Raising a toddler is a magical period with amazing milestones, such as the first steps and the first words. However, it also comes with tantrums, meltdowns, and sleepless nights, leaving parents struggling to get their little ones to sleep.
At this age, toddlers are still babies, undergoing many changes that can disrupt their sleep patterns. They want to be more self-reliant, but at the same time, they need constant love and reassurance from their parents. Teaching them to fall asleep on their own can be tough, but we’re here to assist you in making it happen.
How to Get Your Toddler to Sleep
Make A Routine
Bedtime routines are essential for toddlers, even though they might not always show it. The typical bedtime routine includes dinner, bath time, brushing teeth, tucking in a stuffed toy, and bedtime stories. Some parents walk around the house to say goodnight.
It’s crucial to establish a routine that works best for your family. Consistency is key; it should be an everyday event rather than just once or twice a week. Your toddler needs to know what to expect; switching things up too often can confuse them.
If you already have a bedtime routine, you can build on it by adding a daily bedtime story after pajamas and tucking in. Keeping it consistent is essential, as toddlers love routines because they can predict what comes next.
While routines may not always be easy, remember it’s not a chore. Think of it as some quality time spent with your little one, which they’ll appreciate just as much as you.
Sometimes your toddler may rebel against the routine. In this case, try using a clock to help them visualize each routine step. You can create a small visual chart with each step and a clock time next to each illustration. As you go through the bedtime routine, point to each step and your little one will soon learn to get themselves through the ritual and tell you when it’s time for bed.
Toddlers spend most of their day exploring and playing. However, they need some quiet time to unwind before falling asleep. Going from hyperactive to calm can be challenging, but it’s crucial for a good night’s rest.
While your toddler may appear calm when watching videos on a device, it’s not the best activity for winding down before bed. Research has shown that the blue light from these screens can suppress melatonin, which is essential for sleep onset. Therefore, it’s best to avoid these devices before bedtime, as recommended by AAP guidelines.
To keep your toddler calm before bed, try to create a peaceful environment in your home a couple of hours before bedtime. Pack away toys and offer a healthy snack to make their tummy feel fuller.
Set A Bedtime
Having a regular bedtime is important for toddlers to get adequate sleep. Children need a consistent time every night to go to bed, which helps set their internal clock and create a sleep routine.
If you establish a specific bedtime, such as 7:30 pm, your toddler will eventually recognize this time as sleep time and naturally start to feel drowsy. The ideal time for your child may vary depending on your family’s schedule, but it’s generally recommended to have an earlier bedtime.
If you allow your toddler to stay up late, they may become overtired and produce hormones such as adrenaline and cortisol, which can interfere with sleep. This can lead to frequent and early morning wake-ups during the night, leaving your child feeling irritable and groggy.
Having a consistent and earlier bedtime will help your toddler sleep better and wake up refreshed and energized in the morning.
Don’t Skip Naptime
Every toddler is different when it comes to napping. While some might not need a nap, others might require one to function properly. Experts recommend sticking to a nap schedule until the age of 5. For toddlers aged 1 to 3 years, it’s best to aim for a one- to three-hour nap each day.
Skipping naps can make your child cranky, prone to tantrums, and even cause difficulty falling asleep at night. So, if your toddler doesn’t seem to need a nap, it’s essential to ensure they get enough sleep during the night, typically around 12 to 14 hours. Alternatively, try an early bedtime to make up for missed naps.
Snack before Bedtime
As toddlers grow, they tend to get hungrier, especially during growth spurts. You can offer your little one a small snack to help them feel more satisfied before bedtime. However, it’s important to make sure that the snack is not too stimulating or sugary. A good option is slightly filling and calming, like a small slice of unprocessed meat, toast, or warm milk. For example, a banana can work wonders.
It’s best to offer the snack before brushing their teeth and let them eat it while you read them a bedtime story. It may be time to break that association if you’ve been using nursing or a bottle to put your child to sleep.
Break Old Habits
When babies are infants, we often use rocking to get them to sleep. But when they become toddlers, it’s important to change these habits to help them sleep through the night without waking them up.
Although difficult, you can start by placing your toddler in their crib or bed before falling asleep. This will help them fall asleep on their own without relying on you to hold or rock them.
At first, it’s natural for your toddler to cry when you leave them alone. However, you can still stay close to them by lying with them or sitting beside their bed. This way, you can comfort them without picking them up or rocking them.
If your toddler is used to nursing to sleep, you can gradually wean them off of it and start using rocking instead. Once they’re comfortable falling asleep without nursing, you can start weaning them off rocking.
It’s important to avoid weaning from both habits at the same time, as it can be overwhelming for your toddler. A two-step process will be much easier and kinder for them to handle.
Sleep Issues For Toddlers
As adults, we all experience occasional sleep difficulties; the same applies to toddlers. It’s normal to have some nights where falling asleep is a bit of a challenge, but if this happens too often, it can impact your child’s day.
If your little one is having trouble sleeping, you might notice
- They have more accidents and injuries than usual.
- They have more tantrums than usual.
- They experience mood swings.
- They have difficulty concentrating and learning.
- Their reaction times are slower.
If you notice any of these signs or symptoms, your toddler may be experiencing sleep problems. You should also watch out for pauses in breathing, snoring, more frequent night waking, difficulty staying awake between naps, and night events such as sleepwalking and nightmares. If you notice any of these symptoms, it’s best to consult a pediatrician, especially if your child is experiencing breathing problems, as they could suffer from a condition like sleep apnea.
It’s important to note that poor or interrupted sleep at night is a common cause of inattention and hyperactivity in toddlers. In fact, some toddlers suspected of having attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) are later found to have sleep problems instead. Once their sleep habits improve, the unwanted behaviors often go away.
Sleep Issues Or Meltdown?
Sometimes it’s tough to tell the difference between sleep problems and occasional meltdowns in toddlers. Consistency is key when distinguishing between the two.
If your child experiences sleep problems, you’ll notice it happens every night before bedtime. They may wake up unexpectedly or refuse to go to sleep altogether. If you’re struggling to manage, seeking advice from your pediatrician or a sleep specialist might be a good idea.
On the other hand, meltdowns are usually occasional and may occur if your child doesn’t get a good nap or is hyped up right before bedtime. In these situations, it’s okay to break from the routine for a day to help calm them down with a hug or cuddle. Remember that one day won’t ruin all of your progress.
Dealing with Bedtime Meltdowns
When your toddler is having a bedtime meltdown due to being overtired, cradling them can be very helpful. Hold your little one close to your chest, with your lips reaching their ear. It is important to hold them firmly but not too tightly, just enough to keep them from wiggling or kicking. This technique can work like a human swaddle, with your face, arms, and chest providing a comforting and secure embrace.
When a toddler is excited, they can get distracted by noise, toys, and people in the room. This can make it difficult for them to fall asleep. To create a calm environment, make sure the house is quiet, and other family members understand it’s time to settle down. If the bedroom is near a TV, turn down the volume.
Make sure the bedroom is as dark as possible, and consider using a white noise machine to create a peaceful atmosphere. You can also use essential oils like lavender or cedarwood to help your child relax, but do your research and avoid applying them directly to the skin. A diffuser is a safe way to use essential oils in your child’s bedroom.
We know that cradling and rocking a heavy toddler can be tiring and uncomfortable, but it’s important to stick with it to soothe them. It may take up to 20 minutes or longer if your child is particularly upset, so try not to get discouraged.
It’s important to remember that you won’t have to do this every night, and it doesn’t have to go on all night long. Don’t focus on how long it’s taking or why your child isn’t sleeping yet. This will only make the process harder and more frustrating for both of you.
Try to find distractions for yourself instead of watching the clock. Listening to music can be helpful. A calming playlist can soothe you and your child, and you could even sing along.
If you’re starting to feel frustrated or irritated, take a break or ask your partner to take over. Getting angry with your toddler won’t help at this point. Yelling may stop them from crying, but it will only make them more stressed and scared.
Lay Your Toddler Down
Once your little one displays signs of sleepiness like yawning, rubbing their eyes, or clenching their fists, it’s time for bed. However, putting them down can be challenging, and they may start to cry. The good news is they’re probably crying because they miss your comforting presence.
At this point, you’ve likely already soothed the primary stressors that were bothering them, and a little shushing may help them settle. If they continue to cry, it may be necessary to cradle and hold them again. You could pick them up once more or curl up next to them in bed.
When you lay them back down, try placing your toddler on their side while keeping your hands firmly on their back and front. If they start crying or whimpering again, press firmly to let them know you’re there. Once they’re quiet, you can slowly get up.
Getting enough sleep is important for both our physical and mental health. However, toddlers often resist going to bed because they’re afraid they’ll miss out on something fun or are too excited to sleep. Parents frequently wonder how to get their toddlers to go to bed, and it can be a challenging task.
The key is creating a bedtime routine that works for you and your child. Start winding down early before bedtime, make sleep a positive experience, provide a light snack, and don’t skip nap times. If you’re still having difficulties, consult your pediatrician for guidance.