“It’s BEDTIME!” Hearing these little words can push any toddler into a meltdown. It can cause much stress and frustration for so many parents of toddlers. Anyone who has parented toddlers knows that they are smart and determined to do things their own way. It's also possible your toddler may be experiencing sleep regression.
"My toddler loved going to her cot to sleep as a young baby and a young toddler," says Lisa Lamb, Mother Fit Sleep Consultant. "However when she turned two years old, the transition to bedtime become difficult, my toddler found a voice and decided she didn’t want to go to bed anymore!"
If you're in need of some advice, Lisa shares her top tips for how to get your toddler to sleep in their own bed.
Consistency is crucial
Toddlers are born boundary pushers. Give them an inch and they will take a mile… They cannot remember rules however, they learn through repetition. This is why it is so important to keep the bedtime routine the same every night. You can create a bedtime chart to help your toddler understand the steps in their bedtime routine. You can use stickers which your toddler can use to tick off each step. This helps them understand that the "bedtime step" has been completed and now it's time to move on to the next step in their routine.
If you have a toddler who struggles to move on to the next step, you can use a timer or the alarm on your phone. This helps your toddler understand that part of the routine has finished.
Here is a bedtime routine with rough times example:
Bath – 5-10 minutes
Brush teeth/toilet – 5 minutes
PJs – 5 minutes
Story/cuddles/quiet game – 10-15 minutes
Now the bedtime routine is over, it's time for your little one to get into bed. If your toddler is happy to get into bed and for you to leave, then great! Continue to do that. However, once a toddler knows that they can get out of bed, it's game on. It then becomes a battle between parent and child, with victory going to whoever has the most stamina (we all know who wins here).
With all children, when it comes to going to sleep, it's about making them feel safe and secure in their sleep environment. Rather than trying to leave the room and having that battle, stay with your toddler. Grab a chair or cushion that doesn't belong in their room. Place this by your toddler's bed and say: "If you lay quietly in bed, I will stay with you until you fall asleep".
On the first few nights, your toddler might push back on the new sleep rules. If they are not laying nicely, say to your toddler: "Lay down quietly, otherwise mummy/daddy will leave". That is your first warning to your toddler. They love boundaries as it helps them feel safe and learn what's expected from them. When we are inconsistent with the boundaries, this is when we will have toddler meltdowns.
If you have given your first warning and your toddler is still jumping on the bed, repeat: "Mummy/Daddy are leaving the room, you are not laying down quietly". Walk out of the room. If your toddler follows you, take them back into bed. Sit back on your chair or cushion and repeat: "Lay down quietly and Mummy/Daddy will stay". However, if your toddler doesn’t follow you, wait outside the room for 30-60 seconds then come back into the room, sit back down on your chair or cushion, and repeat "Lay down quietly and Mummy/Daddy will stay”.
On the first couple of nights, you could leave the room easily 20 times. But I promise you, within the first week you won’t need to leave the room anymore. Your toddler will be calm and happy that you are staying with them. Once things have settled down, you can start moving slowly towards getting out of the room. Move your chair or cushion every three-five days towards the door, gradually.
If you want to, you can offer a small reward to your toddler in the morning if they went to bed nicely, but this is your. personal choice.
Tackle nighttime wake-ups
The part we all find the hardest is when toddlers are waking up during the night. They then proceed to get out of bed and shout "MUMMY/DADDY!". If your toddler is calling for you, I suggest you respond straight away. If your toddler has gotten out of bed, bring them back to bed and repeat the same steps you did at bedtime.
Remember to slowly move out of the room every three-five days. You can always grab yourself a pillow and duvet if you are in there for a while. A camping sleep method is great for this age. Remember, toddlers need to feel safe and secure in their sleep environment. If you don’t want to camp out, then stay with your toddler until they have fallen back to sleep, and then you can head back to bed.
Unfortunately, there is no quick fix when it comes to our children’s sleep. This age can take time, in my experience it can take around two-four weeks to see consistent changes. Consistency is key - if you stick to the sleep rules, your toddler will learn to understand what it is that you expect from them. Toddlers learn through repetition.
Consider a sleep clock
Invest in a sleep clock. There are lots to choose from and not only has this helped my own child to stay in her bed until morning time, but it has also helped many of my toddler clients as well.
Create sleep rules
What is it that you expect of your toddler? Why not create some visual sleep rules? Just be sure to keep them simple. Display them in your toddler's room so they can see what it is they need to learn.
Some examples of sleep rules I create with my families include:
1 – Going to bed nicely
2 – Lay in bed quietly
3 – Sleep in your own bed
4 – Wait for your clock to say it is morning time
I would also suggest breaking down the sleep goals, for example, I always start off with:
Goal 1 – Going to bed nicely
Goal 2 – Stay in your bed all night - teaching your toddler to call for you rather than getting out of their bed
Goal 3 – Waiting for their clock to come on to say it is morning time – set the clock at a realistic time. Once their clock has come on, they can get out of bed.
Getting your toddler to sleep and creating a smooth bedtime transition is difficult. It is not an overnight solution, it takes time to establish healthy sleep habits so stick with it!