The toddler years can make sleep seem like an impossible dream for many parents. For every bedtime battle won, our clients often feel like many more pop up in its place.
“Why does my toddler have 100 things on their ‘to-do list’ come bedtime?”
“How do I stop my toddler from waking up during the night?”
“What can I do to get my toddler to take a nap? They won’t settle down.”
The list of questions becomes endless.
All these questions are SO common! Sleep can even be difficult for adults at the best of times, so it’s no wonder your toddler has challenges to overcome for a fuss-free slumber. Toddlers love to push boundaries and, while we want them to be confident enough to develop independence, bedtime isn’t always the ideal time to test these limits.
The good news is, there are a range of tried-and-true strategies
available to help develop a solid sleep foundation and settle your toddler come lights out! Here are our tips and tricks to end bedtime struggles and get your little one to hit the hay.
- Don’t ditch the cot
It’s important you don’t assume your child is ready to transition from the cot too early – there’s no hurry!
Moving into a big bed is a huge change and can often cause more problems than it solves when it comes to bedtime and day sleeps, especially for toddlers under two-and-a-half years old. That’s why I recommend leaving your toddler in their cot until they’re close to three years of age
and sleeping soundly through the night
Of course, there’s a few other considerations when making this decision, including:
- Whether they are beginning to climb out of the cot and they’re at risk of falling,
- If you’ve begun toilet training and they need to use the bathroom easily overnight; and,
- In the case that you have a new baby who needs the cot.
In any case, transitioning into a new bed can be unsettling and brings new bedtime challenges
to the table. So, it’s best to wait until your child is ready both emotionally and physically for this change.
- Treat early rising as an overnight wake
Any time your toddler stirs before 5:30am, it is considered an early waking. My biggest advice if early waking is a regular occurrence is to make consistency your best friend
The three main reasons your toddler might wake up early on a regular basis are:
Food – The morning meal should be served at the desired breakfast time, instead of rushing to serve at the crack of dawn when your child wakes up.
Social interaction – Waiting 10-15 minutes after your little one stirs to get them out of bed might mean they amuse themselves or even nod off again.
Light – Sometimes, limiting the morning light in the room can make sleep time last a little longer, so installing blinds or blackout curtains can go a long way!
Choose a settling method or soothing routine which is comfortable for you and stick with it for at least 3 weeks. Gro clocks
are a great tool to use alongside your settling technique as a visual cue for your toddler.
- Try out ‘quiet time’
Nap refusal is a common battle parents all over the world face daily. If toddler is just not interested in taking a nap, some things to consider are:
- Has it been 5 hours (or just over) since they woke up?
- Have they had enough physical play?
We can set the stage for sleep, but we can’t force it – which can be exasperating!
If you’re facing this sleep problem, a useful strategy is to implement some “quiet time”. Encouraging your toddler to spend at least 30-60 minutes in his or her room at nap time (even if they don’t visit dreamland!) is a great way to offer the opportunity to rest and/or sleep.
Whether or not they fall asleep in that time is out of your control, but you can always offer an early bedtime if they don’t use the quiet time for a quick snooze.
- Set some strict boundaries
Having the confidence to set bedtime boundaries is key to ensuring your toddler knows it’s okay to have big feelings but there are behaviours we will and will not accept from them when it’s time to catch some z’s.
When it comes to boundaries and expectations at bedtime, I often see parents taking the path of least resistance. This is totally understandable (after all, they’re tired after a long day themselves!), but our boundaries are created to keep our children safe and help them feel secure.
Children thrive off predictability, so it’s very important for parents to take the lead and decide what’s working, what’s not, and what to try next!
Try to be present and reassure your toddler that they are safe and loved. It can be tempting to tend to your toddler’s every beck and call – for example feeding, rocking, or staying in the room – to avoid another sleep battle. Instead, this is the time to stay super consistent in your bedtime expectations.
- Stick to a bedtime ritual
My final tip for forging better sleep habits is to create a bedtime routine with your toddler and sticking to it. Have flash cards or a bedtime checklist. You can make sure to include bedtime essentials like getting a drink, going to the toilet, and reading a predetermined number of books. Once everything is checked off, it’s lights out! There is no more getting out of bed.
Looking for more strategies to make bedtime a breeze with your terrific toddler? The Sleep Teacher 2-4 year-old sleep guides have everything you need in them to start the change and experience peaceful sleep time settles. Check them out here