Curing Your Toddler's Bedtime Blues

toddler sleep tipsYour kids are tired. You're tired -- and you have a million things to do once they're down for the sheep count. But they refuse to go to bed and once there, they do everything possible to stay awake -- drink water, go potty, give Dada a kiss.

You certainly can't force someone to fall asleep. But you can do some things to make bedtime less stressful and more pleasant, and ultimately keep those kiddies in bed for the night.

Here's how to do that, according to the experts I talked to.


Expert #1: Ann Corwin, PhD, M.Ed., aka The Parenting Doctor, offers this advice:

Going to sleep for kids means the fun stops and they won't be able to see their parents for a long time. Parents know exactly what they mean when they say it's time to go to bed -- quiet time, snuggling, story telling, a relaxing bath, and a great night's sleep so you can enjoy the next day feeling rested and relaxed. Kids don't know any of that. Parents would be better saying, "It's time to read stories and get snuggles and let's count the stairs on the way up."

During the day, parents of kids who are resistant to sleep should play hide-and-go-seek all the time. This game teaches the concept of "object permanence," which means something exists even though I can't see it. I always tell parents to hide and either while they're hiding or just before, say this to the kids, "While I hide you cannot see my face, just like when you and I are sleeping, but I will always find you [my little boy who has brown eyes and black hair who likes to play ball ... describe your child] just like I'll always see you in the morning."

As far as getting out of bed, remember to tell your child concretely (because that is how their brains function) that sleep means your feet don't touch the floor, your eyes don't open, no words come out of your mouth, and all your ears do is listen to soft music or the sounds of quiet in your cozy, safe home.


Expert #2: Amy McCready, the founder of Positive Parenting Solutions, offers this advice:

Fill your toddler's "attention basket" with plenty of positive attention during the day. Spending devoted, one-on-one time during the day will make your toddler less likely to demand your attention at bedtime. 

Implement consistent bedtime routines. Most toddlers get far less sleep than they need and get to bed later than when their bodies naturally want to go down to sleep, making them even more agitated. Determine your ideal “lights out” time and work backward. For younger children, it’s best to follow the same routine every night so they know exactly what to expect. If the routine is one book and you follow that every night, they will learn there’s no point in negotiating for “one more book.” If you’ve been lying in bed with your child until she falls asleep, include five minutes of “snuggle time” as part of your routine. Be sure to structure the fun stuff (books, snuggles, etc.) to happen after the less fun stuff (bath, teeth brushed, PJ’s on). That way he’ll have incentive to get bathed and dressed efficiently so he’ll have more time for books. “Lights out” time is always the same, so if he dawdles, he’ll lose time for books and snuggle time. Plan to leave the room while he's still awake.

Practice the new routine. During the day, practice the new bedtime routine from start to finish. Role-play the full routine including the part where you walk out the door while she’s awake. Important: Switch roles and practice the routine with you as the child and her playing the parent. Have her practice tucking you in and leaving while you’re still awake. Be clear that once you leave the room, the bedtime routine is over and you expect her to stay in her room until morning. Express confidence that she's really growing up and you know she’ll sleep all night in her bed.

Put your new routine to the test. Kids want and need our positive attention, so be sure to be fully present during the bedtime routine -- no distractions. Implement the bedtime routine as you practiced it -- kiss her goodnight and leave the room. Hopefully, she’ll drift right off to sleep and you’ll have an evening of peace ahead of you

What's your toddler's nighttime routine?


Image via oldsoul_sn/Flickr


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