Is it hard for toddlers to stay in bed?
Bedtime is a terrible, horrible, no-good, very bad time for toddlers. Parents often wonder how to keep toddlers in bed.
Babies and toddlers are by nature active sleepers. They simply don't know that night is for sleeping and they can't understand why you would want them to do it anyway! Falling asleep means letting go of the day's busy activities and transitioning from a state of consciousness into a relatively non-responsive sleep mode – not exactly an easy task for someone who's been going full throttle since early morning!
Toddlers have even more difficulty with this process because their internal clock still isn't developed enough to lull them easily into nighttime slumberland. In other words, what goes on at bedtime is a battle of wills between your child's drive to stay awake and your drive to get him or her into bed.
This means that the earlier you start teaching good sleep habits, the better chance your toddler will have at developing healthy sleep skills. And it all begins with learning how to keep a toddler in bed. Remember, this is not about making them go to bed – but rather about letting them learn how to fall asleep on their own.
Problems with health?
The first thing you need to do is rule out any medical issues that may be causing your toddler's sleep problems. Any number of things can contribute to frequent waking and disrupted sleep: ear infections, allergies, asthma, acid reflux, restless leg syndrome, and others.
Once you've eliminated any medical causes, then you're ready to start working on those sleep training methods.
Good sleep habits
Everything your child does from the time he wakes up in the morning contributes to his ability or inability to fall asleep well at night. A simple way to begin is by changing your toddler's bedtime routine so that it becomes a positive signal for sleep – rather than an exciting continuation of playtime, snacks, and stories!
One way is to provide a soothing bath about half an hour before bedtime – but don't let him stay in the tub for more than five minutes at a time unless absolutely necessary because too much warm water can make toddlers feel drowsy.
They start with regular bedtime routines. Toddlers are creatures of habit, so it's important to create a routine that they can count on. A regular routine allows your child to relax and get ready for sleep at the same time every night. It also helps them understand what is coming next, which decreases feelings of anxiety or fear about being left alone in the dark.
But try not to make your toddler's bedtime routine an endurance test! Once you've gotten them into pajamas, brush teeth and read a story or two, let them play quietly while you sit nearby until they fall asleep on their own. Don't do anything else during this time – no singing lullabies, no rubbing backs, etc all of which will only get them up and delay the process.
If your toddler becomes fully engaged in an activity and seems reluctant to stop and go to bed, try offering a choice between two activities – "Do you want to brush teeth now or read one more story?" Then stick with your child's decision.
Once they've dozed off, keep the lights low as you tiptoe out of the room so as not to wake them. If they rouse during the night, don't rush in – wait for a few minutes to see if they can drift back into sleep on their own. And never respond if it's just a tactic (and most likely it will be!) for getting attention because that could reinforce the behavior and make things worse!
The end of this process is not bedtime – it's learning to fall asleep on their own. If age one and up seems too young for your child to do that, consider how early he or she learned the skill of staying awake! And just as they mastered that ability, so can they master putting themselves to sleep.
It might take a few weeks but eventually, they will learn and teach themselves good sleep habits which will only help them in the long run.
Stick with strict routines at home – including naps – and you'll instill good habits that will last a lifetime!
Healthy sleep habits - does age matter?
It's never too early or too late to establish healthy sleep habits. It may seem like making an almost two-year-old go to bed is impossible but the key is consistency, sticking with a routine, and being patient. Kids who get enough sleep have fewer accidents during the day so not only will your child want to go to bed, they'll actually be able to!
Tips on how to keep toddler in bed
Here are some tips to help you teach your child how to stay in bed:
- Use soothing rituals that signal "bedtime" such as dimming lights or singing lullabies together. If they resist going towards bed say something like "Do you want to do this activity now [brushing teeth, putting on pajamas, etc.] or in five minutes when it's time for bed?" If they agree to five minutes, follow through and do the activity. This teaches them that you will always follow through and helps prepare them for falling asleep on their own.
- Make sure there's nothing stimulating going on near your child's bed such as a tv in the bedroom or toys are strewn about. Keep lights low so it's easier to fall asleep and try white noise if your child is easily awakened by noises from outside the room or house.
- Don't worry about your toddler being overtired! Research shows that kids who sleep less during the night compensate during naps and have better mental development than those who sleep the same amount every day.
- Acknowledge your child's fears or worries about staying alone in bed but don't get into an argument with them. Try saying something like "I know it's hard to stay in bed by yourself but I'm right down the hall" followed by a hug and kiss goodnight. Then leave, think of how many more hugs and kisses you will give throughout the night! And only come back if your child is calling for you or crying hysterically – resist the urge to check in less than five minutes because that could encourage them to call out or cry again in order to get attention.
- If they wake up during the night, wait until they fall asleep again before going into the room.
- Don't give in or reward your child by coming into their room or giving them a pacifier, toy, snack, etc. because that will only reinforce the bad behavior and make it harder to break!
- If you're still having problems with your child asking for water before bedtime, try placing a small amount of apple cider vinegar (diluted 50/50 with water) in his or her bedside water glass an hour before bedtime. The vinegar helps promote sleepiness so they should be less inclined to ask for drinks after that time period is over.
- If other family members are causing disruptions at night such as fighting over what television show to watch, fighting over who gets to read the bedtime story, etc. try setting up a turn-taking system with one parent or grandparent acting as "The Enforcer" who makes sure everyone follows the rules and honors their turn for that activity.
Sleep training - how much time will pass?
When training children to sleep in their own bed, it can take anywhere from two weeks to three months for them to adjust. Keep this in mind while you are working with your child and remember that it will pay off in the long run!
How should I get my toddler up in the morning?
Getting your toddler up on time can be difficult but consistency is key. Remind them before bedtime that they will need to get up early in the morning for school or daycare and try waking them up at the same time each morning.
If you have a child who fights sleep during naps, try removing their nap altogether because more sleep at night means better daytime behavior. Letting your child stay home from school when they're sick isn't advisable because it only teaches them that skipping school is okay if they feel sick enough.
What are some alternatives to crib sleeping?
Bassinet - A bassinet is smaller than a traditional crib and usually sits low to the ground. It's great for babies who can't yet sit up on their own because it prevents them from rolling over. A bassinet does not have bars or a rail so your child will be able to move around freely – this means that you may need to buy a crib mattress, sheets and bumpers too.
Pack 'n Play - A pack 'n play also has no bars or rails but is much larger than a bassinet. The top half of the pack 'n play opens up into a changing table and the bottom half functions as a playpen for younger children. You can use it until your child reaches 35 inches tall or starts trying to climb out of it.
Bedside sleeper - This type of bed is attached to your bed with bars on either side. It's meant for babies who are too big for a bassinet but not big enough for a crib and can't sleep in an adult bed because of safety concerns.
Highchair - A highchair is just what it sounds like – a chair that goes next to your kitchen or dining room table and allows your child to sit upright during meal times instead of laying down in a traditional baby/toddler seat. Highchairs do take up more room so they aren't always practical but they tend to work better than their low, flat counterparts if you have the space for them.
When your child is older, they will inevitably get into mischief and push the limits of what you are comfortable with. We all make mistakes but it's important to remember that our kids are watching everything we do and learning how to be adults by example. If you're upset or frustrated with your child after a bad night's sleep then they will pick up on that and mirror those feelings in their behavior throughout the day too - just like toddlers!
If you're feeling overwhelmed and need an extra set of hands, don't hesitate to hire a toddler nanny who can help keep your children occupied while you take care of the housework, laundry, etc. They'll also be able to prepare meals for them so don't have to worry about it.
Kids will always test limits and push boundaries but you can rest assured knowing there's a light at the end of this tunnel: they'll be so much happier when they learn how to sleep through the night! And soon you'll both be getting better rest thanks to these tips on how to keep a toddler in bed!