Toddler Sleep Issues
Having a toddler around the house can be a lot of fun, and boy are they cute, but toddler-hood brings with it a special brand of sleep challenges. You may have had an excellent sleeping baby, but when they hit 18 months or 2 year things changed. They became extraordinarily skillful at finding ways to NOT get the rest they need. It can be very difficult to find the right way to address these challenges. You don’t want to encourage them. It’s important to ensure that they don’t become overtired (which causes even more sleep problems). Here I will discuss some of the most challenging toddler sleep issues and give you the best tips for handling them.
Children love to get their parents to come back into the room after bedtime. Whether it is for an extra drink, to go to the toilet, or due to fears. Children are master manipulators and they know what will get their parents back in the room and what won’t. If your child has already been to the toilet and had a drink, then you know that they will be fine. To conquer nightly curtain calls you can provide them with a pass card and let them know that they can hand that pass card in only once at night after bedtime and any other requests will be ignored. By doing this, your child will learn to use their pass card wisely and wait until they have a true need, though they may test it out for a few days first!
Many toddlers will go through a period where they express fear because of nightmares, monsters, or the darkness. This is especially common for children between 2 and 4 years old. Sometimes this can be genuine fear, but other times it can be more about getting interaction from mom and dad. If a child was a good sleeper previously, then any disturbed sleep caused by the fears should be short-lived.
The best thing parents can do is reassure their children that they are here for them during this period. A longer winding down bedtime routine can also help. Parents often hear suggestions of monster spray and things along these lines. I suggest that this is not the best route to go down as you may find you need to do bigger and more involved things as the nights go on to banish the monsters. Instead, ask your child what they think will help them feel less scared. This gives them back the power, and their answer just might surprise you.
Climbing out of the bed or crib
At some point, most parents will have to deal with their child getting out of bed or climbing out of the crib at night. If your child climbs out of the crib, I wouldn’t be in a rush to transition to a bed. You can first try addressing the behavior by turning the crib so the high side is facing outwards, put a sleep sack on backwards and respond with a sharp “no” every time they lift their leg over the crib. It is best to wait until at least 3 years old to transition to a big kid bed.
If your child is climbing out of bed at night and you want to put a stop to the not so fun nightly visits, you can first talk about the importance of sleep and the need to focus on trying to sleep when in bed. Then, with your child, draw up some sleep rules on a poster that they can hang up in their room. The rules can include things like: 1) staying in bed all night, 2) no talking and focusing on trying to fall asleep, and 3) only getting up when their toddler clock says they can, etc. This works well when done in conjunction with silently returning them to their room if they do get up. This shows that you are consistent and really mean those sleep rules.
Some toddlers will go through a period of time where they try to resist or delay bedtime. They can cause quite a ruckus during the process with crying, tantrums, and refusal to even start getting ready for bed. Parents dealing with this should first stop and think about their bedtime routine and timing. Are they giving their child time to prepare for bedtime? Some children will show resistance because they were having so much fun and are abruptly made to stop their play and go to bed. Warn your child that there is 5 or 10 minutes left before it is time to get ready for bed and set a timer.
Bedtime resistance can also happen when bedtime is at an irregular hour or too late. When a child gets too tired their behavior can change from the sweet, loving child you are used to into a cranky one who has a second wind and starts to fight bedtime.
If you have tried both tactics above, then try sitting down and talking with your toddler about the importance of sleep and the need to go to bed. Together, you can make a sleep rules poster to put up in their bedroom (mentioned earlier) and remind them each night of these rules. A rewards chart or incentive for following the sleep rules and not fighting bedtime can add an incentive to do the right thing.
Nap strikes are incredibly common, especially around the 2 year mark. Toddlers like to assert their independence, and choosing not to sleep is something they can control. This doesn’t mean that naps need to be over. In fact, it is best not to give up on naps until at least 3 years old.
To try and get your toddler napping again, the first thing you need to try is tightening up the nap schedule. If your toddler is napping too late, this may be making a difference. They may be getting over tired and be fighting sleep because of this. Try a nap time between 12:30 and 1 pm. Continue to offer naps no matter what. You can talk to your toddler about the importance of sleep and rest for their body. When you put them down for a nap, tell your toddler that they have to rest their body in their crib (or bed). Let them know it’s okay if they don’t actually sleep. Sometimes taking the pressure off can help your toddler start napping again.
This isn’t a definitive list of toddler sleep challenges by any means. However, my hope is that by reading this article you will have a good idea of the different methods you can use to tackle the sleep challenges your toddler throws your way. Here’s to getting them sleeping like a baby again!
Guest post by Mylee Zshech.
About the Author!
Mylee Zshech is a mom of two young boys. During the day she is a child sleep consultant and owner of Little Big Dreamers. She helps tired and stressed parents improve their child or baby’s sleep through extensive education, individualized sleep plans, and ongoing support. She also runs a free Facebook sleep group called Pediatric Sleep Info and Support. You can find her on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram!