Updated: Jan 3, 2022
And once they're there, how can I get them to stay there?
Help! I just transitioned my toddler to a toddler bed, and now he won't stay there. What can I do? How can I get my 2 year old to stay in bed? How can I get him to fall asleep?
I recently worked with a tired, frustrated mum* who has two children - a toddler and a new-born baby.
Although there had been lots of good preparation in advance, a few months in, things had started to go wrong.
Let's take a look at toddler sleep - how to help them get to sleep and then stay asleep.
First of all, the consensus seems to be that toddlers benefit from getting 11-14 hours of sleep over 24 hours**. We know that good sleep is critical for brain development as well as having an impact on our levels of happiness and ability to function (you have all been the sleep-deprived parents of new-borns, I'm not telling you anything new!)
Secondly, it's important to remember that we all wake up during the night. We have sleep cycles, and will wake between them. So, we're working towards our child being able to settle themselves back to sleep.
Finally, we can't make anyone fall asleep. I'm sure you know that feeling of lying in bed and telling yourself 'just stop thinking and go to sleep.' Have you ever tried to fall asleep just because someone tells you to?! It's the same with children.
All this said, here are my top tips!
Create an evening routine chart WITH your child. You can find out how to do that Positive Discipline style here or here. When we get our children involved, we increase co-operation. They're motivated to follow their routine because they decided on the order that's on it. We chose to have photos of our kids doing each step, so when we asked 'what's next?' they enjoyed going to look.
The final picture on the routine chart should have a picture of your child asleep in bed. That helps to send the message of the end goal - SLEEP!
Look at when your toddler gets tired - observe them and look for signs of fatigue (sometimes, excessive talking/excitement can be the clue that they're tired, not that they're wide awake with lots of energy). When you're reviewing your toddler's sleep, take nap-time into account. Keep a sleep log over a week or 2 so that you have a trace of how long they're actually sleeping. Notice how they wake up (do you wake them or do they wake naturally, what their mood is on waking, etc).
Now your child is older, they're in a toddler bed/can climb out of their cot, and you can't 'make' them stay in bed. To avoid a power struggle, try saying 'I need your help. I am going to put the baby to bed now, can you help me by being quiet while they fall asleep?'
Anticipate the 'just one more' demands - water, cuddle/kiss, or a toilet stop, by including them as part of your routine.
Avoid screens for 2 hours before bedtime.
Include a time for sharing as part of the routine. Ask your child how their day was, and share a moment of your day that you enjoyed. Starting this ritual young helps to build connection with your child, and will give them a space to unburden any worries that might stop them from sleeping.
Talking of worries - address any fears that your child might have about their bedroom and/or the dark. We won't increase a child's fear/worries by talking about them, in-fact it does just the opposite. By talking about the feelings, we help our child to connect the two sides of their brain and rationalise how they feel.
When we close our eyes, our brain can't work out exactly where our body is. Neurobics Kids has some great sensory tips for helping our bodies settle for sleep.
If your child isn't one of those superhumans who falls asleep the moment their head hits the pillow, then let them know that they're normal! Their responsibility is simply to stay in bed. When they get out of bed (because they will!) then, with as few words as possible, lead them by the hand and take them back to bed.
Staying in bed is, like many other moments in childhood, a new skill that your child will need to practice. When we see it as a teaching opportunity, rather than feeling 'my child is being disobedient' we shift our mindset. And that is when the transformation begins.
* To maintain confidentiality, there are no personal details about clients, and posts may be from a mixture of clients.
**It's quite difficult to find the research behind the experts' recommendations, as this article points out. You know your child best. Observe them and respond to their individual needs.