Toddler Sleep Struggles Solved
Ah the toddler years. Such a beautiful time filled with developmental leaps, household destruction and blossoming personality – a time that your toddler really starts to practice their newfound independence. Where has your sweet cooing baby gone? It’s no doubt that while the toddler years are filled with many wonderful things, they are one of the most challenging periods of time in a child’s development. During the toddler years there is a strong desire for the child to establish their independence, make their own choices and make the most of their time practicing their newfound freedom. One of the most common skills practiced by these little tikes is testing boundaries – ANY and ALL of them!
What most people don’t realize is that this new skill of testing the waters often carries over into other areas that were seemingly routine before, like sleep! Some examples include asking for a glass of water when they’ve just had a drink, requesting to use the potty when they’ve already done so or asking for a fifth or sixth bedtime book, when you typically read 3-4. These are not uncommon attempts for toddlers to stall bedtime. Do not fear! We’re here to arm you with some tips that you can utilize to survive bedtime with your toddler and ensure you preserve those precious sleep habits you’ve spent so much time establishing.
Transition to a “Big Kid Bed”
The transition from the crib to a bed can be a challenging one if your child isn’t ready. How do you know if they’re ready? While there is no hard and fast rule on how old the child should be or when the transition should take place it can take place as early as 18 months and as late as 5 years old. Some signs to look for include trying to climb out of the crib, outgrowing the crib or a toddler that needs the restroom more often when potty training. Once you make the transition, it is reasonable to expect bedtime to be a little off for a few weeks. In the weeks leading up to the transition, start talking to your child and getting them excited about moving to a big kid bed. You can also gradually introduce the bed by allowing the child to nap in the toddler bed but keeping bedtime in the crib. However you choose to introduce the transition, the most important element is that you remain consistent with bedtime routines. It should be business as usual!
Testing Boundaries at Bedtime
The toddler years are a pivotal time in a toddler’s life and is a time when they are consistently practicing their newfound independence. They no longer need mom and dad for every thing. We see this most often in the their new skill of testing boundaries, especially at bedtime. What may start out as an innocent request for a drink of water could lead to bedtime sabotage. It’s important to remain consistent when your child begins to test boundaries at bedtime. Ensuring they’ve already used the bathroom, had a drink of water and that you’ve gone through bedtime routine as per usual is important in ensuring that they understand that boundary testing doesn’t work at bedtime. You will quickly notice that your toddler will test boundaries for as long as they know there is a potential you might give in if you have in the past. For example, if a child asks for ice cream for breakfast 200 times and on the 201st time you give in, you’re telling them that all it takes is 201 times of asking and they will ultimately get them what they want. Each subsequent time, they will ask as many times as it takes until you say “yes” – this a perfect example of stimulus/response conditioning. Again, consistency is key when bedtime comes around and your toddler is making 21 different requests to postpone bedtime. Remind them that there are no exceptions at bedtime and every night should be the same. A great way to ensure you stick to your bedtime routine is by encouraging good behavior. Read on for details on how to incentivize them to stay on their best behavior!
Rewarding Good Behavior at Bedtime
With the transition to toddlerhood, it is only natural for your child to change. Their personality is blossoming, after all, and their need for independence is a healthy sign of developmental progression. This transition can be accompanied by a lot of defiance, tantrums and can be exhausting for a parent (and toddler too!). It is nearly impossible to perfectly control it but there a few ways you can address these challenges especially when it comes to maintaining healthy sleep habits. For example, if your toddler has already transitioned to a big kid bed, don’t be surprised if your little one starts waking up at 5am to start the day! A great way to encourage your toddler to stay in bed until it is time to wake is by utilizing a children’s clock that lets them know they are allowed to get out of bed. I am a big fan of the OK-to-Wake-Clock, which displays a smiley face at the time the child is allowed to get out of bed. A great way to reward the child for complying with the clock in the morning is to implement a reward chart. You can also include tasks such as brushing teeth, using the potty and complying with the OK-to-Wake Clock. With every task completed, the child gets a sticker. A day that has stickers awarded for every task gets a prize from the treasure box (you can fill this with dollar store items).
In short, while the toddler years can be challenging, there are many ways you can encourage your little one to be on good behavior at least some of the time when it comes to sleep. Often times, challenging behavior can be a result of a child being overtired which is why it is critical to be consistent with sticking to healthy sleep habits. At any age, also ensure you are sticking to age appropriate wake times as well to ensure your little one doesn’t become overtired! Remember that the longer you allow a child to prolong bedtime or nap time, the more a child misses out on precious sleep time. Staying consistent with your routine and habits by rewarding good behavior will ensure your little one remains a Rockstar sleeper for life.
In case you missed it, today we discussed how to set up and solve your toddlers bedtime challenges in detail in our Slumber Made Simple group. Be sure to check out the recording and get some sleep tonight! Sweet dreams!