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Dealing with FOMO: When Your Kid Won’t Sleep

30 Nov 2015 – 12:39 PM EST

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I got lucky: my baby was a good sleeper. Keyword: was. Now that we have a toddler, Fear of Missing Out (FOMO) is kicking in and she’s fighting us at bedtime.

“FOMO is a common behavior among toddlers—they’re asserting their autonomy and need for control, but also want to be with you. After all, bedtime is boring and mom and dad are much more fun and entertaining,” says Shawnee L. Baker, a Boston and New York-based Certified Infant and Toddler Sleep Coach.

Expert advice is outlined below.

Cuddles and security

Dealing with a grumpy, uncooperative and often irrational two-year-old isn’t easy, agrees Baker, but “try spending more time in the day providing positive reinforcement and attention when she’s happy and at her best. Increase the amount of daytime cuddles and implement a routine to enforce security.”

Oftentimes, says Baker, parents get busy working and as their little one becomes more independent they give them less one-on-one time. The result? FOMO. “Toddlers are looking for three things: Security, Attention and Affection. Along with understanding new concepts and realizing mom and dad are awake while I’m in bed, sleepy toddlers regress to basic needs.”

She adds: “Encourage a lovely toy for security, be consistent and true to your word, and boost self -confidence by providing choices kids can make during the day.”

Big decisions

“Give a warning when bedtime is approaching, such as ‘Two minutes till clean-up’,” suggests Lauren Lappen, co-founder of the Westchester, NY-based Wee Sleep Solutions. “While a toddler doesn’t necessarily know how long two minutes is, they know that soon they’ll have to stop playing. Set a timer and tell your kids that when the timer buzzes, it’s time to get ready for bed.”

Adds Lappen: “Make sure bedtime isn’t too late; when it is children are overtired and have a harder time settling down. Also, while they can’t decide what time they go to sleep, children can decide whether they wear the pajamas with the trucks or the pajamas with the dinosaurs, and they can decide which books they want to read.”

Toddlers thrive on routine. “It can be as simple as PJs on, brush teeth, read a book, lights out,” explains Lappen. “Knowing what to expect helps toddlers feel in control of their environment.”

Stay calm, don’t panic

Stephanie M. Wagner, PhD, Clinical Assistant Professor at NYU Langone’s Child Study Center, Department of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, advises parents to give a large dose of positive attention to appropriate behavior while minimizing reactions to disruptive behaviors. “When children call out, parents should ignore this behavior, paying attention instead to when toddlers are staying in bed quietly,” says Dr. Wagner. “Parents can do this by making periodic, brief trips to their bedroom to catch these ‘sleep compatible’ behaviors with hugs, kisses, and praise such as ‘great job staying in bed like a big girl’.”

Adds Dr. Wagner: “When toddlers get out of bed, parents should neutrally escort their child back to bed stating, “It’s bedtime. Go back to your bed.’ Parents should refrain from giving big reactions to this behavior. Additionally, she says, parents should work with their child’s sleep schedule to ensure their child is sleepy at bedtime. For example, limit late afternoon napping and avoid putting the child to bed during their second wind.