It’s normal for parents to struggle to get their children to sleep at night. However, if you’re finding that this is a recurring issue, it might be worth taking some time to consider what the root of the problem is. The NHS suggests that your toddler should be getting between 11 and 14 hours of sleep a day, including naps. However, it’s important to remember, every child is different, so only do what you feel comfortable with and what you think will suit your child.
Set a routine
Fights over bedtime can be one of the most challenging power struggles you’ll engage in as a parent of a toddler. For many children, the idea of bedtime just isn’t appealing - many are afraid they’re going to miss out on something when they settle into bed. As a parent, at the end of a long day, the last thing you want to do is deal with the stress of having to fight with your child to get them to sleep. The temptation to rush through your sleep routine might not be helping your case though as having a long bedtime routine for your child plays an important role in helping to soothe them to sleep.
Your routine can start up to an hour before bedtime. Every child will need a different routine so it’s worth trying different things to see what works best for your toddler. This can include switching off all phones, tablets, or TVs (as blue light emitted from electrical devices affects the quality of sleep) or reading a bedtime story together to help them settle for the evening.
Give them your full attention
Often, battles to get your child to bed are related to your child not wanting to be separated from you, they may be craving the quality time missed out on if you were separated from them during the day. By rushing to get them into bed and turning off the lights you create tension and anxiety as your child becomes needier for your time and affection. Meeting this need for quality time and affection can help your child get to bed easier and make the whole process a lot less stressful.
A big part of this includes ensuring that your child has your full attention. Make sure you’re not on your phone or doing other tasks like cleaning up. If your child is acting out, it could be their way of looking for your attention (especially if it’s in the form of a negative reaction as it reaffirms to them that if they behave in a certain way, they are sure to be the centre of your attention). By being present with your child, you’re showing them that they’re loved and valued, which in turn, will make it easier to separate from them when it’s time to say goodnight.
Address behavioural issues
If you’ve stuck to your bedtime routine and find you’re still facing tantrums or protests of “I’m not tired”, there could be something deeper at play. Try tackling the “problem” of bedtime together by asking your child about their reasons for why they get up so often. You may find that your child is lacking some self-soothing skills or they might not know how to handle boredom.
It might be useful to address behavioural problems one step at a time. If, for example, your child has slept in your bed every night for years, it might be too overwhelming for them to suddenly switch to sleeping alone at once. You can make the transition slowly through small steps such as your child taking a nap in their own bed, or splitting the time they sleep in your room with their own bed.
Perhaps the most important part of dealing with behavioural issues at bedtime is to be consistent in your discipline. If your child repeatedly tells you they’re not tired, ignore this behaviour until it stops. If you respond to them by yelling, you teach them that protesting is an effective way to get your attention. The same goes for allowing your child to sleep in your bed on the weekends. If they believe that’s acceptable, they will try to join you for the rest of the week. Therefore, it’s important that you’re consistent in your messaging about bedtime expectations. Similarly, it’s important to reward their good behaviour too, if they sleep in their own bed, or stick to their bedtime routine with few protests, which could be in the form of a sticker chart to map their progress or through allowing an extra 15 minutes of playtime with their toys.
Are they anxious about bedtime?
It’s natural for your child to wake up during the night, and they may be awake for a few seconds or minutes but should be able to settle themselves back to sleep. However, if your child hasn’t learnt how to self-settle, they may wake you up and come to your bed seeking help to get back to sleep. It’s worth teaching them how to self-settle at the start of the night as this will enable them to get themselves back to sleep.
If you find that self-settling isn’t working and your child is still having sleep problems, there might be a deeper issue. This is why it’s important to ask your child if they’ve slept well the night before. Your child may not tell you that they’ve been struggling to sleep, but you can pick up on clues such as if they’re hard to wake in the morning, or still seem tired after a full night of sleep.
If they’re anxious about going to sleep or admit to having nightmares, a dim night light can help. If they wake in the night, a small amount of light will help them work out where they are and let them know they’re safe. Similarly, a comfort object, such as a teddy bear, can remind them that they’re not alone.
Final thoughts from Kami
If your toddler isn’t getting enough sleep, this can also have an effect on you. However, don’t be disheartened if your toddler struggles with sleeping. It’s common for toddlers to fight against going to bed, but with the right routine, you can encourage your child to sleep at a reasonable time each night. It’s important that you pay attention to your toddler’s wellbeing; if there’s something stopping them from sleeping, such as stress and worries, you can work with your toddler to figure out how to help them get a good night’s rest.