How to get your toddler to sleep better:
A complete Guide
Babies are such angels when they’re fast asleep. They have that slightly bemused expression, and you know you’ll do anything it takes to make sure they have everything they will ever want in that moment. Cut to a few months later when your baby is now a toddler, and that adorable gargle of words she’s learned are your undoing when they’re catapulted through the walls and vents to your ears at 2 at night.
12 to 36 year olds have it tough. They’re just beginning to walk, and they haven’t learned the full extent of their motor capabilities yet. Their mornings and evenings are still all over the place because their brains are still developing. But they’re certainly much more developed than babies, and so they have more needs as well.
Unfortunately, fulfilling those needs often has to come at odd hours at night. Your kid might just be feeling alone, or he could have had a terrible nightmare; there’s no way to tell through the wails and calls through the walls. It might be unavoidable to walk over to their room and check what’s up, but with a little smartness in your handling your kid, you can surely make those midnight visits to the crib less frequent.
What You’ll Need, As a Parent:
Parenting is hard work. Not just physically, with all the running around, getting things from rooms, cleaning things you didn’t know were so vulnerable and making sure there are no threats to your kid as she transcends natural boundaries, like when she first crawls up the stairs, or begins to get curious about what’s behind the TV, or wants to cozy up to a raccoon. It’s also emotionally draining. Your kid is cute, but there’s only so many “look mommy” you can reply with the same enthusiasm to. Getting a good night’s rest becomes important to be a good parent.
It might seem like becoming a bit selfish, but kids between 12 to 36 months are finally ready to learn being independent for basic things like eating, pooping and yes, sleeping. As used to you might be to feeding your son, when the time is right, he must learn to eat with a spoon, right? You need to harden your heart and make space for these few things when sleep training your toddler.
- You have to have an iron will. Our kids are our very hearts and it can be tough to say no, or ignore them crying out for us in the middle of the night. You have to believe it is for their own betterment.
- You need to know what is good for your child at this age and what isn’t. Walking the fine line between weak kneed mommy and tiger mommy is tough, and you need to know when you need to indulge your baby’s needs and when to say a firm no.
- You’re also going to need your doctor on your side. A horde of mommy blogs aren’t half as good as what a pediatrician can tell you about your child’s needs as a growing human being. Personal anecdotes and traditional cures are fine, but a doctor’s advice should always trump whatever you hear from around you.
First, let’s cover the preliminaries of your baby’s sleep.
The essentials of a toddler’s bedroom
There’s quite a lot to give thought to. Let’s cover them one by one.
- The location of your child’s bed is important. The number one factor that disturbs the sleep of babies is noise. Locating the bed away from the television is a no brainer, but you also must factor in noise you might be trained to overlook, like traffic, the ticking of clocks or any machines you leave on through the night. They might be waking up your toddler at night, and then he needs a snack, a cuddle or just your attention and reassurance to fall back asleep. You may benefit by shifting them to a room that’s away from the busy street.
- The surface they sleep on has to be comfortable and also easy to clean. There are going to be accidents at night, and they shouldn’t be lying to sleep on a dirty mattress the next evening. Ask your pediatrician about proper spinal posture and find best mattresses for kids to take care of it. You can clean moisture from a mattress by sprinkling baking soda over the mattress when it’s been dabbed dry, leave it for a few hours and then vacuuming it.
- Take care of lights as well. Some toddlers may feel reassured by a light in the hallway kept on with the door slightly ajar. But younger children may not experience deep sleep with lights on. A cranky or agitated child might benefit if you use thick blinds on the curtains, close all lights and take care he’s not disturbed.
- The temperature and ambience matters just as much. Children are usually comfortable at the same temperature ranges as you. Your child may be able to tell you if they feel cold or hot at night either when they wake you up or later. If they can’t speak yet, you can look for whether they kick the blankets off or draw themselves further in. If they sleep in a room that’s too cold, they’ll be getting up to pee quite often or wetting the bed, and might also catch a cold. If the room is too hot, they’ll be waking you up to get a drink of water.
The preliminaries of ensuring your kid’s sleep always have to do with physical elements like we just mentioned. But beyond these, there are things that fall in the emotional realm and are much tougher to control, but easily addressed with patience and good old fashioned love. Let’s get to discussing some of them.
How to put a toddler to sleep
Babies are somewhat easier to put to sleep. When they’re tired, many just begin to drift into sleep right where they are. They’ll get cranky and you’ll be checking if they’re hungry, have a soiled diaper or just want to play, but with time you learn other signs they show when they’re tired and it get easier in some months.
Those signs are beginnings of a sort of bed time ritual. The remainder of those rituals is for your choosing. By the time your kid is a toddler, she has some ability to understand what you’re saying, if not being able to speak a little herself. This allows you to set a new bedtime ritual. Some prefer to cultivate the habit of bedtime prayer at this age, others teach things like putting the toys to sleep so they know it is time for them to sleep as well.
The toddler is different from the baby because she is aware of what happens around her in more detail. She knows you leave when she’s comfortable, because when she wakes up unexpectedly, you’re not near. She knows the lights outside the window don’t all stay bright. And that you too take time to respond to her calls. Step into a one year old’s shoes and you know that’s scary. Bedtime rituals are a time for reassurance.
Hold your child close, give them hugs and kisses and assure them that you’re around the corner if they call you. Children with active imaginations will tell you they see monsters around the room. A common trick parent’s employ is flicking droplets of water in corners and calling it monster poison, which is a harmless way of making your toddler feel safe.
If your child is too active at bedtime, you need to work on making things less exciting for them from an hour before. Switch off the TV and take away the iPhones and iPads and any other source of wonder. Spend time with them in relaxed and comfortable surroundings, and it’ll give them time to dial out and seek the comfort of the mattress eventually.
How to respond to calls at midnight
Your toddler has just learned he can stay safe in a dark room. But he’s bound to lose faith and want his mommy by his side. In the first few months, it is OK to go to their room and reassure them. But it takes a toll on the parent’s sleep. It is a sacrifice to make gladly during the first few months. Calls at night should be infrequent with time.
There can be toddlers who have trouble with this, however. And there is no solution for it but to gently and slowly condition your child to sleep without you. Take 5 minutes to respond to the kid for a week, then crank it up to ten, and going this way, at some point, your child will realise it is just too much effort to call out to you and will learn to fall asleep on their own.
This doesn’t mean you should be callous. Not that any parent would. There might be a genuine emergency or a situation the child hasn’t faced often before. But before bursting into the room with concern, take a moment or two to stand out of their sight and see what is bothering them. Respond in person only if there is genuine need.
How to respond if your toddler is afraid of the dark
There is no better way to deal with your kid’s overactive imagination than discussing with them what the many things they’re afraid they see with the lights off might be. Kids capable of speech and understanding at this point will often get that the figures they’re scared of are just towels, branches and toys.
It is not fair to expect the toddler to understand, however. They’re toddlers, after all. Pre bed rituals can come in handy in such situations. Reassure your toddler any way they feel safe, or make up your own ritual, telling them doing that will keep monsters at bay.
At other times, being afraid of the dark might be a call for attention. If this is the case, and talking and reassuring the kid doesn’t work, you have to be a little firm. Tell them they’re only going to get one more hug and a good night kiss, and if they return to your bedside, drop them off with a gentle but firm good night.
You can also bribe them by promising their favorite foods if they spend the night on their own. It will incentivise independence and facing their fears, both of which are great qualitites to have.
But, my son is crying!
Toddlers are bound to cry when they’re in discomfort. It might wrench your heart as a parent, but keeping a strong heart was part of the deal when you signed up to be a parent. It might not have been a literal contract, but trust me, developing a strong heart is going to help you in the future when your little bird finds their wings and sets out in the open sky to live their life.
What you’re going through is something of a rite of passage for a parent. It isn’t meant to be as fun as your 18th birthday party. But it is worth every minute of misery, and your kid will be sleeping independently in no time.
If you cannot, it is ok to give in to your softer tendencies once in a while and go and tend to your toddler. That’s part of the parent’s job too.
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