Getting your toddler to bed can be quite a nightmare. The fear of being alone or of missing out on some exciting adventure, or even the sheer pleasure of saying their new favorite word “No!” can turn your little angel into a terror at bedtime. Here are a few things you can do to end these nightly battles:
1. Don’t Miss The Afternoon Nap
You may think skipping the day nap might help your baby sleep better at night. But toddlers need a nap in the morning or afternoon at least till the age of 2.5–3 years. Sometimes, parents think that doing away with the daytime nap will make it easier to get the toddler to bed at night. But being too tired can actually make bedtimes harder. Skipping naps can also actually disrupt their sleep at night. For instance, without a nap in the afternoon they may be really tired in the evenings. They may go to bed early or even miss their evening meal as a result. They may then wake up well before light because of hunger. However, do note: you must schedule your baby’s nap earlier in the day and limit sleeping after midafternoon.1
2. Fix Up A Strict Bedtime And Naptime
It’s important to have regular naptimes and bedtimes and stick to these timelines. Once they realize it’s non-negotiable, it’ll become easier to get your toddler to bed. This practice of setting rules will also stand you in good stead and help you maintain discipline later as you face new parenting challenges.
3. Set A Relaxing (And Simple!) Routine
Set up a relaxing night time routine that gives your baby some time to unwind before bedtime. For a toddler, this routine may last anywhere between 5 minutes to half an hour and can include soothing activities like a warm bath, a bedtime story, or some soft music. But keep in mind that you’ll need to repeat this routine night after night – so stay away from long, complicated activities!2
4. Put A Favourite Toy Or Blanket To Bed With Them
A light “blankie” or a favorite stuffed toy can provide your toddler with a sense of comfort and security while they sleep. But do keep in mind that blankets are not advisable for babies who are not yet 1 as there’s a risk of sudden infant death syndrome.3
5. Let Your Baby Make Some Choices About The Bedtime Routine
Allow your child some choices when it comes to their bedtime routine. For instance, you could let them pick out their pajamas, select the stuffed toy they want to take to bed, and choose bedtime music. This will give them a sense of control and make bedtime smoother.4
6. From Cot To Bed: Make The Big Move Engaging
Your baby should still sleep in a crib till the age of 2. Most toddlers are ready to move to a bed somewhere between the ages of 2 and 3.5 years. If they need to go to the bathroom at night or they climb out of their cot, your baby may be ready for this big move. At the same time, some toddlers may initially find it difficult to sleep in this unfamiliar environment. Here are some tips for making this transition quick and painless.
Involve your baby in the move: Let your baby pick out sheets or help set up the bed. A sense of involvement and engagement can make this shift go more smoothly.
Appreciate your baby: Let your toddler know that you’re proud of them and as excited about the move. Give them lots of appreciation for being grown up and graduating into a bed.
Celebrate the move: Find small ways to celebrate this occasion. For instance, you could mark it with a trip to the zoo or you could redecorate your baby’s room to change it into a “big kid’s room.” This can be done simply (and inexpensively!) by hanging a few pictures or changing cushion covers or curtains.5
7. Baby Proof The Space
Whether your toddler is sleeping in a crib or a bed, it’s important to make it a safe space. Don’t put very large soft toys or anything they can use to step on and climb out of the crib. Avoid things with ties that can go around your baby’s neck in the crib. Also, check for things that they can reach from the crib while standing. Wall hangings, pictures, and curtains can all be enticing and potentially dangerous for your curious toddler.
To reduce the risk of falling from a bed, push one side up against the wall and put up a guardrail on the other side. Also, when your child starts sleeping in a bed, you need to start taking into account all the mischief they can get into because they’re no longer hemmed in. For instance, windows that can be easily opened and long curtain cords can be hazardous.6
8. Keep The Bed For Sleeping
Make sure your baby associates their bed with sleep so they automatically start unwinding when they get into bed. This means that the bed shouldn’t be used for relaxing or playing. Also, don’t confine your child to the cot when you’re busy; neither should you use it like a punishing zone if they’ve been up to mischief – basically nothing that takes away from the association of the bed and sleep.7
9. Make Sure The Environment Is Comfortable
Many of the same factors that interrupt your sleep can also keep your baby awake. Providing a comfortable environment can be key to your baby sleeping through the night. For instance, too much noise can be disruptive, so you might need to turn down that TV. And if your baby is in the habit of throwing off their covers, they’ll need warm pajamas so that the cold doesn’t wake them up. If your child is scared of the dark, get a dim nightlight.8
10. Lay Off Scary Movies Or Books Especially Around Bedtime
Frightening television shows or movies and scary books can make your toddler afraid of going to bed alone. They may also cause nightmares. So when you read to them or they watch TV, make sure that the material is age-appropriate.
11. Reassure If Your Toddler Wakes In The Night – But Keep It Boring!
If your child wakes up during the night, you’ll need to give some reassurance. Let them know that you’re nearby and that everything is fine. But spending too much time or making the interaction stimulating can backfire. So keep it boring and leave quickly!9
12. Imagine Happier Endings To Tackle Nightmares
Most children get nightmares at some point or the other. They usually start when the baby is around 2 and may peak somewhere between the ages of 3 and 6. If your toddler wakes up at night with nightmares, go to them quickly and reassure them gently and calmly. Don’t ignore them as this may make them more upset or frantic. One way of tackling distressing nightmares is to have the child “befriend” frightening characters in the nightmare or make up a happier ending for the nightmare. This can diminish the power of frightening dreams.10
|↑1||Sleep – children and naps. Department of Health & Human Services.|
|↑2, ↑4||All About Sleep. The Nemours Foundation.|
|↑3, ↑6, ↑8||Sleep and Your 1- to 2-Year-Old. The Nemours Foundation.|
|↑5||Baby care – moving from cot to bed. Department of Health & Human Services.|
|↑7, ↑9||Sleep and your baby. Department of Health & Human Services.|
|↑10||Sleep – children and nightmares. Department of Health & Human Services.|