How to get your toddler to sleep better

No matter if they slept well as babies, or how busy they’ve been during the day, some toddlers will resist bedtime, and not sleep through. This article will help you help your little one sleep better, and through the night.

Consciously during this article we will use the controversial words “sleep training”. The reason for this is that sleep becomes more of a discipline with toddlers. It is not simply and exclusively about creating the foundation for sleep but more about how to get your child to sleep in their own bed and giving them the confidence to sleep on their own.

This takes training, and sleep training toddlers take commitment, consistency and follow through. Toddlers will no longer merely accept change – they are built to protest change.

Understanding your toddler

During the toddler years a great deal of development takes place – cognitive, emotional and social development. When it comes to toddlers there are three concepts to always remember as a parent – in general and with regards to sleep. Of course these are not the only things to remember…

The first concept to remember is that toddlers cannot tell time (surprise surprise). Imagine that! A whole day without knowing what time it is? Even though they cannot read time it is amazing how they can create and desire to create order through repeated instructions and tasks.

This is why routine and schedule are important as they help to give toddlers a concept of time. They know their routines, for example: they bath, put pyjamas on, read two stories and then it is time to sleep.

The second concept to remember is that your toddler is essentially an emotional being, with ups and downs just like you. One minute your toddler is happy, the next they are screaming! Most emotions they experience are new to them and they are getting used to dealing with these.

In all honesty most adults don’t know how to react appropriately to most emotions, so you should not expect your two year old to always know how to behave “accordingly”.  As parents, we should teach our children how to react but this takes time and consistency.  Sleep training an 18-month-old will involve change and they are allowed to be angry about the change but they should also learn how to deal with the change.

The third concept to remember is that toddler years are synonymous with autonomy. They want to do things on their own.  Independently walking, talking and eating.  So sleeping on their own is an extension of their personality.

Common toddler sleep issues

Sleep Training on a basic level involves removing sleep associations. We all have sleep associations. A pillow, comfortable mattress or even your partner can be sleep associations – that one thing or person you cannot go to sleep without.

Positive sleep associations are things that we can use independently (pillow, blanky, taglet, teddy) whereas negative sleep associations (partner, mom/dad, bottles, breast) requires external intervention.

The most common sleep associations with toddlers include sucking (bottle, breast or dummy) or a parent having to lie next to the toddler in order for them to fall asleep. When the toddler then wakes at night (which they will) they require the same thing to fall asleep again.

With toddlers, their sleep associations have been present far longer than with babies and thus involves more consistency and time when retraining them with healthier sleep association options. Sleep training a two- or three-year-old  also involves confidence. They need to have the confidence to sleep on their own and as parents we need to give them this assurance.

Parents lie with their toddlers as they feel this is the only way they know how to put their toddler to sleep fast, or they keep offering a bottle as it is the only way to make their child fall asleep? However, if this is how they have always fallen asleep at bedtime, you cannot expect them to behave any differently regarding these sleep associations throughout the night.

Getting your toddler to sleep

Bed or cot?

Toddlerhood also brings other challenges such as the arrival of a sibling and this can prompt parents to want to move their toddler to a bed. When moving your toddler to a bed the only concern should be safety.

Most 18-month-olds are too young and often can’t handle the change and being able to roam around their room or the house while parents are sleeping is NOT safe. On the other hand an 18 month old that continues to try and climb out of his cot is also NOT safe and should then rather be moved to a big bed. The room should then be seen as cot and suitably be made safe.

Up until the age of five, children still need 11 to 12 hours of sleep, so don’t be tempted to move the bedtime later too soon.

The ideal time to move a toddler would be around two and half and three years. Most toddlers are then able to understand to concept of staying in their bed, the consequences of getting out as well as be excited about moving to a big kid bed.

When sleep training a 15-month-old, it is recommended to keep them in their cot even if new baby is on the way. If they are already trying to climb out one can try to restrict their movement with a sleeping bag or by removing pillows and blankets that they may be able to use as leverage.

Too-late bedtime

Parents often complain that they need to make bedtime later with older toddlers, explaining that their two-year-olds won’t go to sleep earlier. Up until the age of five, children still need 11 to 12 hours of sleep, so don’t be tempted to move the bedtime later too soon.

Nap time

Knowing how to create a space for nap with an older child is a different challenge, yet just as important as nighttime sleep, and most toddlers still need to nap. During the toddler years there are two nap transitions.

The first is moving to one nap. This transition takes place between 12 to 16 months. One of the naps start becoming shorter and shorter and then either struggles to happen or just does not happen and then it is time to start gradually moving to one nap a day.

The second transition is moving to NO nap. Most toddlers still need to nap, but some start skipping the naps around 2.5 years. Most little ones will start skipping naps between three and four years of age.

Natural sleep remedies for toddlers

Magnesium in the form of bath salts or Epsom Salts is a natural anti-inflammatory, helps with the absorption of calcium and is known for assisting with sleep as it helps to naturally relax the muscles.

As toddlers grow and increase their variety they eat they can become picky and parents can be tempted to give them things they like eating. Make sure to monitor sugar and caffeine intake. Give them a variety of healthy snacks throughout the day as toddlers on the move rarely have much time to eat.

Toddlers change and grow all the time. This should not be seen as a challenge but should be celebrated. All the cognitive, emotional and social development is a permanent change, not a phase, and throughout this change it is important to remain

About Good Night

As BabyYumYum’s exclusive sleep experts, Good Night specialises in all things sleep when it comes to babies and young children. Their sleep consultants are trained professionals who undergo strict screening and education processes. They believe in creating a start-to-finish solution for families. Good Night is associated with international associations and accredited by the South African Sleep Association.

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