In the past few weeks, I’ve been hearing a lot from parents who ask me the secret to keeping their toddler or child in their bed all night.
Usually, the toddlers take forever to fall asleep, and either mom or dad has to lay down with them or else there are endless tears. Sometimes, it’s taking one or two hours for them to fall asleep. And very often, they are awake just a couple hours later, either needing to repeat their bedtime routine, or climbing right into bed with their parents.
These parents have shared that their sleep challenges may have started when they moved their toddler into a big kid bed, or when a new sibling arrived, or maybe they started co-sleeping when he was a baby.
But all of these parents have one thing in common: their child isn’t sleeping well, and they are all ready for a change.
If this sounds like you, I’m sure you are exhausted. You aren’t getting enough sleep because your nights are fragmented, you are frustrated because you have to be the one to do bedtime routine every night or your child is a stall tactic master, asking for another glass of water or another trip to the potty. You’ve probably tried a ton of different things, but nothing is working.
Here’s the thing: it doesn’t have to be this way. You CAN make a change in your child’s sleep!
So What’s the Secret?
I hate to break it to you… but when working with toddlers, there isn’t a one size fits all, magic approach that will instantly solve your problems. Anyone that told you that giving them melatonin, or trying a weighted blanket, or moving them into a toddler or adult bed is unfortunately misleading you. These things might work for a short period of time, but they are kind of like a band-aid: the behavior is still there, and when the novelty wears off, you’ll be right back where you started.
Toddlers need several things in order to change any behavior, and yes, this absolutely includes changing their habits around sleep, too. They need consistency, firm boundaries, and a quick response when your expectations are not met.
Keep reading, and I’ll explain what I mean by these things, and how to make some lasting changes for your toddler’s sleep.
#1: Firm Boundaries
The more clear and consistent you can be around your expectations, the easier it is for your child to understand how to achieve them.
For example, having a consistent bed time and bedtime routine are huge. These signals tell your toddler it’s time to go to bed, and it’s hard to argue or stall when bedtime occurs at the same time every night.
On the other hand, it’s confusing to a toddler when sometimes it’s ok for them to sleep in your bed, but other nights you want them to sleep in theirs. Your toddler doesn’t understand that some nights you might want to watch Netflix or have a glass of wine downstairs, but other nights it’s ok for them to fall asleep in your lap. Having one consistent place to sleep is very important, especially if you want that place to be in their own bed.
#2: Avoid Giving Attention to Non-Ideal Behaviors
What you give your attention to, you reinforce.
If that’s a good behavior, like going pee ON the potty, then praise can go a long way in motivating your child to keep going potty.
But the same thing is true for behaviors you don’t want your toddler to repeat, like waking up and crawling into bed with you in the middle of the night. Even if you get mad and storm your child back into his room, you are reinforcing the behavior because your toddler is getting attention. Even negative attention can still be rewarding to a toddler. If this were to happen, then the best way to handle it is by returning your toddler to their bed, without any emotion.
And if you happen to have an early riser, allowing them to get up for the day at 5am only reinforces the behavior. You could try getting an OK to Wake clock (at our house, we use the Hatch Rest- and no, that’s not an affiliate reference). Your clock might turn green when it’s time for your toddler to wake up, or it might be a digital number like 7:00. Before that time, it’s important to train your toddler to treat it like nighttime, and quietly lay in bed trying to sleep. Then, when it’s time to get up, is when you go in and get them up for the day.
You might be doing both of the things above, but still not seeing any progress with your child’s sleep. Which is why this one might be the most important of all.
Having consequences for any action that isn’t ideal is a way to firm up those boundaries and share your expectations with your toddler.
I’m not talking about physical punishment here, so don’t get all upset on me. And I believe that toddlers, who are still learning right from wrong, should be given one warning and have the opportunity to make the right choice.
But if your toddler is repeating those actions, and it’s cutting into their sleep- and yours- then it might be time to instill a consequence.
A consequence can be anything that is unpleasant to your child. Since every child is unique, it’s hard for me to prescribe a one-size-fits-all approach here, and you know your child best. Choose something that matters to them, but at the same time, balance that with avoiding things that will make them scared or angry.
Expect that this consequence will probably upset your child in the short run, and there might be some tears that accompany this action. However, if you stay true to your consistent routine and your expectations, you should begin to see progress in just a few days.
It’s So Worth It
While it may be tough in the short term to deal with your toddler’s tantrums or multiple middle of the night wakings, making some changes to your current routine will be so worth it in the long run.
Imagine your child, looking forward to falling asleep peacefully in their own bed at bedtime, while you get to spend some adult time, maybe with your partner or enjoying a nice glass of wine.
And then visualize them staying asleep and in their bed the whole night, while you get to stretch out in your own bed and enjoy a restful night of sleep yourself.
The results of sleep training are so worth the work it takes in the first little bit of any sleep plan.
With that, I wish you the best of luck, and I hope you have found this post to be helpful. If you have any questions about the suggestions posted above, or feel like your family could benefit from a straight-forward, step-by-step action plan with sleep strategies proven to work, then I encourage you to reach out.
Here’s a link to schedule a no-obligation, free discovery call with me to learn more: www.beewisesleepconsulting/schedule.
Sleep well, you deserve it!