Putting your toddler to bed can feel like going to war. They’re fully equipped with a laundry list of requests — “One more book!”, “I’m thirsty!” — all designed to trick you into letting them stay awake for just a little bit longer. It’s exhausting, and frustrating too!
Every minute your toddler delays bedtime is a minute that your toddler isn’t sleeping. And the importance of sleep in infants and children cannot be overstated. Young children who aren’t getting the proper amount of sleep may face a myriad of problems stemming from that lack of sleep including slowed physical growth and behavior problems.
While it may feel like your toddler is manipulating you with each nighttime request, it’s more likely their way of telling you they’re exhausted, but they can’t figure out how to get to sleep. Luckily you can help! (And no, we don’t mean getting that 8th glass of water!) Whether your child is a crib Houdini, afraid of the dark or battling some severe separation anxiety, there is a way forward for your family. A way to get your toddler in their bed and asleep happily.
Solving your toddler problems to sleep may take some work on the front end, but the rewards — more and better sleep — are so worth it.
Your Rockin’ Blinks Cheat Sheet:
- Create a schedule.
- Stay consistent.
- Set clear boundaries.
- Validate emotions.
Rockin’Blinks founder Lola Sanchez says that when it comes to bedtime problems, there are some issues she sees pop up again and again. And there are reliable methods for addressing them.
Here are some of the most frequent battles toddler parents face before bedtime and how to fix them:
PROBLEM: Climbing out of the crib.
SOLUTION: Ideally, every time the child climbs out, you put them back in the crib.
Many children develop the ability to climb out their crib very early. Don’t stress about this, it’s actually a good thing! Your child is growing and mastering motor development! But just because your child can climb out of the crib does not mean they should start sleeping in a bed. his is actually a great time for you to start setting the boundaries and expectations about what happens at night. Ideally, every time the child climbs out, you put them back in the crib. Do this very calmly, and very patiently. The message behind this action is “I see you are climbing, but it is time for sleep now.” When it is time for sleep, it’s important to show what our body needs to relax and fall asleep. If we are clear and consistent, and don’t make a big deal about it, the novelty will pass.
PROBLEM: Constant requests at bedtime.
SOLUTION: A clear bedtime routine, and communication about that routine, will help set expectations.
“One more book! One more drink! I need to pee!” Often, bedtime ends up being an endless list of requests that results in either frustrated parents getting mad or hopeless parents giving in to anything. A clear bedtime routine, and communication about that routine, will help set expectations.
- Once you decide on a new routine, talk your child through it each night until it becomes, well, routine. Tell your child: “After two books, we are going to say goodnight.” When the request comes for a third book, hold fast to your routine and boundaries. Instead of arguing with your child, be firm: “I hear you would like another book. I love reading with you, too. We will read this one tomorrow”.
- If water becomes a constant request, leave a small spill-proof water bottle next to their bed or crib.
- If your child claims they’re hungry, you’re not a bad parent for denying food in the middle of bedtime. This is something that often makes parents feel guilty. But it’s important to set a time for eating and a time for sleeping. Bedtime is time for sleeping. Remind yourself that food was offered during the day, and it’s really okay to say no at bedtime. And remind your child, “It’s time to let your body rest. You can have breakfast in the morning.”
- For the parent whose child always needs to pee, make sure going to the bathroom is part of the bedtime routine. If your child needs to use the toilet again, you can consider offering “1 toilet pass per night.” Create a card or just communicate verbally, “Would you like to use your toilet pass?” Once the pass is used, be consistent and follow the rule. “I hear you need to pee again, but it looks that you already used your toilet pass tonight.”Most likely, “need” actually means “want” and your child will understand that yet another bathroom trip will not delay the inevitability of bedtime.
PROBLEM: Separation anxiety.
SOLUTION: The best way to tackle separation anxiety is to honor your child’s feelings to build trust.
Separation anxiety is totally normal for toddlers to experience, and it doesn’t only happen at bedtime. The best way to tackle separation anxiety is to honor your child’s feelings to build trust.
- Always avoid lying to your child about a parent leaving the house just to get them to stop crying; it will actually lead to more crying and creates distrust.
- You should also practice spending time apart during the day to help your child with being alone at night. Start small, even for five minutes, by telling your child you will just be in the next bathroom and need some privacy.
- If you do choose to stay in their room with them at night while they fall asleep, minimize strategies that make your child dependent on you, like constant patting or holding a finger. Instead, and if your child is old enough for it to be safe, consider offering a lovey your child can use for comfort.
PROBLEM: Afraid of the dark.
SOLUTION: Validate the fears and offer strategies to feel more secure during the night.
- Avoid screen content that is not age appropriate: Fear of the dark won’t usually show until after age two-three, when children’s imagination really develops. Before that, whatever is happening during bedtime is probably not because your child is actually afraid.
- If your child is expressing they are afraid at night, always validate the feelings and don’t try to convince them they shouldn’t be feeling fear. When imagination develops, those fears are real to your child even if it does not make sense to you. Help them accept these feelings while also keeping routines and boundaries in place.
- Offer strategies to feel more secure, like having a night light on, leaving the bedroom door open and snuggle with a favorite stuffed animal.
- Assure them that there are no monsters in your house and that you will always make sure they are safe at home: Ideally avoid using “a spray against monsters”, or “looking all around the bedroom for ghosts”. While it might feel that this is funny and will help your child calm down, the idea of needing a monster spray will make the fears more real.
PROBLEM: All of the above…or something else entirely!
SOLUTION: Here’s 3 tips that all toddler families should be employing at bedtime:
Every family’s situation is unique and some challenges need specific solutions. But working to be consistent with your child, respecting your own boundaries and giving your toddler age appropriate responsibilities will all be helpful in the bedtime process, and are worth trying as initial solutions.
- Create a schedule and be consistent!
Pick a game plan and stick with it. If one night you say no more water, but the next they get a few sips — you’ve lost all credibility. Saying no movies before bed one night and changing your mind the next? Big no-no. Giving in seems easier in the moment, but it creates even more battles down the line. This is an age where “exceptions” just don’t make sense to children. Either it’s okay or it’s not. Consistency is key to help toddlers relax and accept the routines we set for them.
- Respect each parent’s personal limits.
Some parents love to lay down with their children while they fall asleep at night and others don’t. Accept what works for you as a parent. Give it your all during the bedtime routine: your best attitude, best hug and full attention. Then accept the moment when you are ready to say goodnight.
- Give your toddler some control.
…over things he can handle. For example, your child can choose which book to read — but he cannot choose how many books. Your child can choose which toy to sleep with (the monkey? the bear?), but he cannot choose to have another snack at bedtime. Giving your child freedom and control is empowering and important, but it’s also important for you to maintain control over the important stuff, like when sleep happens.
Good sleep is essential for a happy healthy childhood and life. Book a consultation with us now!