This transition can feel like it hits out of nowhere! You may have felt the 2 naps to 1 nap transition had been done and dusted and things were tracking along well then all of a sudden they are fighting naps and resisting bedtime and seem so emotional. Not to mention those pesky molars may be cutting through.
When our little ones have these regressions (which I prefer to see as developmental PROGRESSIONS) it means there’s something going on for them in the new skills department. So what is it exactly that our little ones are learning at 18 months? Well, they are learning that they actually impact the world, that their voice can influence others and what they do gains a reaction. Simply put, their new developmental skill is cause and effect.
I remember my twins hitting this age – they did this great new trick with their bath toys -tipping a cup of water right out of the bath… the first time my reaction was total laughter and shock – those little monkeys just tipped a whole cup of water on me! So what did they do seeing my reaction? They did it again and again… another cup of water tipped over the edge of the bath all over mummy which resulted in mummy shrieking, so they giggled and did it again! They were grasping cause and effect – we splash the water out the bath and we are going to get an epic reaction from mum!
With toddlers this is the age where you may see some meltdowns occurring too (especially at those worst times like at the supermarket checkout). They may be desperately wanting something and they know the key to get around us! Another example is when they protest about getting into the pram. They know “if I get really upset mum and go stiff like a board here, mum will take me out of the pram and let me walk along with her.” See how they know their voice can impact others now!?
How does this transpire to sleep? Well, often it presents itself in a big nap refusal or bedtime battle. The minute you lower them into their cot, they throw this huge fit out of no where where you literally can’t lower them down so end up scooping them back out of their cot to avoid a battle. So then of course, come bedtime they now know, if I scream and cry mummy will come and get me out, or mummy may lie down on the floor next to me. This is cause and effect – our little ones learn that they can influence the actions of us! This progression in development can impact sleep and our reaction to this is key.
How do we survive this regression?!
We need to understand sleeps not something we can negotiate here – they still need it for their growth and development, it’s not an option. Hold onto the nap, yes, your toddler may decide they don’t want to sleep but you know better! Continue to offer that mid-day nap and if sleep doesn’t happen move bedtime much earlier.
They have an increased desire for independence and a greater awareness of their ability to make decisions. Try to offer lots of choices in other areas of their day. Give them a choice about what pjs they wear or what book they want you to read. Empower them and foster that independence. They don’t get to choose whether or not its bedtime but they can make some simple choices like which book they want or do you want mummy to do a horsey ride off to bed or daddy a rocket ship ride!?
Help combat separation anxiety by filling their emotional tank up especially around bedtime. Have a dance party together, play outside, build a fort under the table and have a tea party. That tank filling is important and helps hugely! They need extra 1:1 time.
Keep calm yourself - this is hard as our frustration increases. It’s hard to keep patient and acknowledge their feelings too. Think about what your little one is grasping – their voice matters in the world is a pretty darn awesome skill to learn!
Keep consistent and create firm but loving boundaries. Don’t be tempted to introduce new habits or transition to a big bed too early. This phase will pass.
If you are in the throws of dealing with the 18 month sleep regression and feel like you need more help then I’d love to work together and have everyone sleeping all night long! You can check out my packages here.