Nighttime, a period of quiet restfulness. Well, it used to be before those precious sleeping hours became a bedtime battleground with your toddler. If you’re struggling to get your little one to sleep, here are five handy tips to help them drift off.
One: Establish a bedtime routine.
While it’s not a quick fix, one sure-fire way to help your toddler associate nighttime with sleep is to put a bedtime routine in place. Kids love boundaries, even if they try and fight them at first, as knowing their limitations make them feel safe and secure. So, a bedtime routine is a perfect way of putting these in place. Your primary aim at bedtime is to create a feeling of utter calm and serenity.
Find a routine that works for you both, and really stick to it. The ideal bedtime routine should last anywhere from 30 minutes to an hour so that there’s long enough to really wind down. We favor bath time, teeth, pajamas, story, cuddle, cot.
Whenever you repeat a certain pattern of behavior, you’ll then help re-trigger the same feelings of contentedness that your child first felt. What’s more, by picking the same bedtime and sticking to it, your child will begin to feel sleepy at the same time every night – as you’ve helped regulate their circadian rhythm. Bravo.
“Having the same routine each night is really important; sing the same song before bed, say the same line before putting your baby down such as, “sleep time now, sweet dreams”. They come to recognize that those sounds happen before they sleep.” Carla, Mum to Etta.
Two: Be the ultimate bore.
There’s nothing a toddler likes more than fun. Which is why you should make those nighttime waking hours as painfully dull as possible. Your little one needs to understand the difference between day and night. If this distinction isn’t established, they’ll be wondering why they’re wasting valuable play time by sleeping. Keep distractions such as books, TV and lights out of post-bedtime hours, so that your toddler’s brain isn’t stimulated unnecessarily. You want to wind their brains down, not give them fuel.
However, if you’re not having much luck, and they’re really testing your patience, don’t get wound up. If a parent’s voice remains calm and gentle, as opposed to irritated or angry, then they’re more likely to get a more positive response. Tense, uptight behavior from an adult can provoke stress responses in a child. This can turn on their alarm systems and push sleep even further down the agenda.
“We made a rule that we wouldn’t look our toddler in the eye if he woke up after bedtime. It sounds harsh, but it’s not really. He knows we’re there to comfort him, but we’re not there to engage in playtime. He now understands the distinction between night and day way more clearly.” Mike, Dad to Harry.
Three: Soothing sounds.
White noise, rain pattering, the crashing sounds of distant waves. When it comes to a bedtime soundtrack, there’s a whole host of resources at your fingertips to help settle and soothe your toddler. Adding a sound element to bedtime can help if you have a noisy household, or if outdoor noises such as traffic, animals or noisy neighbors often interrupt your toddler’s chances of dropping off.
Spotify is packed with eye-lid lulling playlists that you can pop on as part of your calming bedtime routine. The market for white noise bears and machines has boomed, with all manner of cuddly creatures helping send your toddler. We’re particularly fond of Ewan the Dream Sheep and his heartbeat sounds, and Whisbear’s white noise that’s automatically triggered by crying – genius.
“We live near a busy road, and there are lots of nighttime noises, such as cats fighting – horrible noise! We thought a white noise bear might help drown a lot of that out, and it worked like a charm. It really helped when trying to get our toddler to sleep through the night.” Nicola, Mum to Lorna.
Four: Have a banana. No really.
You’ll probably have wised up to the fact that refined sugar before bed is never a good idea. After all, a sugar-infused toddler is enough to bring most parents out in a cold sweat. But did you know that you should also avoid giving your toddler protein in the two hours before bed too?
Meat and fish both activate dopamine in the brain. This acts as a stimulant, the opposite of what you want as you try and wind them down. Instead, if you think your child’s tum needs topping up give them a banana. Bananas contain complex carbohydrates that activate serotonin. This is a hormone that leads to sleepiness. Plus bananas’ slow-release energy will have them feeling fuller until the morning.
Five: Give it a moment.
It’s oh so tempting to drop what you’re doing and rush into your toddler’s bedroom the second you hear them make a peep. But sometimes this can be the wrong move. Often, it’s worth allowing them to settle themselves back to sleep. Self-settling is a skill they’re going to need to master as they grow older. We’re not advocating allowing your child to feel distressed, but instead, giving them the freedom to learn how to fall back independently, as opposed to relying on one of you every time they wake.
“Don’t head into their room on their first cry, sometimes they are half asleep and will settle themselves. We did the 3,4,5 minute interval controlled crying. We’d go in and stroke her back and say ‘sleep time now Etta’ and leave the room… eventually it really worked.” Carla, Mum to Etta.
If you’re still struggling to get your little one to sleep, take a look at our blog on sleep training.