will you do?” The child responds, “I will keep my body calm and my mouth quiet.” Sometimes if we include children in the plan they will be more successful. When they define their own jobs, they are more likely to be able to follow through. Even with plans, sometimes we have to help children to get calm for sleep and we try to always keep a positive and non-judgmental attitude. You might say, "I know it's hard to find your sleep today. I'm going to hold you until your calm. You'll have a chance to try it again by yourself tomorrow."