Toddlers and sleep is a whole different ball game to babies. These little people have a lot more going on in their heads, have often been through an introduction of a sibling, daycare and/or a house move. Not to mention, they have stamina!
The most common scenario’s in this age group is “I have to lay with my toddler at bedtime and multiple times through the night” or “I can’t get my toddler out of my bed since her baby brother arrived” or “bedtime is such a fight”.
In all of these scenarios, the first thing we need to address is one on one time. Often a toddler not wanting you to leave is because they are missing time with you. Try to spend 20 minutes of un-rushed one on one time before bed. Away from the baby. Dad takes the toddler while Mum is busy with the baby. What the toddler needs is the opposite. They are likely feeling pushed out and are painfully aware that you have so much less time now. It is a major deal for a 2 year old. As much as possible when bub is not feeding, leave bub as long as they are happy and spend time with you toddler. Toddler directed play as much as possible so they feel in control, when the rest of their life feels out of control.
Offer as much choice as possible through the day to help your toddler feel in control. – What cup, clothes etc.
The next thing we need to address is TV. I usually like to limit TV before 5.30pm, ideally not at all, at this age things children see on TV can come back to them at bedtime or through the night as “scaries” also TV throws out blue light which stops the production of melatonin in the brain, the hormone needed to help Sophie sleep. There is also research that suggests it negatively impacts learning ability, independent play and focus. The recommendation for a child age 5 is 2 hours a day or less. The recommendation for screen time for a child under 2 years is 0 hours. I have found screen time negatively impacts many of my client’s behaviour and ability to switch off pre sleep. Melatonin can be delayed in up to 2 hours from blue light. This is the same with a blue night light.
Another really important factor any toddler sleep issues is a bedtime routine chart.
Use lots of colour, if your toddler is arty or likes sensory stuff, using finger paint and glitter is a good one. You can let her choose her own stickers make a big deal out of choosing the ones she wants. A bedtime routine chart helps bedtime battles and stall tactics. Put up a picture of each of the steps in your routine and use pegs to pin up when each one has been done, even better if you can use pictures of her doing each bedtime activity. A visual timer for if your little one has issues finishing up an activity. Making sure once the timer runs out you really do finish up the activity, reading, bath, tv, whatever, will ensure she knows this is an “always” not a “sometimes” rule.
The bedtime routine - This should be an hour at most. Must be consistent. Many people do the bedtime routine all over the house, and the tv is on or bright lights are on and the child simply can’t switch off and suffers “fear of missing out”. Talk through and help him process his day – this is so important at this age group, sometimes children can be bubbling up inside with so much tension and excitement about the day and they do not know how to process it, get it all out before you go into the bedroom so nothing is stopping him settling. Ensure he has water, has been for a wee if toilet training etc. Set your limits and stick to it. Dinosonres or other audio relaxation for children will be helpful.
The transition to the big bed – I don’t recommend doing this any earlier than 2.5 years unless your child is climbing out of the cot. After 2.5years they have better comprehension to stay in bed. If you need the cot because a new baby is coming, buy the 2nd cot or borrow one. It is far better to keep your toddler in their cot then introduce yet another transition before they are ready. If they are climbing out of the cot before 2 years and you are not using a sleeping bag, this is certainly something to try. Sometimes putting in on backwards can stop them undoing the zip and then climbing out. Many clients have got an extra 3-6 months of decent sleep in the cot by doing this. When your toddler is ready to make the transition, let them pick the sheets, a new teddy, a new nightlight and keep the whole thing as positive as you can. If this trasition is done at the right age.
Setting boundaries – if your toddler is currently only sleeping in your bed or with you laying next to them and you would like to change this, you have to set some reasonable limits and begin to distance yourself. Depending on the age of the toddler this may involve gradually distancing yourself from their bed every few nights, or leaving the room and returning them when they get out. Your approach may or may not include gating the door. The important thing is to choose an approach that suits the age and comprehension of your child and stick to it. Please take into consideration if your child has separation anxiety as well. I do not recommend closing the door – doors are too permanent for little people! If you are unsure how to go about things, or you have implemented the above tips and are still struggling, give me a call for some individualized help.