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5 Emotional Stages Of Sleep Training Your Toddler, Because Yes, You Have To Do It Again

Parenting is chock full of its own unique trials and tribulations. During the first year home with a baby, one of the biggest universal hurdles revolves around the seemingly impossible task of getting the child to sleep through the night. Some parents strike it big with newborns who come straight home from the hospital ready to tuck in and sleep 8-hour stretches. These are the parents whom all the other terribly sleep deprived parents, on the verge of delirium, want to punch in the throat. Fortunately, everything chills out if we can keep from throat-punching each other long enough: When they are developmentally ready, most babies get with the sleep program. However, if you’re particularly unlucky (like me; thanks, kid), you’ll have to embark on an epic sleep training journey that doubles as some sort of Darwinian survival of the fittest for parents.

For the lucky few who makes it through sleep training relatively unscathed, you will likely fall victim to the false sense of security that it's all downhill from there. You made it! Your baby sleeps! Time to catch up on some much-needed rest and resume your place as a functioning member of society. Months will pass, perhaps even as much as a year, and your toddler will drop the bomb on you: That adorable schedule and nighttime routine you so painstakingly worked to establish? Well, that just won’t do anymore. At least, not if your toddler and their budding sense of independence and influence have anything to say about it. The harsh reality that you are back to square one of the sleep training saga, but now with a toddler, will hit you like a ton of bricks. Emotional reactions to this devastating news usually follow a pattern and the stages are as follows: 

Denial

One night while you and your partner bask in the relatively newfound freedom of being able to enjoy one another’s company without children underfoot, you’ll hear it. Quietly at first. The sound will strike a deep fear into your heart, but you’ll quickly brush it aside. Nope. It couldn’t be the toddler. No way. Uh-uh. You tucked them snuggly into bed hours ago. But then you’ll hear something again. The two of you will exchange furtive glances, and pause the television, to listen intently. You’ll hear it again: the undeniable thumping and gibberish of a toddler who is clearly not sleeping

Anger

Upon entering your little cherub’s room, you find that they have managed to climb out of their crib by fashioning some sort of MacGyver-eque step stool with their stuffed animals, pillow, and comforter. At first, you are impressed by your child’s ingenuity and craftsmanship. However, as you survey the rest of the scene, the implications of this new development set in. Your toddler has wasted no time since their jailbreak. All of the clothes from the dresser drawers are now strewn across the room and there is diaper cream covering nearly every inch of the east wall. You feel a bubble of anger rising as your toddler proudly chants “no bed, no bed,” over and over again and you pinch your arm in hopes that this is all just some terrible nightmare. 

Bargaining

You’ve been in the parenting trenches for awhile now, and consider yourself to be pretty well-versed in negotiating with terrorists, er, toddlers. You quelch the initial urge to beat your authoritative chest and demand that the toddler return to bed. You decide to take the diplomatic approach. Afterall, “you catch more flies with honey” and whatnot. And so begins what seems like an endless amount of bargaining, placating, and downright begging. You sing songs, you read books; you tickle backs and fill sippy cups again and again. You mentally watch each minute of your life tick by and wonder if you will ever make it out of this room alive. 

Depression

Is this really what your life has come down to?

– you, a week into your toddler's sleep regression

Listening to “soothing” ocean sounds, watching a projection of that smug freaking sheep jump tirelessly over the fence, and desperately trying to army crawl out of your child’s room without being discovered? Every night? For hours on end?! On the 18th time you try to escape the room, when the door creaks and another round of incessant crying ensues, you feel a dark cloud settle over you. You imagine that this is how Harry Potter must have felt when those death eaters were trying to suck away his soul.

Acceptance

You’re now hours into this epic battle. There’s clearly no sense fighting it anymore. In your delirious state, the only rational explanation is that your toddler recently developed some rare and bizarre medical condition that impairs their ability to sleep. You resign yourself to a life with no sleep. You remind yourself that Thomas Edison, and other great thinkers of our time, allegedly only slept a few hours a night and things seemed to pan out well enough for them. Your toddler senses your defeat and dances around the crumpled heap on the floor that you have now become. The good news is, this phase typically only lasts every night for several months.

Images: Philippe Put/Flickr: Giphy(5)