I’m writing this in my daughter’s kitchen just north of Chicago, a little after Thanksgiving, but counting my blessings nonetheless. Kate, 38 1/2 weeks pregnant with her second child, is warming up Thanksgiving leftovers; Andy’s putting away the boxes left over from decorating their Christmas tree; and Mary is upstairs giving Rowan her bath and preparing for her bedtime routine. Parents of toddlers know how important sleep is for their little human, and grandparents are even more certain.
When kids don’t get enough sleep, they have a harder time controlling their emotions, become irritable or hyper, and may be more likely to have behavior problems and trouble learning. In fact, toddlers need about 10 to 14 hours of sleep per day, which includes one to three hours of nap time.
However, actually getting your toddler to sleep can be a bit of a challenge.
Toddlers have developed the art of speech and a longer attention span; plus they tend to have the desire to assert their independence and don’t want to miss out on anything. All of that is a recipe for a toddler fighting bedtime.
Here’s what you can do to make sure your toddler is getting the sleep he or she needs while saving yourself from some of the nighttime drama:
Make their daytime active
A busy daytime will make your toddler more likely to be tired at bedtime.
Get your child to play actively, run and dance to exercise his or her mind and body during the day.
Teach them to fall asleep alone
It may be tempting to sit or lay next to them while they fall asleep to prevent crying and protesting, but this is ultimately reinforcing habits that will be hard to break later.
Toddlers need to learn how to soothe themselves to sleep, and they can’t do that if you’re right there next to them. This should start early in a child’s life.
Establish a bedtime routine and keep it consistent
The bedtime routine doesn’t have to be complicated — it can be as simple as a bath, reading a book and then bed — but it needs to be consistent, predictable and dependable.
A bath is always a good component of a toddler’s bedtime routine — a warm bath does wonders for calming your toddler. The activities you choose to include in your toddler’s bedtime routine should all be soothing and calming, helping them wind down — so tickle fights, bright lights, sugary treats and excitement are really bad bedtime ideas.
Once you establish a bedtime routine, stick with it
Toddlers crave a routine because the predictability of knowing what’s coming next makes them feel safe and secure. Plus, if this routine works, there’s no reason to stray from it, even if your toddler is pleading for five more minutes.
Don’t let them prolong going to bed
Part of a successful bedtime routine is that it happens at the same time every day. But toddlers seem to be great negotiators, especially when it comes to bedtime.
Your toddler wants to spend time with you and doesn’t want to miss out, which is why they tend to prolong going to bed, whether it’s dawdling with the nightly routine or repeatedly asking for a glass of water or to go to the bathroom.
If they’re trying to stall to complete an “urgent” task, tell them it’s bedtime and they can do it tomorrow. You can also try anticipating their nighttime requests by having that glass of water ready in the bedroom and using the potty one more time. You can let your toddlers have one — only one — extra request to make them feel like they’re getting their way, but you’re actually getting yours.
Give them some choices at bedtime
Factoring in a few choices for your toddler to make can make the process of getting to bed easier.
Letting your toddlers make bedtime choices when possible can help them feel empowered and eliminate the possibility of a meltdown. The trick is to only offer them two choices: two bedtime stories to choose from, or which of two pairs of pajamas they want to wear.
Be calm, yet firm
If your toddler whines or pleads, stand your ground and try not to get into a power struggle.
Speaking calmly and quietly can help keep your child’s crying and screaming at bay, but insist that when it’s time for bed, it’s time for bed.
If darkness or “monsters” are the reason for avoiding bedtime, night lights and checking under the bed can reassure your toddler he or she is safe and sound. Try using a spray bottle of water (“monster repellent”) under the bed or in the closet as part of the routine.
If your child is resisting going to sleep because they don’t want you to leave, assure them you’ll be back in a short five minutes to check on them. Follow up with that promise in five minutes. There’s a good chance your toddler will be fast asleep by then. If not, promise them you’ll be back to check in another five minutes.
Where’d these ideas come from?
Child development classes in college, pediatric rotations in med school, but mostly 41 years of marriage to a woman with an unbelievable connection to young children, and practice on one of the best little kids who’s grown into a great mom.
Let’s hope they work with grandchild number two!