Are you pulling your hair out at bed time and through the night with your toddler? There’s so much emphasis on babies and their lack of sleep but what about when they’re a little older, can tell you what they want and also get out of their bed when they choose?! Here are some issues that local child sleep consultant Chantal Cohen frequently sees families with toddlers facing and some quick tips to help them go to sleep and stay there all night.
Most parents know this one! Delay tactics at bedtime can be a huge issue and make bed time a stressful and exhausting experience for all involved. It’s important to tell your little one your expectations for bed time and put limits on bedtime activities such as book reading. Often children delay bed time by requesting at least 10 books. I think 2-3 is a good number, and you should offer a warning before you read the last book so they know what is happening.
Often parents are asked for more food, milk, water, to hold hands, scratch backs and lay with them… and there are many more inventive ones that I have come across! It is important to ensure your child has covered all these possibilities and things they may need BEFORE they get into bed for sleep. I usually recommend at least one extra toilet stop if asked by your child for those who are toilet trained at night, and then I tend to put it down to delaying the inevitable, and ignore it.
Provide a warning as you offer these things and let them know that no matter how much they ask, there is no more once in bed, and then hold firm. Bedtime rituals are important so that the bedtime process is reassuring, relaxing and predictable for your child.
Getting out of bed or climbing out of the cot
Repeatedly climbing out of bed is another tricky and tiring bedtime issue that can be faced once your toddler is in a big bed. Using a tall baby gate and ensuring the room is safe if they are out of their bed is one solution I often suggest. Another is to place them back in their bed each time they attempt to leave their bed. Having the gate means that if they wake through the night then at least they are safe in their room and you can also get to them quickly and place them back into their bed before it becomes a big game of chase.
Climbing out of cots can be a dangerous and annoying milestone! Not all children do it but some can do it from a very young age. Once they can do it a few times, then it is unsafe and they need to go into a toddler bed to avoid injury. Check that the cot base cannot be lowered any further and remove any bedding or stuffed toys they may be standing on to get a leg up. Often a sleep bag (without legs) can ensure they are unable to climb over the side of the cot.
We also need to look at how busy life is and then ensure that our children have adequate wind down and quiet time in the evening before bed. We often expect children to go straight to sleep as it’s bedtime and they appear tired, so they should sleep right? Unfortunately this is not always the case; life is so busy and there are so many stimulants such as technology, siblings and general activities that we tend to do during the day.
Turning off technology half an hour before bed, dimming lights, and having cuddle time and quiet play are all great ways to encourage your child to relax and become ready for bed. Quiet time with you in their room also provides a wonderful opportunity to connect after a long day at work – you can read books together, cuddle and chat about the day that was. This prepares them well for bedtime.
The middle of the night eyeball
Parents finding their child eyeballing them in the middle of the night is a common issue. They want to climb into your bed, have you join them in theirs or get them milk or some food. It can be slightly disconcerting to wake up this way, but it can also be hard to get out of your nice warm bed! So, often they get to come into bed with you – but this simply rewards them for their negative behaviour. Harsh but true. This will then happen more and more, and become earlier and earlier in the night. A tall baby gate should help them stay in their room and ensure that they call out rather than leave their room. You can then respond quickly and put them back into bed if needed and offer a quick reassurance.
Taking forever to go to sleep
Taking an hour or more to fall asleep at bed time turns bed time into an unpleasant part of the day. Often when this happens we need to look at how long they’re napping during the day and also when they woke up and when bed time is. It may be that they need to drop their nap, reduce how long they’re sleeping for, adjust what time they wake up or stretch bed time out.
Bed time should be the best part of the day; a chance for parents and children to reflect on the day while they smell their child’s clean hair and enjoy cuddles. Hopefully these tips help you in your quest for that zen bed time! More information about Chantal’s sleep services can be found at www.chantalcohen.com.au