How to Get Your Toddler to Sleep

How can you get your toddler to sleep more and sleep better, and improve your own rest? An expert shares her tips  

Credit: Flickr/therapycatguardian

Ah, the blissful sight of a little child asleep

Tired toddlers and tired parents lead to temper tantrums and short fuses all around. How can parents gently persuade small children into good sleeping habits?

Most new parents accept the first few weeks and months of a new baby’s life as a time of blissful exhaustion. They know that a newborn’s tiny stomach can only hold so much, and that frequent waking to nurse and cuddle is an essential part of development.

When Older Babies Don’t Sleep Through

As the first year turns into the second, and other moms and dads report that their babies and toddlers have begun sleeping through the night, parents of the children who don’t can become less understanding. Now that a baby is bigger, it may no longer seem so cute when she wakes you up to nurse, toddles into your room, or sits up and cries at what’s supposed to be bedtime.

She needs more rest, and so do you, to handle whatever challenges tomorrow brings. Most parents don’t want to let their babies cry to sleep, and in crowded spaces this may not even be an option. What to do?

A Gentler Solution to Baby Sleep Problems

Elizabeth Pantley, author of The No-Cry Sleep Solution for Toddlers and Preschoolers, has written a gentle guide to solving sleep problems without letting kids cry for what seems like hours.

The best thing about Pantley’s book is how all-embracing it is. Moms who fall asleep nursing their babies, people who sleep with the entire family on mattresses in one room, babies that travel from bed to crib and back again in the course of a night; parents who thought these situations were unique find them embraced in Pantley’s guide.

Pantley’s Top Tips for Getting Baby to Sleep

As well as covering the most common sleep problems, from extremely early risers to the nurse-to-sleep crowd, the Solution dispenses kind and commonsense advice on how to improve your child’s sleep, and your own.

  1. Keep a sleep log. By charting your child’s sleeping patterns, you can find out if he’s getting the recommended hours per night, and pinpoint lack of sleep as the cause of fussiness, tantrums, and other daytime behavioural problems.
  2. Start and keep a routine. A child needs cues to know when bedtime’s coming. A bath, story, change into PJs or whatever else you decide to use will tell him so.
  3. Pay attention to where your child sleeps. A room that’s too bright or noisy, a crib crowded with interesting toys, a cold environment or one that’s too hot can all sabotage getting to sleep and staying there.
  4. Enlist an older child’s help. Explain to your toddler that Mommy gets grumpy when she gets woken up at night, and ask what he thinks would work to get him to stay asleep.
  5. Give children something to do. When they wake up too early or in the night, small children can have a sippy cup of water, crackers, radio to listen to, or small bed to crawl into next to yours if you don’t want them disturbing you.
  6. When all else fails, use a bribe. Thirty small toys from the dollar store, wrapped, can be opened each day a child meets a sleep goal. Thirty days is long enough to cement a healthy new sleep habit.  

You’re Not Awake Alone

While Pantley’s tips help, perhaps the most useful part of this book is how it puts your child’s sleep problems in perspective. Even if your toddler is still waking up three times a night, chances are she doesn’t also fight sleep for hours every night, wake up too early, and have to be nursed into slumber.

Just knowing things could be worse – you could be waking up at 5 am every morning to the unwelcome sight of a cheerful, wide-awake lark – can make the nights a lot easier to bear.