As a mother of a large family, I have heard plenty of theories on getting a child to sleep in their own bed. Have I tried them? Yes, as any parent desperate to get their toddler to sleep through the night without at least two hours of tantrums would. Do they work? Yes and no. And it will likely be the same for you.
Daytime Habits for Nighttime Success
The battle for bedtime starts as soon as your new day is off and running. Assuring your toddler gets enough activity is a key component in the ability to wind down later in the day. When a child won’t sleep at night or won’t sleep in their own bed, first consider changing some of the daytime schedule.
• Shorter or earlier naps
• Increase daytime activity
• Move dinner to an earlier time
• Start bedtime rituals before exhaustion sets in
Winning Pre-Sleep Strategies
Consistency is essential, says Mayo Clinic experts. Routines provide the comfort and stability children need. Many experts suggest developing nighttime habits that signal that bedtime is near, while providing a calming transition. Some of the transition actions include:
• End the day with a warm bath or shower to encourage relaxation.
• Provide a comfort object, like a blanket or stuffed animal, to serve as a linking object between the child and parent.
• End the day with a cuddle time, the comfort object, and a good book.
The Crying Dilemma
If you are not lucky enough to have the toddler already asleep and able to be transferred to bed, do you let them cry it out or stay in the room until they fall asleep? The strategies that work best are ones that allow the parent to stay calm and in control by:
• Not caving in to tantrums, which helps toddlers understand that some things remain the same, regardless of their desires.
• Not getting over emotional; preventing the process from becoming a battle of wills.
• Responding to real needs for comfort
Do What Works For You
Having tried just about every trick in the book, I know that bedtime success may be different with every child. Some parents choose to have the toddler in bed at a certain time and let them cry themselves to sleep until it becomes routine. This works for some children, but may not work for others. The brain continues to be active while we sleep, but toddlers have little control over whether they have bad dreams or night terrors, and are not mature enough to soothe themselves after such an episode. Other parents habitally soothe them back to sleep only to find it has become a new bedtime ritual. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends trying some of the following approaches:
• If the door closed and walk away method is not working, try door open with a gate.
• Reward lying in bed quietly with a quiet check-in and whispered praise.
• Address issues from a toddler’s point of view.
• Wait a few minutes before responding.
• Do not turn on the light or play with the toddler if they awaken crying.
• Limit the conversation, keeping your voice low and reassuring.
• Do not reward outright tantrums with a visit to the room. Instead, tell the toddler you will come by only if they are quiet and have their head down. To make it less of a battle of wills, shift responsibility to the rule. “I am sorry, sweetheart, but it is a rule. I can only check on you if you are still and quiet. Once you are lying down and quiet, look for me in the doorway and I will send you kisses.”
The Real Key to Winning, with Any Strategy
Any successful strategy must meet your needs as well as your toddler’s. A routine should be structured enough to accomplish the task, but not so much so that the parent is exhausted trying to make the plan work. The real key is finding the right balance for you and your child.
• Give the strategy enough time to work.
• Be firm where you must and flexible were you can.
Getting a toddler to sleep can be a challenge, but as a parent you have the power to turn the time into something special. While constant caving to an irritable toddler’s will is not healthy for anyone, you will never regret the moments spent with a little one in your arms.