Toddler - Sleep with toy  bunny

Toddler sleep

Physical development – Toddler sleep problems

Getting a good night’s sleep with a toddler

There is nothing more beautiful than the image of a sleeping child. However, sometimes there are challenges at bed time, so here are a few tips and ideas as to how you can help your toddler sleep!

Battles at Bedtime and Night time Waking

It is time for our little ones to go to bed, and we are exhausted. But when we put on their pyjamas, the performance begins! Some scream, cry or struggle, and we are tired and at a loss as to what to do next!

And then when we finally get our toddlers off to sleep, we wander off to bed exhausted. But what can we do when not long afterwards they start calling out or crying? Of course in the initial stages we need to check that our toddler is healthy and comfortable (eg. check the nappy, is it colic, is it too cold/hot, did he/she lose the dummy, etc.). If our little treasure is well and these events are happening nearly every night, then you should try to make some changes. It may be behavioural (your child wants some attention, has developed a habit), emotional (your child is worried, anxious, stressed), or psychological (he/she does not know how to self-soothe, afraid of the dark).

Regardless of the reason, here are some basic commonsense strategies you can use to reduce the issues and hopefully help your toddler sleep.

  • Make sure that you keep to a routine at bedtime. One way that works for many families is having a final bottle/cup of milk, warm bath, cleaning teeth, then hopping in to their own bed with mum or dad reading a book to them then tucking them in.
  • Reassure your child that you will always be available even when you are not in the room. If you stick to a routine, your toddler will learn what is required and will know that the next day will come soon enough.
  • For those whose children wake and do not want to go straight back to sleep, you can leave a safe toy, blanket or even a book for comfort until they settle themselves. This should never be done with very young children as it may pose a choking or suffocation risk..
  • Ask yourself these questions – does my toddler still need an afternoon nap? Are the sleep/wake times reasonable for my child? Does he/she eat too close to bedtime?
  • Do not lift and play with your toddler during the night (unless of course there is a problem!) because then they learn that if they call out or cry, a parent will come and play.
  • Do not or rock him/her back to sleep (unless you are happy for them to expect it every night).
  • Do settle them back down under their bedding snuggly and securely with a comforting kiss.
  • Try not to turn on the light and only whisper if necessary. Keep all of your reactions to a minimum.

Early Risers

After putting our toddler to bed, finishing the dishes, washing, drying and folding clothes, changing and feeding the baby and tidying up, we can finally go to sleep. Suddenly, it is the crack of dawn and our toddler’s sleep is over, they’re energetically out of bed after having rested for many hours and he/she is ready for the excitement of the new day. Five o’clock has barely passed on the bedside timepiece and you struggle with having to tend to your toddler. So what can you do?

  • Teach him/her to read numbers! Whether you have digital or analogue clocks in the house, show your child where the “little hand” should be pointing (or after!) before they should get out of bed (except if they are scared or not feeling well).
  • Instruct your child not to leave his/her room until this time (or unless someone else is up).
  • Make sure that the room is a safe environment filled with books (and toys) to entertain him/herself while waiting for a parent to waken.

Some children are early risers no matter what we do. Putting them to bed later can sometimes just mean we have a grumpy child at 6am. The key is to encourage their independence in entertaining themselves until a more reasonable hour!

For more information see Physical Development.

By Sally-Anne McCormack M.A.P.S.

Dip T (Psych Maj); Postgrad Dip Psych (Ed); B Ed: M Psych (Ed & Dev)

Sally-Anne is a Melbourne psychologist, former teacher, and mother of 4. She has 2 websites: www.psychonline.com.au and www.parentsonline.com.au.