10 Tips to Help with Toddler and Child Sleep

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Isn’t the toddler phase so “fantastic”?  It’s great that your child is becoming more independent, but the journey to independence is bumpy, to say the least.  Your toddler is pushing the limits, testing the boundaries, and wanting to feel a sense of power.  Your infant that you were able to place into a crib for sleep, is now a toddler who has a mind of his own (especially when it is time to sleep).  Here are suggestions to help you get your toddler back on track.

1. Establish physical boundaries.  

Toddlers understand the concept of imaginary boundaries so they need boundaries that are visual. A crib has visual barriers and once a toddler is in her own bed, her room is now her oyster so to speak.  Leaving the bedroom is now an option that didn’t exist when she was in her crib.  I recommend using a baby gate to show visual barriers. 

2. Establish firm rules/boundaries.

Your child is the center of your world and you cater to him all day.  Bedtime is important for your toddler because of his sleep needs AND parents need time to themselves to watch tv, have a bubble bath, AND get some sleep themselves. 

Setting firm boundaries is one of the most difficult parts of parenting but it is quite possibly one of the most important jobs.  Toddlers do not make it easy to set boundaries and they can be very stubborn which means mom and dad need to be even more stubborn.  Easier said than done when little Henry climbs into bed with you.  Even though toddlers and children resist boundaries, they actually crave and thrive with structure and limits.  

Some boundaries you may wish to set in place are:

  • Once you get into your bed, you stay in bed.
  • Mommy/Daddy will read you ONE story (or set the number but stick to it)
  • You can have 2 sips of water before bed (again, set your number and stick to it)
  • You will get one great big hug before bed but once mommy/daddy walk out of your room, we will not come back in because it is time for sleep. (Again easier said than done. I can help you with this)  
  • You stay in your bed until your clock turns yellow
  • Good sleep gets rewarded!

3. Ensure the room is SAFE.

Dressers should be safely fastened to the wall, electrical outlets covered, bed rails are installed, etc. 

4. Tidying up

Remove toys from the bedroom if your toddler thinks bedtime is playtime.  I always recommend bedrooms be a calm space reserved for relaxing activities and sleep.  Removing stimulating toys will be important in sending the message that the bedroom is not for playing reducing the likelihood that your little one will climb out of bed to play.

5. Fear of the dark

Babies do not have a fear of the dark, however, toddlers may start to develop a fear of the dark (or say that they do to get you to come back into the room).  If you choose to use a nightlight, I recommend one with an orange or reddish tinge as these colors do not block the production of melatonin.  I like these salt rock lamp night lights.

6. Dark bedrooms

As always, I recommend your toddler’s room be as dark as possible so the early morning sunrise does not wake your toddler up any earlier than she normally wakes. 

If you have an early rising toddler, I have had great success with the groclock. Your toddler will likely try to test the boundaries just to see what will happen if he comes out of his room before the clock turns yellow. 

This may take some training and consistency, but if you stick with it and silently return your child to their room, point to the clock and say “The clock isn’t yellow yet”, you will train your toddler to wait for the yellow light.  My boys are 5 and they still use this.  I love it!

7. Positive and Negative Attention

Toddlers do not understand the difference between positive and negative attention.  Let me repeat.  Toddlers DO NOT know the difference between positive and negative attention. 

This means that attention = attention.  Positive reinforcement will get you a lot further than becoming upset, trust me I know this is easier said than done.  But an angry parent coming into the room to say “GO TO SLEEP!” is still a parent coming into the room thus reinforcing whatever behavior led to you going into the room. 

Toddlers DO NOT know the difference between positive and negative attention.

I have a toddler sleep reward chart that can help you basically bribe your toddler to sleep better for you.  Bribery need not last forever, but extrinsic motivation is often necessary with toddlers who do not understand the reasoning.  

8. Routines, Routines, Routines!

Your toddler will feel a sense of being in control of his life.  Toddlers are wanting to develop their own sense of autonomy, and are realizing that they are their own little human beings.  Having routines is essential because your toddler can predict what will happen next.  Read more about bedtime routines.

9. Restless Sleepers

If your toddler is a restless sleeper who tosses and turns all night or you believe them to have sensitivity to sensory stimuli, her sleep may be greatly improved with a lightly weighted blanket.  Children who are overwhelmed by sensory input show signs such as: 

  • Easily overwhelmed by loud noises
  • Easily frustrated and irritable (Imagine all the sounds, lights, and feelings overwhelming the system)
  • Difficulty sleeping due to restless legs
  • Complains that lights are too bright
  • Sensitivity to different fabrics and textures 

A weighted blanket helps by calming the body thus calming the mind and allowing your child to sleep.  If you think this blanket may improve your child’s sleep, I recommend a Hush blanket. Use PROMO CODE PAS40 for 40$ off your order.

10. Comfort Item

After the age of one, it is considered safe to have a lovey in your little one’s crib.  Having a comfort item is beneficial to many toddlers.  It is important to have one lovey; otherwise, you run the risk of confusing your toddler with stimulation that inspires play.  You want the lovey to only be used strictly during sleep times which will help cue your little one for sleep.  The added bonus of a lovey is that your toddler can take it to grandma and grandpas or daycare for sleep times for an added sense of security.  

Introduce the lovey around 12 months and purchase 2 (one for backup).  Ensure the lovey of course does not have any loose pieces such as buttons or strings.  One of my personal favorites is the “snuggle taggie” by Gliz Design.

Toddler sleep can be complicated and frustrating.  I work one on one with clients to help them establish these boundaries and take back the power when it comes to bedtime.  Bedtime does not need to be the most dreaded part of the day.  It can be a very calm and happy time that you will cherish with your little ones.  Feel free to reach out if you ever want support.  Sleep is on the way…