Two Year Old Leap/Regression

“My two year old was a perfect little sleeper and now all of a sudden she doesn’t want to nap, she fights our bedtime routine, and overnight she keeps waking up and crawling into bed with us. What is going on?! I just want things back to the way they were.”

Oh mama, I hear you, I’ve been there, and it’s called the two year old sleep regression or as I like to call it, a leap!

If you stay consistent in your response it will pass in 1-3 weeks. But without consistency it could last up to 6 weeks. Let me help you avoid the latter. First, let’s discuss what is happening in that little 2 year old body. It always helps me respond in a better way when I understand what they are going through.

The 2 year old changes…

Around 2 to 2.5 many little ones are experiencing changes in their world like a new sibling being added to the family, preschool or daycare changes, potty training being introduced, or even switching to a big kid bed. I always advice parents to try to wait out the potty training and switching to a big kid bed for as long as they can because of all the other changes occurring at this age (along with a few other reasons). These changes being a leap in physical abilities, language skills, and social abilities. Some may be experiencing separation anxiety and/or new fears. Two year old molars start breaking through and they become more self aware.

Whew!!! That’s a lot! It’s no wonder bedtime and naps can become a struggle when their little bodies are trying to work through all of that!

Your two year old knows what they want, when they want it, how they want it, BUT they don’t have impulse control or self regulation. You know, like when you give them a cup of milk but they scream and cry because it was the wrong color cup or they wanted juice not milk or they wanted it two minutes ago not at that exact moment 🤪. It’s a fun age of testing and pushing the boundaries! But guess what makes them feel safe and secure? YOU! You being in control of the situation, setting limits, and sticking to them. You must remain in control or it may actually become scary for them! A bit more on that later.

One last thing on this, because of their new self awareness they also understand that the world continues to go on even when they aren’t in the room. Simply put, they now have FOMO. Fear of missing out. This plays a big factor in bedtime. They understand things are going on outside of their four bedroom walls and don’t want to miss out on anything.

How can you help with this? Explain exactly what you might be doing when they are sleeping and make it fairly boring. When my daughter was two I remember telling her I was going to go wash dishes, fold laundry, send two emails, paint the trim, and then I would come and get her from nap. She seemed happy with that answer, not anything she wanted to do, she knew exactly what was happening, and knew I’d be back for her. And let’s be real, nap time is pretty much all of those things for me, not like I’m partying it up during nap (or even after bedtime)😋.

How to work through the 2 year old leap…

First, meet their needs! Make sure their sleep environment is safe and conducive to sleep, if they are having nighttime fears maybe add a new fun night light. Make sure to give lots of snuggles and cuddles before bedtime and remind them they are safe. Sometimes explaining how cute they look when they are sleeping helps them to know you ARE always watching and always there. Be sure you are on an appropriate schedule, ensuring they are getting 11-12 hours of sleep in a 24 hour period. Make sure they are still having nap or, for the older two’s, are having quiet time… you don’t want over-tiredness on top of a leap!

Use your environment to cue a predictable, consistent, and soothing bedtime routine with set boundaries, rules, and parental follow through! This means an hour before your bedtime routine dimming the lights, using quiet voices, turning screens off, allowing for quiet play, and even a calming lavender bath. A half hour before bed, start your bedtime routine. Do not rush this, and provide lots of snuggles and hugs. This could be jammies on, brush teeth, change diaper/go potty, read 2 books, lights out/night light on, listen to two songs, and say goodnight. Whatever your routine is, DO NOT WAVER from it. Every little thing in your routine should be the same every night.

Once out the door be sure you know EXACTLY how you are going to respond if they cry, if they ask for something else, if they get out of bed, if they wake overnight, etc. You must have the same response every single night, every single night. Why you ask? Because it will make things easier on you, and them, in the long run.

Imagine your 2 year old asks to play with a sharp knife. I assume your response would be no, and I assume no matter how much they whined, yelled, cried, no matter what their protests were, you would continue to say no. Because your response will always be no and THEY know your response will always be no, they will no longer ask to play with a knife. They already know the answer. We need this same thing to take place with bedtime.

Limit setting, consistency, and firm boundaries show your child you love them, make them feel secure, and builds attachment.

Your response to all your two year olds protests needs to be firm and the same every day whether it be morning or evening, whether it be mom or dad, and whether it be Monday or Friday. On most occasions your child is not going to like your response, it likely will upset them. But it’s not our job to fix the tantrum or the emotion. Rather we must allow them to feel and voice their feelings, we explain we understand those feelings, reiterate them, but stick to our boundary and our response all while remaining calm. Remember their lack of self regulation? They NEED us to be in charge or they will feel out of control.

I know this isn’t an easy time. We are tired, we are frustrated, we just want to go back to “normal”. I’m here to support you if you need it! Having someone who can hold you accountable, can cheer you on, and can reassure you you are doing what is best for your child, and it will pay off in the end, can make all the difference in the world. If you need some support through this leap please reach out, I’m only a click away! Hang in there mama’s!

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