By Seema Bhambri, Certified Sleep Consultant
Be Consistent: Toddlers like to know what to expect and don’t often do well with surprises. Make sure you remain consistent with your Toddler and respond in the same way to their nightly/bedtime demands. If they see that you mean business when it comes to bedtime, they are more likely to comply. If you waiver just once on that extra book or glass of water, guess what, you have given them the signal that they can push you into meeting their demands. They will keep pushing and testing those boundaries – that’s what Toddlers do. However, if you make the routines and bedtime the same, they will see that this is the norm.
Have a Routine: Routines provide cues to your Toddler that the day is coming to an end and it’s time for nighttime sleep. The routine should be no longer than 30 minutes, if you have other children to get ready, a maximum of 40 minutes, or they will simply lose interest. There should be no grey areas, a maximum of 6 steps: Bath, Brush Teeth, Potty, Pjs, Book, Bed. Meet all demands of water, potty, snacks, cuddles before you tuck them in for the night. Get them involved, give them a choice of two Pj’s to choose from, or two books, so that they get to use that autonomy that they so love at this age,
Use Visuals: Make a picture chart showing all the stages involved around bedtime. Once they complete every stage, give them a sticker. This is not bribery, it’s giving your Toddler an incentive to follow the bedtime rules and makes them feel involved. You could also make your own bedtime book with a picture of your Toddler in it, including the steps around bedtime. Try not to get caught up in bribing your Toddler with treats of sweets or chocolate for breakfast, (yes it happens), these are short lived. Be confident and consistent.
Use a Timer: If your Toddler is fighting you for one more puzzle or more books, set a timer. Make sure it is visible or that they can hear it when it goes off. Tell them they have 10 minutes more of play before you go up for bath, set the timer and when it goes off, there should be no negotiation. You can also use the timer during the routine to keep things on track, play a game of beat the timer.
Fill that Attention Cup: Bedtime is usually a time for Toddlers to use stalling tactics and they ask for that extra cuddle, or they tell you all about their day, or ask why the sky is blue. Often guilt sets in and we give in and as a result bedtime takes an extra hour. I always suggest that you fill your Toddlers attention cup before bedtime. Unplug, get on the floor with them, do a puzzle, catch up on the day over dinner, get those cuddles in during story time. If time is a constraint and you are not getting home from work until bedtime, use the bedtime routine as your connection time. Or make time in the morning.
Use a clock: Early morning wake ups are all too common with young children. The use of a clock, something visual often helps with showing Toddlers when it is morning. I always suggest going with a clock that your child is motivated by. If your Toddler is motivated by color there is a traffic light clock, if they are motivated by numbers you can simply cover the minutes of a digital clock and make a big deal about the number 7. Magic 7 is when you go to bed and when you get up. The Okay to Wake clock is also popular.
Honor your Toddlers Sleep Needs: Unfortunately we live in a time where sleep is seen as a luxury. However Sleep is just as important as a nutritious meal. We work hard to feed our children healthy meals and ensure that they get their calories in. I encourage you to honor your child’s sleep needs, get them to bed early, nap them if they are still napping. Sleep is essential and it is a gift that lasts a lifetime.
Certified Sleep Sense Consultant
Member of The Association of Professional Sleep Consultants (APSC)