Your restless toddler is the offending party, but no amount of cosmic ordering will stop him pulling an all-nighter. Luckily, there are others ways to get through eight hours uninterrupted
Your toddler is finally in bed and you’ve collapsed gratefully onto the sofa. Then you hear a pitter-patter and a little face appears. He’s scared. He wants water. He needs a trip to the loo... Toddlers seem to have an in-built need to test the boundaries at bedtime. If he’s not well, it’s understandable. However, if there’s nothing wrong and he’s still not playing ball – either by refusing to go to sleep or waking up the whole house at the crack of dawn – it’s exhausting for everyone. But, however strict your bedtime routine (or stubborn you think your toddler is), you can teach him to play by your rules with our mantras for tired mums. Repeat after us: ‘I am the boss of the bedroom…’
1. Don’t let him get overtired
When a toddler gets overtired, he goes past the point of falling asleep and enters the badlands of fatigue-crazed hyperactivity. This leads to poor quality sleep, making him more prone to waking early. ‘If your toddler has sleeping issues at night, look at how much rest he’s getting during the day,’ says sleep expert Tina Southwood. ‘Most toddlers need around two hours of naptime during the day, until they’re around 30 months old. If possible, put him down just after lunch, so he’s not overtired at bedtime.’
Your action plan: Respond to the signs that your toddler is tired. If he’s whining, rubbing his face, turning away or twiddling his hair, whisk him off for a lie-down. ‘Some toddlers really fight their need to nap,’ says Kim West, family therapist and author of Good Night, Sleep Tight (£8.99, Piatkus). ‘Try walking him in his buggy or driving him in the car. Motion sleep is better than no sleep.’ If your child is overtired by the evening, bring bedtime forward.
2. Don’t make the ‘big bed’ move too soon
Waiting to move your toddler from a cot into a proper bed until he’s at least two and a half means he’ll truly understand the words, ‘Stay in your bed’ (even if he ignores them at first). He’ll also have more impulse control. It’s wise to expect a bit of mischief when a toddler makes the transition but, if you try when he’s too young, it often proves tricky – and he may want to start sleeping in your bed.
Your action plan: The very first time your child gets up, don’t respond in anger. Instead, react with genuine wide-eyed astonishment. Try saying, “What are you doing there?” This will teach him he’s not meant to be out of bed, but it won’t upset him, which inhibits sleep. And, if your toddler is persistent, try gently and calmly (but firmly) putting him back in his bed. If you make it a quiet, unemotional procedure, he’ll soon get bored of trying it on.
'The very first time your child gets up, don’t respond in anger. Instead, react with genuine wide-eyed astonishment.'
3. Schedule in toddler time
If a toddler doesn’t get enough attention during the day, he’ll sometimes ask for it at night. So, if you’re being woken at crazy o’clock when you’ve been out at work all day, this could be why.
Your action plan: Give your child 20 minutes of undivided attention daily, when they get to choose what you do together. ‘Giving that time totally to your child – no TV, no mobile – will make him feel secure in his relationship with you,’ says Kim. ‘That security will help him rest better.’
4. Stay one step ahead
Asking for something is a classic toddler technique for stalling at bedtime. A drink, a banana, a missing teddy – these all take time. But, if you’ve thought of them in advance, you can save yourself a lot of hassle.
Your action plan: ‘Consider all the things your toddler is prone to asking for before bed,’ says Tina. ‘Make sure he’s not hungry. Give him a clean nappy or a final trip to the loo. And prepare for everything he might ask for – water, toys and extra cuddles.’ Otherwise known as beating him at his own game.
5. Trust your instincts
You know your child better than anyone. If he starts playing up at bedtime, you’re the person who’s best able to tell if there’s really something wrong, such as an ear infection or illness, or if he’s just testing out your boundaries.
Your action plan: If you’re positive you’re witnessing a bedtime-avoidance technique, you need to stick calmly, kindly and firmly to your child’s usual bedtime routine. ‘Tell him in advance what to expect,’ says Tina. ‘For instance, “One more cuddle, then I’m putting you in your cot.”’ Toddlers often go through a second stage of separation anxiety at around the age of two. If this is happening, try telling your toddler you’ll leave his bedroom door open so he can hear you. Knowing you’re close will reassure him.
More more on getting your little one to bed, follow our straight-to-sleep guide. Do you have any tips for putting your toddler to sleep? Share them in the comments box below.