Twenty ways to help get your toddler to sleep
1. Do not be tempted to use bed or bedtime as a punishment. This will only reinforce the message that bed and bedtime is a separation from loved ones and fun. Do not even suggest this indirectly by saying, “You must be tired or you would not be so cranky”.
2. Leaving children’s bedroom doors open at night may help ease the separation from parents and give them a means of communicating with you
3. Many children are afraid of the dark. A small light or a dimmer switch will combat this fear.
4. Encourage children to make their bedroom into a mini-home which they can fill with their own possessions. Hopefully this will make it into a place they are keen to return to nightly.
5. Make their beds as attractive as possible because this will entice them to get to bed. Pretty duvets and pyjamas or nightdresses are well worth buying because they will make bedtime more pleasant.
6. A music box or radio will provide friendly noise. Many children find silence threatening.
7. Most children have special bed toys or comforters. It may be a battered teddybear or a favourite half chewed blanket. Be sure to give these pride of place and if possible, have replacement ones, so you will not have to go on a massive hunt for them before bedtime.
8. A fifth of children aged one to three years refuse to settle into bed or wake up repeatedly during the night. Some sleep specialists say the main reason for children not sleeping well at night is that they’ve developed bad habits. They expect a parent to come in at night and give a drink, snack or cuddle. So, they wake in anticipation of this treat. Parents must change this pattern and sleep association if they want their child to develop a good sleeping system.
Think clearly in the daytime the plan of action you intend to put into force at night when the child wakes. The aim is to allow your child to settle back to sleep. Do not start routines which take hours or you will be up all night. Set a pleasant but unalterable bedtime routine, suggest experts.
9. Many children have nightmares. Surveys say these tend to be about monsters, wild animals or spiders. Some of these stem from stories they have heard or television programmes. Be careful about the programmes they watch, especially in the run up to bedtime. Children who wake up at night terrified, should be gently reassured before being put back to sleep in their own beds. Experts say if you bring them into your own bed when they wake up you are unconsciously rewarding them and they may keep up this behaviour. Parents should only reward the behaviour they want to persist as children may exploit situations.
10. Most children spend half their time in bed. It should therefore be kept bright, cheerful and attractive. An untidy cluttered room is not conducive to sleep or rest. Pre-school children will not keep their rooms tidy themselves so you will have to roll up your sleeves and clean-up. Childcare expert Dr Penelope Leach says the child’s bed should be the centrepiece. She strongly advises against using bunk beds unless space is really tight because one of the children will invariably feel hard done by because the other has got the best bed!
11. Set firm guidelines about bedtime. Decide an age-appropriate time for sleep and abide by it. Children will find this more comforting (ignore the protests) than a chaotic set-up whereby they go to bed at different times every night.
12. Some parents find playing soothing music helps their children settle down.
13. If you are a two-parent family be sure to back each other up regarding bedtime rules. Children, even toddlers, will exploit situations.
14. If your child is a bad sleeper and you are beginning to despair, set yourself small manageable targets. One of those could be getting your child to bed by a particular time. Wait for success at each stage before moving on to the next goal.
15. Try to avoid making a big deal about not sleeping. Sometimes the more you draw attention to an issue the bigger it becomes. Avoid having discussions with a sleepless child in the middle of the night about why s/he is still awake, otherwise you both will end up fully awake and cranky. Grab whatever sleep you can get.
16. Try to be consistent. Persevere for at least four nights with a particular approach before deciding it does not work. You will usually find that change will take place if you are firm and consistent. Always reward the behaviour you want to persist.
17. Have faith in yourself. Follow your instincts and develop your own strategy to beat the bedtime blues. Remember, most children wake or half-wake a few times each night.
18. Accept that each child is unique and some require less sleep than others. Your aim is to have them settled at night.
19. Try to remain relaxed even though that may be easier said than done. The more stressed you get the less chance you have of finding a solution and the easier it is to get locked in a war of wills with your child.
20. Create a bedtime ritual. This should be a wind-down period to enable your children to relax and get in the mood for sleep. Begin it about 45 minutes to an hour before you want to get them to lie down. A bath followed by a warm milky drink may help. Create a sense of closeness by reading a story for them, allow them say goodnight to their favourite toys, talk about the day’s events or recall happy memories. Tell them you love them.