For some toddlers, sleeping doesn't come easy. Things like crying out for mom, fear of the dark, and the need for one more sip of water can interfere with a good night's rest. Here are a few strategies to calm your child.
Reason: She doesn't want to go to sleep.
Solution: If your child is having difficulty staying in her bed, try an hour of quiet time before saying good night. Reading, snuggling, giving her a relaxing bath, or listening to lullabies can assist her with having a good night's sleep. If she continues the behavior, give her a "bedtime pass," suggests Greg Hanley, M.D., director of the Children's Sleep Program at Western New England University in Springfield, Massachusetts. Allow her to leave the bedroom, but only once a night, to ask for whatever is needed. It can take months to modify a behavior, so remember that consistency is key. For some children, the pass can replace the crying and calling out while still giving them a feeling of control. This pass, along with a security object like a pillow, stuffed animal, or blanket, can be helpful for your child, and she'll eventually outgrow the object on her own.
Reason: A lack of a consistent sleep routine or frequent late naps could be to blame.
Solution: A regular bedtime is ideal for transitioning from a busy day to restful sleep. A sudden change in your child's schedule, such as a late-afternoon nap or a night of staying up too late, can affect sleep. And sleep deprivation can enhance sleep issues. For toddlers who still take two naps, experts recommend a morning nap of about 45 minutes at around 10 a.m. Schedule the afternoon nap for around 1 p.m., for up to 2 hours. For toddlers who have adjusted to one nap, try filling the morning with activities and set naptime for after lunch, around 1:30 p.m., from up to two hours.
Reason: While a child's imagination is developing, she can invent faces in the dark and monsters under the bed.
Sleep Solution: Nightmares are common between the ages of 2 and 3. If a child is prone to these fears, avoid books or movies with scary themes close to bedtime. Make her bedtime routine as cheerful as possible, says psychologist Linda Blair in The Happy Child. Resist the temptation to tell your child that the fear doesn't exist. "If she is having a bad dream, tell her that it's 'gone' now. Don't, however, tell her the dream wasn't real, because to many preschoolers dreams do seem completely real," Blair says. Instead, "tell her there's no need to worry...Don't embellish with long explanations or distractions. Simply soothe and reassure, and as soon as she relaxes, say good night."
Reason: Your child doesn't want to be alone.
Sleep Solution: When your child is crying at night, or calling out for you to return to his bedroom, try setting a schedule of timed visits to the child's room rather than responding to every request. By following a schedule, whether it's every five minutes or another amount of time, your child will still have her needs met. In Sleep Solutions: Quiet Nights for You and Your Child from Birth to Five Years, author Rachel Waddilove recommends that parents begin with 5-minute increments and then extend the time to 7 minutes, and then 10. As long as nothing is wrong (such as illness or a wet diaper), a child will eventually self-soothe and fall asleep.
Reason: As toddlers grow, some wake up as soon as it's light, or even earlier, and they don't want to spend time alone.
Sleep Solution: "What time you get your toddler up will depend on what you need to do during the day. If you are at home with him and he isn't in a nursery early, he doesn't need to get up until 7 or 7:30 a.m.," Waddilove says. If a child begins waking early, explain to him that it is not time to get up yet. Some toddlers will go back to sleep; others may stay awake and play on their own before relaxing and falling asleep again. Each day, try to establish a sleep schedule that works for your family and optimize your child's room for alone time. For example, if your child wants to be awake, give him a few stuffed animals or a favorite picture book to look over in his own bed, and tell him you'll let him know when it's time to get up.