When Your Toddler Won’t Sleep: 10 Positive Parenting Bedtime Tips
Bedtime- it can strike relief or dread (sometimes both!) into the hearts of parents. If your child or toddler won’t sleep, try these 10 easy positive parenting tips to help make bedtime a more peaceful, calm and happy experience for all involved. If you find a tip helpful please do share this article by using the social media buttons above or the Pin below!
Partner with your child about their bedtime so they feel part of the process. If your child attends school or nursery the likelihood is that they need to go to bed at a certain time in order to get enough sleep for the next day. For older children, bearing in mind what you have observed about your child’s optimum sleep times, negotiate a bedtime so that the child is part of the decision.
Even 5 minutes can make the world of difference for a school-aged child (7.35pm instead of 7.30pm for example) in helping a child feel like their choices and autonomy have been respected, while still keeping a routine that ensures they get their optimum sleep. Younger toddlers (2-3 year olds) will not grasp the concept of abstract time, so “would you like to go to bed now or in 5 minutes?” and then setting an timer for that amount of time will have a better effect.
Experiment with bedtimes. Children need different amounts of sleep based on their activity levels, age, periods of increased hormone activity, etc and this amount is unique to each child, not just their age. This means that although you may have children of different ages, their optimum bed times may not always correlate in the way we expect (ie, the ‘younger the child, the more sleep they need’).
This is also true if younger siblings are still taking naps; our two year old had a midday nap and so our five year old was ready to go to bed at night earlier than the toddler. Putting a younger child to bed earlier than an older sibling if they are simply not tired is going to cause longer periods of conflict; going to bed at the same time may be a more peaceful option that takes into account individual needs.
Connect. Bedtime is a time where, usually, children and parents become separated for the night, when children go into their rooms and parents to theirs. This is naturally a source of anxiety for children (parents are their primary source of safety, so to them bedtime can feel like we are taking away their immediate safety), which is why bedtimes can often be so hellish for everyone involved. By having a period of intense connection with your children 30 minutes before bedtime, your child will relax more easily and be able to go to sleep with good thoughts, feelings and memories as opposed to unprocessed thoughts or feelings.
When our two were a bit younger we did ‘special time’ with them for half an hour every night before bed; we would do whatever they wanted whether it was some art, reading stories or small-world play. Connection like this floods our children with feel-good hormones that promote a deep and peaceful sleep. If you have a child whose love language is physical touch, a massage is a great way to relax them and help them become sleepy.
Help them offload. Worries from the day can often follow kids into the night, leading to them laying awake or having bad dreams. Before bedtime have your child share any worries with you, write them down and put them into a ‘worry jar’ to be collected overnight. Swap the piece of paper for an affirmation about your child, such as ‘your smile lights up the room’ or ‘you are strong and kind’, to be given to your child after they have put the next day’s worry in. For younger children and toddlers, have them whisper any worries or hurt feelings to one of their favourite teddies, who can go and throw them out of the window, flush them down the toilet or something equally as dramatic- the physical symbolism will mean a lot to a child.
Prepare for ‘the worst’. Most parents don’t feel comfortable co-sleeping when our children are older than babies, but the reality is that little ones sneak into our beds and end up doing it anyway. This is completely natural and healthy; children are hard-wired to seek out safety and comfort, and this is what we are to them. Create an environment in which you and your children feel comfortable with a variation of co-sleeping if necessary, such as a mattress on the floor of your bedroom so that you’re not completely squashed when kids come in during the night- and don’t worry about comments from others about ‘making a rod for your own back’- our children all co-slept and happily went into their own beds when we were all ready!
Tell your child a story with the hero protagonist named after them. If your child is having worries about school or social events, tell a story similar to the problem they are facing. Have the hero in the story overcome the problem, with help. This may help your child subconsciously gain confidence in their own problem-solving abilities, reducing their worry about the issue.
Leave music on during the night; classic music, their favourite nursery rhymes or the sounds of nature can provide background noise that helps children stay asleep through lighter periods of sleep, as well as providing relaxation.
Help them process the bedtime experience by leaving your child a note at the bottom of their bed once they fall asleep, to be found in the morning- this will give them something to look forward to as they fall asleep. For younger children and toddlers, have their favourite teddy hold the note as if it is from them.
Give them pre-prepared comfort by making a ‘hug button’- draw a small heart on your child’s palm and one on yours, and press them together. Whenever your child feels lonely at nighttime they can press the button to get a ‘hug’ from you! My genius friend Nell came up with this the other day to help her son feel less nervous going into school and it worked a treat!
Put a Blue Light filter on any electronic devices that your child uses such as iPads or iPhones- you can get these in an app and it helps filter out the blue light that is emitted from the screen and can interrupt sleep patterns.
I hope these bedtime tips are helpful to anyone whose child or toddler won’t sleep- for more parenting posts and tips, click here.