Sleeping/ Teaching

How to get a toddler to sleep?

20 Bedtime Tips for Children with Sleep Problems  

As a mother, grandmother and teacher, I have experienced a lot of the issues that arise when raising baby’s, toddlers and older children. In my last blog post I described the 20 Best Tips for Children with Eating Problems. As a result, I got many positive reactions. This is one of the reasons why I do not want to keep my experience and knowledge concerning raising baby’s, toddlers and older children to myself. Therefore this article: How to get a toddler to sleep ? 20 Bedtime Tips for Children with Sleep Problems .

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My Story

We have three children. (By now, all three of them have grown up, and the oldest hast two toddlers herself.) The oldest is a girl, and even as a baby she needed less sleep than her peers. When you are parenting your firstborn, you tend to follow well-intentioned advice a bit too closely. My friend had a baby of the same age, who slept a lot more than my girl. She followed a strict schedule of sleeping, feeding and being awake. I breastfed my girl, and like with any firstborn, it can happen that you get a bit insecure: How much did she drink? Is she hungry again? Or is she feeling colicky from something I might have eaten?

My personality is different to that of my friend; I am my own person, with my own preferences. Following a tight schedule is not my style. I ended up causing more unrest in our young daughters’ life because I kept trying out the large variety of tips and advice from my family and friends on how to handle sleep problems.

Both our 2nd and 3rd were boys. In the beginning they slept just as poorly, perhaps even less than our oldest, until we stopped prioritizing other people’s advice. We found our own way and started following tips and guidelines that were a good fit for our children and for us. I have lined up these tips for you, and added the lessons I learned later in in life, as a grandmother and a teacher. Keep in mind that it is important to choose which toddler sleep training tips to follow. Stick with a tip for at least 14 days before you decide it is not working, and you change the sleep pattern again.

Consistent behavior and loving parents provide children with structure, rest, and a sense of security and being loved. This should be the foundation to your child’s upbringing!  

Bedtime Rituals

Make the bedtime ritual a bit boring. For baby’s: the bottle or the breast, then prepare for bed, put on pajamas or sleeping bag, brush teeth and wash, 5 minutes of story time and then to bed, a kiss, and good night.

For toddlers the bedtime ritual can be the same, but it is wise not to go straight to bed after dinner time. Many kids will get drowsy after a bath, especially when you put a few drops of lavender oil in the water. If this is the case with your kid, make bath time a part of your bedtime ritual. Once your child has gotten used to the ritual, his or her body will automatically start producing sleep hormones as soon as you start the ritual. Don’t make the bedtime ritual too loud and cheerful, that is counterproductive.

Run-Down

Make sure that your baby or toddler is not too run down when bedtime comes. The stress hormone that is produced when your child is over-tired will make it harder for him or her to fall asleep, and cause restless nights. To give you a guideline I have compiled a sleep schedule for you:

sleep needs by age:

0 – 12 weeks

Awake for 45 minutes between feedings

3 – 5 months

Awake for 1½ – 2 hours between feedings

6 – 8 months

Awake for 2 – 3 hours

9 – 12 months

Awake for 3 – 4 hours

13 months – 2 ½ years

Awake for 5 – 6 hours

> 2 ½ years

No longer sleep during the day

Of course there are children who prove to be the exception to the rule. They will sleep more or less than indicated in the guideline. It is important to stick to a sleep routine and make sure they are not too run-down at bedtime.

Rock Your Baby to Sleep

Many parents love to rock their baby to sleep. If, after a while, you notice that your baby no longer falls asleep without being rocked to sleep, it is time to phase this out. You can start by just letting your baby fall asleep in your arms without rocking. When this is going well, the next step is to stay close to the bed until your baby falls asleep. After that, stay near the bedroom until he or she is asleep.  

Put Your Toddler in Bed Awake

It is very confusing for a child to fall asleep on a couch, with mom, and to wake up somewhere else (in bed). It is fine for them to get a bit sleepy, but it is best if they realize that their bed is where they go to sleep.

Sleep Cycle

People have a certain sleep cycle, with stages in which they sleep more lightly or wake up a few times during the night. Adults do not always realize this, but children should learn to fall back asleep by themselves. If you hear that your child is up during the night, wait for one minute before you try and help your child get back to sleep. The following night, wait two minutes. After that, three minutes, etc. You will notice by the type of crying when something is actually wrong, and if your help is required immediately. This way you are not interrupting the sleep cycle of your child, and you are teaching him or her to fall back asleep by themselves.

Separation Anxiety

When a baby is approximately 8 months old, he or she can start developing separation anxiety. It can also be that, even though they slept through the night before, sleep problems start to arise. You have probably already noticed that during this phase, your baby can suddenly start crying when he or she sees an unfamiliar face. In this phase, babies get even more attached to their parents, and it is therefore logical that they have trouble being separated from them.

You understand that is not good for your child to let him or her cry until exhaustion wins, they finally fall asleep. Even with the ‘cry it out’ method, it is important to make sure that your child does not feel abandoned. It is better to stay with your baby, soothe him or her, and slowly leave the bedroom. Babies can find a lot of comfort in a pluch toy.

Scared in the Dark

Toddlers can also suddenly develop sleep problems. Often there is a different root to these sleep problems. At this age it is hard for a child to tell the difference between fantasy and reality. He or she could be afraid of the dark, and think that there are monsters or bandits. I am sure you understand it is not recommendable to let these toddlers cry it out all alone. Comfort your child and stay near the bed. Afterwards, do not speak to or look at your child: Your presence alone will provide enough comfort. Once this goes well, the next step is to wait outside the bedroom after comforting your child; your toddler will know that you are close by. You can choose to leave on a nightlight, or find another source of light for your toddler’s bedroom. It will only take a few days for your child to get used to this, and he or she will once again be able to fall asleep on their own.

Bedtime Tips for Children with Sleep Problems

See Through Your Toddler’s Eyes

You have probably created a beautiful bedroom for your child, much to the liking of your son or daughter. Still, it is wise to take another good look: Is the room soothing? Are the walls too busy with wallpaper of eg Cars or My Little Pony? Are the toys displayed too prominently? Try to take a look through your child’s eyes, at their eye level and their sleep level, also do this when it is dim or dark. Does what you see soothe you? Or do you see things that, with some imagination, could scare a toddler? Talk about this with your toddler, maybe he or she would like a say in this, or would like to make something themselves to contribute to the room, so that the room becomes a part of him or herself, a place to feel at home.

Bedtime

Give a pre-bedtime warning. This way, toddlers can finish their game or activity and get used to the idea that in 5 minutes they will have to stop whatever they are doing. It is wise to have a set bedtime for children, around the same time every night.

20 Bedtime Tips for Children with Sleep Problems

Clean up Toys

Clean up the day’s toys together. What your child has built or created during the day can be put on top of a cupboard or nightstand. Do not turn cleaning up into a battle of the wills that continues into the bedtime ritual. It is best to clean up in time and enjoy a pleasant end to the day.  

Sleep Regressions

Children process all the stimuli from the day during the night. This why many children get sleep problems after a change in their lives occurs; a move, going to school, divorce of parents, a new sibling. Talk to your children about these changes, do this often, and give them the chance to process through play and books/stories. It is important to seriously restrict screen time. Screens tend to overstimulate your child’s brain. They cannot process all these stimuli.

Cry It Out

Let them cry, or console them? This is a question for all parents. It is important that you recognize the different types of cries of your child. You don’t need to jump up for every little cry. At times it is necessary to give your child some time to fall back asleep. But if your baby is really crying, because he or she is upset or panicked, of course it is logical to console them. It has been proven that young children can develop psychological problems if they often feel fearful, misunderstood and are not comforted.  

Noise

You might think that your house needs to be completely quiet when your child sleeps, but some children actually sleep better with some background noise. When my oldest daughter was 1, she would love to sleep to the sound of the vacuum cleaner.

Ambiance

Ambiance is very important. Your child will notice instantly if you are in a hurry, rushing to get somewhere. Also, if you have been busy or have had a bad day at work, be sure to end the day with your child in a relaxed manner. Make jokes during meal time, cuddle while changing into pajamas, sing children’s songs in the tub, etc. You child will feel great and loved once he or she is all comfy in bed, ready for the night.  

Children Like To Be Independent

Let them do as much as possible by themselves. They can put on their own clean underwear and pajama. Compliment them on being able to do all that by themselves. Keep in mind that whatever they do themselves will take a bit more time.

Be Consistent

All of these tips will not have any effect if you are not consistent in their application. Like everything else when raising a child, consistent behavior is very important. It can take a week to 14 day until you see any results. But think of how nice it will be to finally have a night alone with your partner, or to finally get a good night’s sleep, allowing you to once again be a fun parent during the day.

Baby Bedside Sleeper

Some parents like to have to have their baby nearby at night as well. Safe baby beds that can be placed next to the parent’s bed have been designed for this specific purpose. This way you can keep your baby close those first months. This may mean that you will also sleep better, knowing that your baby is nearby.

Baby Bedside Sleeper

In Bed With the Parents

Some parents take no issue if their toddlers, when they are scared and or lonely, pay a visit to the parents’ bedroom. In that case it might be a good idea to put a little bed in the room or a mattress on the floor. That way your child can be near you, and you and your child can get back to sleep quickly. Keep in mind that this behavior will automatically wane as they get older. Of course you are aware that it is dangerous to have very young children sleep in bed with their parents.

Questions

As usual, I end the blog with questions from parents of toddlers from my class.

Q: How much sleep does a 3 year old need?
A: The NSF (National Sleep Foundation) recommends 11 to 13 hours of sleep every night.

Q: How long do babies sleep in cribs?
A: This varies greatly per child. Usually this is between 1.5 and 3.5 years.

Q: How much sleep should a 5 year old get?
A: It’s the same as for 3 years old.
The NSF (National Sleep Foundation) recommends 11 to 13 hours of sleep every night.

20 Bedtime Tips for Children with Sleep Problems

This message contains affiliated and / or paid links, which means that if you click on one of these links and buy a product, I can earn a small commission without incurring extra costs. Rest assured that I only recommend products that I love of companies that I trust. Furthermore, I am not a medical professional and nothing in this message can be considered as medical advice. I am just a mother who has been there and has lived to tell the story.


If you have tips that are not listed above, please let me know in the comments!

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