There’s a good chance you’ve noticed that almost all toddler sleep problems have something to do with their routine. Whether it’s their routine of awakening early, being rewarded for being out of bed, or fighting naps.
Your child needs routine.
What you want to do is to look at your journal and determine what you need to create a successful sleep plan for them. This post is dedicated to the information you need to do just that.
While you might be inclined to let your child dictate their schedule, especially if they have such an obvious one (look at your sleep journal), you need to anticipate the tired times rather than cater to them. Allowing your child to reach the stage of being tired while still being active, and stimulated means they may be tired but not able to sleep.
If they continue to be active the brain releases cortisol. This hormone acts like adrenaline and caffeine and will keep them awake.
Time your sleep plan based on when they start to get tired and not when they are already tired. If you’ve been thorough with your journal, you’ll notice certain symptoms in a tired child that should signal sleep time is imminent.
- Resistance to eye contact.
- Lack of interest or interaction.
- A glazed look.
- Zoned out behavior.
Note when these start to occur and plan bedtime for 15-30 minutes beforehand so that they are already in bed or getting to bed at the optimum time. On your schedule create a time that is “bedtime” and then count 11 hours forward to “wake up”.
You can also mark this on a non-digital clock in their room in colors (green for awake, red for sleep time), make sure the hands are clear enough for the child to understand or consider the color changing alarm clock previously mentioned.
A toddler needs to sleep about 11 hours, and while it may not be convenient for you that they stay up/wake up at certain times, you need to balance that 11 hours with your 8. While there’s about a 30-minute window either way for most children, you need to be able to schedule that time on your sleep plan.
Once you’ve tackled nighttime issues so that they’re sleeping through the night, this is going to be the next step so try and fit their naps and bedtime into that schedule already, and you won’t need to cause any adjustment or upheaval once that time comes.
Make sure you don’t let the child sleep more than 12 hours as this will often mean they don’t have enough time to get tired again for a nap and may cause you to skip it.
Make a Sleep Book
Kids love story time and picture books, especially visual children. Even if you’re no artist stick figures can be enough to explain the process they are about to go through.
Ask them to help color in the pictures or draw themselves doing the actions needed in the plan. This will help to teach them the process in a way that they can see themselves doing the actions and going to sleep.
Make sure you use their name often in the book, so they know that the book relates to them. You can read this as a story book to them during their nightly routine to help familiarize them with the process and make changes less sudden.
Have the Child Pick their Transition Item
By including the child in the process, you’re ensuring they don’t hate the item and refuse to use it. I hated bears as a child, didn’t want them near me which is why the blanket my mother made was so ideal.
Potential transition items to replace you need to be acceptable for bed-time and not something stimulating they can play with. Consider a bear to “replace” Mommy (obviously use a better term such as “reminds you of”) that they can sleep with or a special blanket. It’s important to offer your child choices, so they feel they have some element of control in the process.
Potential Problems with this include the fact that blankets and stuffed toys may cause a risk of suffocation or choking. You want a blanket that is breathable (you can cover your face with it and still breathe through it) and is no more than 12” square so they cannot become trapped or tangled in it.
There’s no guarantee that any item in their sleep area is safe so use these with caution. If your child needs a pacifier to sleep and awakens when they can’t find it you may need to add a few spares into their sleep area.
Place them in a bowl beside the bed or close by in the crib if they are capable of reinserting them themselves. If your child is dependent on you to reinsert it, then it can become a sleep association that if they cry, you’ll come to do that.
Now that you’ve identified potential problems that may be causing your problems, you also need to identify your child’s delay tactics. While you know they throw tantrums; you may not have noticed that they also ask for water or use you as a sleep aid.
Look at your sleep journal and make sure you are aware of all of the problems that your child exhibits so that you don’t tackle one without addressing the other. On your sleep planner write their typical tactics to avoid sleep.
You can also create a chart in their bedroom then explain that if he or she goes to bed without a tantrum, they will get a sticker. Or if they go to bed on time they get their favorite breakfast etc.
Identifying all of their tactics is a great way to “know your enemy” better than they know themselves as most children prefer positive reinforcement methods and will realize quickly that they aren’t getting their way.
Writing the Plan/Before “Go” time
By now you should have plenty of information on your child’s sleeping habits to know what to include in your plan for a successful schedule. A good plan takes all these important elements into account plus anything specific to your child:
- Daytime Naps/Enough playtime to be tired.
- Winding down time (60mins) before bedtime.
- Anticipating needs/wants before reaching bedtime (list them if necessary).
- Reinforcement with the sleep book & inclusion of child in pre-planning.
- Making sure all caregivers are on board/have copies and that they are nearby for reference at night.
- Review the plan before “go night”.
- Implement any necessary changes like buying darkening curtains or a sleep machine.
- Include Check-in times for your peace of mind and to break up bad behavior.
At this point, you should be ready and well prepared for your first night of sleep training.