You’re listening to Parenting in the First Three Years, the place where we explore the strategies and soul of parenting from pregnancy through the first three years of life. I’m your host, Anne McKittrick. Thank you so much for joining me.
Hello everybody and welcome to Parenting in the First Three Years. I’m so glad that you’ve joined me, and I’m very excited to have a special guest with me today. This is Joanna Clark, Joanna and I have been friends for quite a few years now. We share a love of children and child development, and we can talk for a really long time about little kids. We love talking about them. Joanna is a pediatric sleep consultant. She is a gentle sleep coach, She is a gentle sleep coach, which I love, and she does not promote cry-it-out and so many other alternatives to that. So thank you, Joanna, for being with me.
Absolutely. Thank you. And yes, I do love talking about little ones. And today we are going to specifically talk about two and three-year-olds, which is probably one of the hardest parenting periods. And one thing that I’m seeing a lot of lately, is toddler sleep regressions when the new baby comes home. And I think this is a great topic for us to talk about today because it’s an important topic. I mean, you can expect bringing home a new baby to be difficult in general, right? You’re going from, you know, family of 3 to family of 4 and that already in itself is such a massive adjustment for a household. But for that toddler, it is. Enormous.
You don’t know what the older child’s reaction is actually going to be. I mean, you can do all the good prep stuff. You can have a baby doll. You can read all the books. You can talk all the talk, but really, until you walk in the door with that newborn in your arms and let a week or two pass to really let it sink in.
You just don’t know because it’s such an abstract thing. The baby’s in the tummy, and then all of a sudden the baby’s in the house, and it’s just a totally big life transition for this little child and, and, and a whole lot to take in. Yeah. And I think that, you know, what you see a lot, even again, despite the preparation And the love and care you wanted to continue to give support to your child, you will see behavior changes.
Like it is inevitable, and I think being realistic about that is level setting between the, you know, the caregivers that we will see behavior disruption and we’re going to be okay with it, but we’re also going to have to have a plan on how to address it. So yeah, tell us a little bit more from your end, the types of behavior that you see when a new baby shows up in a toddler’s life.
Well, you know, I think that a child who’s used to having their parents full attention, and then all of a sudden they don’t get it, even as careful as we are as parents to, to do that, it’s a bit of a surprise. I remember when my younger brother was born, my mom tells the story that I asked her, do you still love me?
And I think that that’s a very natural question for a child to ask: do you still love me? Cause you’re really acting like you love that new baby an awful lot. And so we see a child needing a little extra attention. You know, oftentimes, you’ll see some behavior changes. You might see a neediness or maybe a regression.
Maybe they begin to want their paci again, or if they’ve potty trained, maybe they’ve begun to regress with that. Whatever it is you might see some backwardsness, a little bit of going backward, defiance, negative attention, tantrums, all of those things are going to be typical and expected for a child who’s getting used to a new baby in the house.
And it just requires a lot of kind and loving responsiveness and some pretty good boundaries, you know. Yeah. Boundaries and patience. And I would say if we were to add to the list of things that you could expect. Like, again, we’re thinking you can expect neediness, defiance, attention seeking, regression behavior such as, wanting to be held more, having issues with potty training, wanting the paci back, all of that’s normal.
And that’s what we’re trying to do today, is normalize what happens so that when it happens to you, you don’t feel so shocked or feel mad or sad that you’ve had this other baby and that this other child can’t tolerate the change. They can totally tolerate the change, it’s just that they have to give time if we’d give them time to go through the change.
So, one other thing that I see that comes up in my field of work is massive sleep disruptions. And I use the word disruption instead of the word regression because there’s two ways that I want to frame this conversation regarding sleep. And You know, a new baby in the household. Okay. So kind of the 1st segment of you have a toddler who’s 2 or 3 years old.
This is like the age that we’re going to talk about today. And you’re 2 and 3 year old was already a good sleeper. And what I mean by that is your child can go into their crib or big boy bed. Awake settle and sue themselves to sleep. And sleep uninterrupted all night for 10. 5 to 11 hours and wake up well rested and refreshed.
They do not need any sleep crutches from you. So they don’t need to be, you know, you don’t have to lay down with them at the onset of sleep. You don’t have to sing to them to sleep. You don’t have to rock them, hold them, et cetera. Like they have. Completely independent sleep skills and they’re able to go to sleep by themselves and they’re able to go back to sleep by themselves.
That is kind of section 1 that we’re going to talk about like that. You already had gorgeous sleep. It was great. And everybody listening is saying, oh, man, if only I had, I know if only, but there are okay. There’s a lot of you out there because you made sleep a priority. So the 2nd section is. The families that toddler sleep has always been a little bit.
Hey, wire, like, you kind of go through some good times and some bad times and you’re still using sleep crutches on and off and, you know, maybe you’ve done some co sleeping just on the weekends, but then on the weekdays, you try to do something different, but you aren’t really feeling 100 percent secure that your child has independent sleep skills.
Okay. But today, what I’m going to really focus on is those of you that had a beautiful sleeper that then the sleep just falls apart. Okay. So. Okay. Why does this happen? It happens because of of all the regression behavior and just reference, which is we see regression behavior during this transition. And 1 of those regression behaviors is a sleep disruption.
Okay, and so what we do in a situation like that is we have to get back to basics. We have to say to ourselves, like, okay. Is this child well rested during the day? So a 2 and 3 year old typically is still absolutely taking a nap. They typically need at 2 and 3 years old, at least an hour and a half nap up to 3 hours.
So that’s kind of the 1st thing is my child’s still napping. Well, and then the 2nd thing to look at is, okay, if my child’s napping, well, what’s really happening at bedtime. You know, if the sleep disruption is bedtime behavior, such as. Stalling behavior, requesting behavior. And what I mean by that is stalling behavior starts at dinnertime, where they take forever to eat dinner and they take forever to get to the bathroom and in the bathtub and they take forever to get out of the bathtub.
That’s stalling behavior that typically happens around dinnertime. Requesting behavior happens inside the bedroom after the jammies are on and the teeth are on and it’s happening right around the time you’re reading books. And then all of a sudden there’s going to be all these new requests such as.
I’m hungry. I want another book. I want to hug mom 1 more time. I mean, the requests are relentless and a lot of times those requests seem really legitimate, right? Like, I want to hug from dad or I want another book or I’m thirsty or I’m hungry. But the thing that you’ve got to realize that when you bring home a new baby and you start seeing regression behavior in other parts of their life, it doesn’t stop at bedtime.
Those regression behaviors show up at bedtime, sometimes the worst. And the requesting behavior is not about the request. It’s about engagement. All they are trying to do in that moment when they’re requesting all these different things is to keep you talking and keep you engaged because they know that’s like the only time of day that they have you exclusively.
Right? Yeah. And so when you keep moving through those requests with them, okay, dad will come in and give you a hug. Okay. We’ll read another book. Okay. I’ll sing you another song. 2 things are happening 1 number 1, your child’s sleep window is getting pushed. And so you’re really dangerous going into overtired zone, which is going to cause another level of sleep disruption.
And the 2nd thing you’re doing is that boundary issue that and suggested is that essentially requesting behavior is 2 and 3, their whole developmental job is. The push boundaries is to push boundaries are our job is so hard. You guys. So I can say this and you’re like, but I do. I laugh because it is so hard.
Our job is to hold boundaries at this age. Their job is quite literally to push the boundary. That is their job. So there they are at bedtime. The requesting behavior is starting. You’re feeling guilty as a mom because you’re thinking, Oh, he wants another book or, Oh, he wants another hug. Oh, he feels, he feels left out because the new baby’s home, but that’s not it guys.
It’s requesting developmental requesting behavior in order to maintain engagement. In order to avoid bedtime in order to grab time from you at the wrong time of the night. Yeah. So it’s so hard. So, and of course, let me just tell you the outcome is, is if you let the requesting behavior continue the bedtime.
Start scooting back, like it used to be your, your child was in bed at 6 and now all of a sudden 7 30. Now it’s all the 8 and then all of a sudden you get the tantrums. You get the overtired child who has gone into what I call cortisol land, which is. A child that’s overtired a child that is overtired is jacked up on cortisol and what you see out of them in that time is defiance.
And goofiness. So if your child is starting to act really goofy, meaning they’re laughing and jumping and spinning, and you’re kind of thinking it’s a little bit fun because they’re being cute and silly, but you just can tell the energy is just too high. You’re in what I call cortisol land. And if you try to get them to go to bed.
In cortisol line, it will never work. And that’s when the tantrum hits. And then that’s when all these other things happen. And that’s why a regression can happen is because all these circumstances are lining up to basically cause you to see what you might be calling a sleep regression. But then when they start going to bed too late, then that creates.
Arousals in the middle of the night that are big arousals where they’re calling for you in the middle of the night. And again, there’s that challenge where you think, oh, they’re scared or they miss me, you know, because of the new baby. And so you kind of come under the illusion that they need you. And so you end up going in the room in the middle of the night, and then you end up doing too much for them, you know, too much laying down too much.
Padding back to sleep, you know, bringing them back into the bed or whatever, because in that moment, you’re kind of like, I don’t understand this child was a great sleeper. What’s going on? Is he hungry? Is he sick? Like you’re worried. But what I’m trying to decode for you is that there’s all these cascade of events that are happening that are an illusion.
It is a sleep regression caused from the new behaviors that come up when a child’s brought in and that 1 of the things you can do is start to see the reality of that and say to yourself, like, okay, let’s get back to basics. Is my child napping? Am I putting into bed at the right time? Am I creating boundaries around the stalling and requesting behaviors?
Am I The routines and the schedules are so important to keep Oh, they’re so steady as possible. I know it’s hard when you’re nursing every 45 minutes . I really do understand that. But um, necessarily nursing, but feeding every 45 minutes. Right, exactly. And so I just wanna just emphasize like it’s okay that this might happen.
It’s just a matter of recognizing when it is happening and recognizing it for what it is, because it’s all solvable. Okay. So those that’s kind of what happens when you have kind of scenario. Number 1, your child was a really good sleeper scenario. Number 2 is where the child wasn’t a great sleeper. And then whatever sleep behaviors were already a little choppy and inconsistent, just.
Magnify okay, that’s a different situation. That’s where you might really need to say to yourself, I might need some sleep support because. If a child has never truly learned their sleep skills, and then they go into this two and three year old developmental phase and a new baby’s introduced, that’s a lot happening simultaneously that isn’t, they don’t just grow out of it.
The thing that’s important to, for everyone to recognize and understand about sleep is, although it is a developmental need that we all have as humans, it is also simultaneously a learned skill. And the three skills that need to be learned to have like good consolidated sleep is self regulation, self settling, and self soothing.
So there’s actually three separate skills that need to be learned, and then they need to be learned at sequence, to be learned for the child to do it in sequence. And they have to learn how to do that at the onset of sleep, at bedtime, at their right sleep window, and then they have to be able to use that same skill set.
At each arousal point all night long. So if you have a child that never fully learn their sleep skills and you are having all these challenges. You need to go way back to basics and say, I need to actually create the right environment and circumstances for my child to learn the sleep skills, in which case you might really benefit from working with a sleep consultant, someone who’s trained, someone who’s certified, somebody that follows the methodology that your family values best represent.
I’m a gentle sleep coach, so I don’t believe in cried out like Ann said earlier. I work with families, you know, one on one super customized so that we reach all your goals and we do it in a way that everybody feels comfortable with. And we really honor the child. I’m very, you know, everything I do is based on attachment theory, behavioral science and sleep science.
So, you know, whether you choose to call me to add to look into my services, or you go to search another coach, which I always recommend you interview several coaches before you hire anyone you really want to. Get really clear on their methodology and the level of support that you’re going to be getting.
In that time, so if you’re in scenario, number 2 sleep support, it’s time to really highly consider it. If you’re in sleep scenario, number 1, we’ve given you some of those things to be looking at that. It should be easy for you to get back on track. Yeah, it’s so interesting. The science of sleep. I love the way that you explain it and, and, um, the skills needed and how we have to learn those skills.
They don’t just come naturally and I love the hormonal. You know, things that affect children’s behavior around it. It’s just fascinating to me. And also I think I just want to throw in just for anyone who’s listening, that sleep coach, you recommend that you wouldn’t expect a child to begin to learn those skills until after six months of age.
Yes. Okay. Yes. Thank you. And that’s so important. So what’s really important is that the newborn phase and the world of sleep science, the newborn phase is considered zero to six months. I do not recommend sleep training a baby between zero and six months. Typically what we, a baby is not ready to learn their sleep skills until three things.
Number one, they’ve gone through their four to five months sleep regression already. Number two, they’re rolling from front to back. Number three, they’re rolling from back to front. When those three things are complete, they are more ready state to move into the next learning phase, which is the capability to learn how to regulate, settle, and soothe.
Before then, those three skill sets are difficult for babies to master to get consistently. From 6 months all the way up to 10 years of age, you can absolutely teach children sleep skills. It’s never, ever, ever, ever too late. I want to let people know that they think if they have a 4 year old, it’s too late or 7 year olds too late.
No, it’s never too late. That you can always teach the skills so to walk or have you guys walk away with a couple of how to bounce back from this. Yeah. Um, and and I kind of brainstorm some things. So I’ll tell you 1 of my ideas is integrating mommy time. This is a dedicated time frame that is between 10 and 20 minutes.
Where the child knows on a daily basis, they have undivided attention with the caregiver they’re most needy with at the time, usually it’s mom and the mom will be in a room 1 on 1 with that child. Mom cannot have her phone with her. Okay. And you’re going to get an outside timer, either something like this that you can get on Amazon, or you’re going to just use a plain old kitchen timer.
So that the toddler can actually know that this is the beginning and the end of the time period again boundaries, right? So the child gets to initiate it and the child gets to choose whatever they want to do during that time. And you’re staying as emotionally present as possible. That’s why I say start at 10 minutes and work your way up because it’s harder 100.
Emotionally 100 percent emotionally available and not be especially postpartum, right? And not be thinking of your to do list or when you can take a shower when no one will interrupt you. And that child will really start to connect with you in a new way. And basically what you’re doing is you’re filling their love tank so that they don’t start needing their love tank full at bedtime, which is that whole scenario where I gave you around the stalling and requesting is really all around negative attention seeking.
In order to get the engagement and what we’re trying to do is place it at the better time of the day, which isn’t mommy time. And if you do this consistently every day, and the child can depend on that as a routine, it works marvels on building attachment and getting rid of some of those bedtime behaviors.
Yeah, a couple of other things that, one thing my daughter did, she and her partner, is when they brought the new baby in, for one thing, the baby brought the older kids a present, and then the older kids had a present for the new baby, that they just had this gift exchange. You know, in the first few hours of their time together, but also when they walked in the door with the baby, dad was holding the baby, not mom, so that mom was had her arms open, ready to see these kids that she hadn’t seen in 2 days and and to really, you know, connect with them before saying.
Look, here’s your new little sister. I think that was a really smart thing to do. But another thing, just as you were, you know, going around, going through the day, I think you can kind of personify the baby. You know how you’ll talk for a stuffed animal, talk for the new baby to the siblings and let her connect, you know, and talk.
And point out when the baby is looking at, you know, at your older child and say, look, she’s looking at, she’s, she’s really watching you. She loves to watch you, you know, dance around or be silly, or she loves your silly faces. All of those, you know, just kind of really helping them connect like that. Just almost like being a narrator, observing what you, what you see happening and then narrating it out loud.
That’s what we do in early childhood all the time is just give words to what we see. Yeah, I think that’s brilliant. And I, and I, I absolutely know that will help a child so much feel more connected with the new baby and just feel like they’re really a participant in this family unit. Yeah. So I have a couple of great guides that can help people.
I do have a guide on sleep regressions, um, that we can give you guys free access to. Um, and I also have another really guy, a great guide called, do you need a sleep coach, which just kind of gives you some good questions to ask yourself or behaviors that you’re seeing with your child to kind of observe, to know when it’s something you can solve on your own and get the results you want, or when you really do need to kind of up your level of support, it kind of helps if you’re in the, in between not knowing where you are, it really helps you define that and have a really open and honest conversation with your partner.
So, because my philosophy is, this is not. This problem that we’re talking about today is not mom’s problem to solve, right? This is a family system. Yeah, the whole family system and all the caregivers need to be participatory and helping this transition happen. Yeah, everybody living in the house is part of that system.
Everybody’s this is a family system transition and so we don’t want to leave it just to mom to have to figure it out. We want her to get the support she needs as well. Okay. So this has been so great. So insightful. I know it’s been really going to be really, really helpful for those who, you know, it’s just typical that you have another baby when your 1st 1 is 3 or 2 to 3.
It just seems like that’s that’s when I get so many people coming in for. Parent coaching is just getting through this transition. And what I see just as a word of hope and encouragement for you all is that usually in about six months, things level out, you know, it, it gets to be okay. And maybe, maybe sooner, maybe, maybe a little longer, but.
It’s just a transition for everybody, so I think that’s a really good realistic thing to it. It could take 6 months. And in regards to sleep, if you’re thinking yourself, but I need sleep, I can’t wait 6 months for sleep. I just want to leave you with a little bit of hope. All sleep struggles. I mean, all of them, either like the little scenario number 1 or the really complicated scenario number 2.
All sleep struggles can be solved all of them. There’s help available. There’s hope available. And if we create the right environment circumstances, and we’re using the right methodology, and we are looking at the child’s temperament and their needs. We can create a sleep plan that will help them learn their independent sleep skills, and you don’t have to feel guilty about it.
It is one of the most beautiful, important things you could ever teach your child to have lifelong sleep habits. So, thank you, Ann. You’re welcome. Thank you so much for being here. If you loved today’s episode, take a minute and subscribe to our podcast. And one last thing, I’d love to pray for you and your baby if you’d like for me to.
You can email me at ask at nurturednoggins. com. Your request can be as simple as just one word, or it can include an explanation. Either way, you can trust that I will pray for you. It’s a quiet, simple way that I can connect with you and your family and support you in your parenting journey.