Rock-A-Bye…Toddler? It’s no joke. Trying to get your toddler to sleep can be more terrible than your worst nightmare.
You hear all about how challenging it can be to get babies to sleep. There are literally hundreds of books on this subject. (I’ve read several of them.) However, what you DON’T read too much about is how to get your toddler into a good bedtime routine. Do you know why?
Toddlers are mini-teenagers. Or as my friend Darlene calls them, toddler-monsters.
Think about it: teenagers prance around wailing that life is JUST. NOT. FAAAAAIR!!! They fling their arms in the air and slam doors and throw themselves on their bed whenever they don’t get their way. They rebel, and do so often.
Now, replace the word “teenager” in that last paragraph with “toddler” and you’ll see what I mean: Deep down, toddlers are simply teenagers with more limited vocabularies and verbal skills. As their little brains change and take in more and more of the world, they often regress when it comes to sleep.
I’m betting you got your toddler through their first year and beyond with World’s Best Bedtime Routine, one that worked every single time. Yet here you are, pacing the floor and pulling your hair out, because instead of sleeping, your two-year-old is demanding a fourth round of snuggling.
Something’s gotta give. But how do you get your toddler to sleep, for the sake of the whole family?
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Wind Down Early
While you can’t abruptly stop a toddler’s ferocious spirit, you can slow them down. The few hours leading up to bedtime should be calm. This is not the time to do a toddler-and-parent exercise class, or squeeze in errands with your toddler in tow (tempting though it may be). You’ll be better off in the long run if your toddler spends the last few hours before bedtime playing quietly or reading with you.
Invest in Good Bedding
Think carefully about your toddler’s bedding. If they’re still in a crib, for goodness sake get them out of there already! After jumping up and down on that crib mattress, toddlers need a new, better place to sleep that’s more appropriate for their big-kid status, and not all worn out and saggy.
Click here to learn more about what mattresses will give your toddler the best night’s sleep. And don’t forget about their bedding. Your toddler is old enough to have a pillow and blankets. This means they’re old enough to have an opinion on which comforter they like best. Sometimes, something as simple as giving them a say in what “big-kid” bedding you buy can help them stay in bed!
Fine-tune the rest of their sleep environment, if needed
So you’ve ditched the crib and invested in a decent mattress for your big kid. Good – but what else may need “fixing” to help them sleep better? Maybe there are too many toys in their room. Maybe it’s too bright, or too dark. Or maybe outside lights or noises are affecting their sleep quality.
Whatever it is, chances are good you can fix it. See this post for a more comprehensive checklist of environmental factors I’ve had to tweak to make sure my own family gets a good night’s sleep. Also see this post for a few more all-natural solutions that could help your toddler sleep better.
Nail That Routine
Having a good bedtime routine is essential for most babies, but this doesn’t change just because they grow into toddlers. Routine is the best thing that you can give your toddler.
Also keep in mind that you might need to change up the routine from what you used when your toddler was a baby. For example, your baby may have nursed or taken a bottle before bed, but your toddler is long since weaned. If your toddler is cranky a few hours after dinnertime and whining about being “hungry,” maybe swapping in a warm glass of milk for that last bottle- or breast-feeding of the day will do the trick.
Be Consistent and Avoid Overtiredness
Once you’ve nailed The Bedtime Routine, Toddler Edition, make sure you keep it consistent. And look through the last few hours of their day while you’re at it. A slow, consistent evening schedule for the last few hours before bed is the best way to help switch your toddler off. Starting their nightly routine five minutes before bedtime and then trying to get them to go right to sleep won’t work. Nor will messing with their sleep schedules, by not being consistent about when they wake up, when they go to bed, and (if you’re luckier than we were about getting your toddlers to keep up their naps) what time they nap.
The price you’ll pay for NOT being consistent about these things is a cranky toddler who’s overtired. You’ll know your toddler-monster is short on sleep when the meltdowns happen every other minute, and they just can’t get out of their own way. When your toddler is overtired, stress hormones and adrenaline kick in. As someone who’s been there, trust me – you want to avoid this at all costs.
Make Sure They Get Their Workout
Are they tired of the toys in your front yard? Take them to a park. Too hot to play outside? Take them to a splash pad or public wading pool. Too wet or cold to be outside? Find them an indoor play space to run around in. The important thing is that they get their wiggles out during the daytime, so they don’t have a store of pent-up energy at bedtime that will keep them awake.
Toddlers are cuddly little monsters. They need sleep. They want sleep. But don’t be surprised if they put up a fight anyway. Keep it calm, keep it warm, and you’ll get them there.