It's been a long day, but your toddler is finally snuggled in her bed. She's had a drink, a snack, a trip to the potty, her favorite bear and blanket, stories, hugs and kisses. She couldn't possibly need anything else, right? Then you hear it, quietly at first, getting gradually louder. "Mommy, I need a drink. Mommy, I have to go potty." Or maybe your toddler goes right for your heartstrings, sobbing inconsolably until someone comes to her rescue. There has to be an easier way, right? Well, there is, although it will probably get worse before it gets better. Read on and I'll teach you how to address these problems and how to get a good night's sleep.
To help your toddler sleep at night:
- First, you'll need to understand why your toddler refuses to go to bed easily. Does she hear you and your spouse talking and think she's missing out on something? Maybe she's scared of the dark or hears a strange sound that frightens her. Possibly it's just separation anxiety--toddlers are very social and being alone is not very appealing to them. Toddlers are also learning that they have some control over their environment. This may be your child's way of exercising her control so it is a typical behavior issue.
- The most important step in getting your toddler to bed without a struggle is to set a routine and stick with it. Have your child help you make a list of steps for bedtime. For example: First, we have a snack, then we brush our teeth, then we read stories, then off to bed.
- Next, enforce a consistent bedtime. If you put your child to bed at 8:00 p.m. one night and 9:30 p.m. the next, chances are, she won't be tired when you want her to sleep. Being over tired will create even more problems.
- Another tip is to use positive reinforcement with your child. This works well for many children, and even works well for other toddler behavior issues unrelated to sleep. Most toddlers love stickers. Let your child help you pick out some small stickers. Make a chart with one square for each day. Each time she goes to bed without a fuss, you put a sticker on her chart. After five stickers, she gets to choose a small toy or an activity. If she still balks, break it down into smaller steps--one sticker if she gets in her bed without whining, another if she stays there for fifteen minutes, etc. Some kids don't care anything at all about the reward--they just want the stickers!
- If this doesn't work after several weeks and you need additional sleep help, there may be a deeper cause. Could your child be worried or frightened about something? If she seems to be scared of the dark, try using a night-light. Also, some kids love to have their very own spray bottle filled with water, to scare away the "monsters" in the night. Don't ridicule your child's fears or tell her there's nothing to be afraid of. Toddlers have vivid imaginations, and to them, their fears are very real. Just reassure her that nothing will hurt her and she's safe.
- If your child is the type who cries pitifully whenever you leave her in her room, it's okay to go back in and calm her down. The first night, go back in every two minutes until she quits crying. The next night, go in every five minutes. Gradually increase the amount of time that she spends alone until she learns to console herself. An alternative to this is to sit next to her bed for the first few nights. When she's okay with that, move away just a bit. Move away a little more each night until she can get to sleep by herself.
- If your child gets out of her bed and leaves her room, quietly take her back to her room and put her in her bed. Do not scold her. In fact, it's best to say nothing at all. Talking to your child just encourages her to keep getting up. It may take many times before she stays in bed, but your persistence will eventually pay off. You can also put up a gate across the doorway of your child's bedroom, as long as she hasn't learned to climb over it.
- If none of these methods or sleeping tips work, you may have to use the most difficult method, which is simply doing nothing at all. Just let your child fuss until she goes to sleep. It may take a while, but eventually, she will. The first night, she will fuss a lot. The second night, she'll probably fuss even more. By the third night, however, it usually gets a lot better. Remember to tell her that you're proud of her when she gets to sleep on her own.
Sleep issues with your toddler can be very frustrating, but you need to know it's a normal process that nearly every child goes through. With a little bit of time and patience along with these sleep tips, you can help your child conquer this problem and your entire family will get some good sleep!