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Sleep Training for Toddlers

Sleep Training a Toddler – What to Know & Expect

Tips for Sleep Training Your Toddler!

For countless parents, their toddler’s bedtime is one of the most challenging parts of their days.

This is even more of a headache if they have an older sibling that stays up later than them. The younger one might feel like they are left out and might throw a fit if the rest of the family is wide-awake while they have to go to sleep. While understandable, they’re not old enough to stay up that late and still need 10 to 12 hours of sleep a night.

What is Sleep Training for Toddlers?

Sleep training a toddler essentially means that you gently/gradually change their sleeping behavior over time without using any medicine. While this is far from simple, if successful, you won’t have to deal with struggling to put them to sleep every night. It’s a long process and you definitely need patience and persistence to pull it off.

However, if you can manage to pull it off, you’ll be a much happier and well-rested person.

At around this time, your toddler is probably only taking around one nap a day. They are also probably sleeping a good amount at night, even 12 hours sometimes I’m sure.

You might have tried to sleep train your son/daughter in the past, and regardless if you were successful or not, a toddler most likely still has separation anxiety at this point. It means that they will still resist going to bed unless you’re with them and might wake up frequently trying to find you.

During this time, you may need to try out different strategies and find the right one that works get your toddler to sleep longer and better.

Here’s an example: some children might sleep much more easily with the door open, (so they can hear you) while others may develop their own unique habits such as sucking their cute little thumbs or rocking themselves to sleep.

They might also have a favorite toy/blankey which comforts him or her when you’re not around. Anything soft, familiar, and provides them with a sense of safety is ideal.

My daughter has her own stuffed rabbit that she absolutely adores! Each kid will eventually pick and choose what they prefer, whether it be a stuffed animal, blanket, and so on.

I know how much you want to sometimes give up and let your toddler fall asleep just to give you a moment’s rest. But, if you do this, it will be much more difficult and challenging to obtain a consistent sleep schedule and this is very important for both day and night time sleeping.

So, here’s what you should try next time – make a note of when you notice your son/daughter falling asleep or showing signs that they are sleepy. This should hopefully be around 6 to 8 o’clock at night. Your goal is to make that time frame their consistent bedtime.

Begin to establish a bedtime routine. If your toddler is able to understand you a little, try talking to them about it or briefly explaining that things like a bath signal that it’s almost time for bed. There are many things you can do to show this. These include a bath, a story, a lullaby, or whatever else you can think of that will help them get to sleep. The main goal is that after your routine, it needs to end with them awake in their crib yet ready for your good night kiss before you leave and let them sleep.

What if my toddler cries during the night?

First thing’s first, don’t do anything that’ll reward them for calling you in the middle of the night. Of course, if it’s an emergency, that’s perfectly fine and you should absolutely go and check up on them first and see if they are all right, and let them know that you’re there if they need you. And remember, don’t turn the light on or rock them to sleep.

You can offer them some water but don’t nurse, or feed them. Don’t bring them to bed with you either. If they are experiencing separation anxiety, taking them to bed with you will only make things more difficult to fix in the future. Trust me on that, it’s not worth the gigantic headache.

When you do check on them, just to make them as comfortable as you can. Definitely check on them to make sure they’re not sick or have a fever.

Sometimes, certain infections can happen suddenly and it’s best that you make sure that they are healthy and well.

Once you’ve checked and made sure that your little one is fine, go about doing your standard diaper check and change only if the diaper is full or wet.

Make sure you don’t turn on lights if you can, and change them as quickly as you can. Then, put them back in bed. Before you leave the room, try to whisper good night or give them some comforting words about how now is the time for them to go to sleep. If they keep trying, just wait a few minutes and comfort them for a bit.

I know how difficult it can be for both parents. I’ve been there. It’s both physically and emotionally exhausting, frustrating, and flat out difficult to listen to your own child cry!

Remember though, they’re not trying to annoy you or make you crazy on purpose, but they’re only reacting to stress and anxiety that comes with growing up at their age.

While difficult, if you stay calm, and are consistent from every single night onto the next one, your child will eventually be putting themselves to sleep. Always try to remember that this is your goal! When things look bleak, always try to picture the finish line. It’s one thing that I kept in the back of my mind while I was training my children and it really helped me and my husband push through. It really helped me out and I think it’ll help you out too if you do the same.

The unfortunate part is that sometimes, while they do get a good night’s sleep, this might not last forever. Yes, you may have string of great nights where everyone sleeps wonderfully but there also might be terrible nights where no matter what you do, you can’t figure out why they aren’t sleeping. The reality is; you can’t have an amazing night of sleep every night. However, by putting in time, effort, and trying to sleep train your child, you’ll be able to enjoy most of your nights, unlike many other unfortunate parents.

One of the most typical reasons for the night time awakening is a change in routine, yes, it’s as simple as that. Changing rooms of her baby beds, switching a favorite toy, being away from home for an extended period of time, and illness, are all reasons why their normal sleeping pattern might be disrupted.

One example is this: maybe you’re used to giving your toddler lots and lots of attention during the night. If this is true, you need to slowly start spreading that out to ensure that your attention doesn’t disrupt their nighttime routine.

Here’s another example: you come home from work late most days. So does your SO. If the most attention you can give them is towards the end of the evening, then this might be a reason why they aren’t getting to bed easily at night.

Here’s yet another example: let’s say that you mostly have been picking your son/daughter up to calm them down. You have to eventually break away from that. Try to only calm them down just with your voice and give that a try. The most important thing is to not get angry or agitated with them if it doesn’t work initially or if they rebel against whatever you try.

Newborn Playing Outside

Remember to be kind even if you’re angry. I know it isn’t easy and hardly anything close to it, but eventually, in the long run it will be worth it to both of you, and will help achieve better sleep for everyone.

What Should You Do if Your Toddler Keeps Climbing Out of Bed?

As you’ll soon find out, toddlers are full of what seems like limitless energy and curiosity: so much of it that you find them climbing out of their bed and exploring the room. It’s fun for them, but a nightmare to parents!

How long will this eventually last for? In most cases, you will have to worry about this until around two years old. Your son/daughter needs to develop some coordination skills for them to be even able to get out of the bed in the first place.

So, if they’re around 2 to 3 years old, then you should be prepared for that being a possibility.

What can you do about it?

You basically need a sort of safety landing zone for them in the event that they do get out. Regardless of how angry you are that they climbed out of their crib; you can be angry after you know that they’ll be safe in the event that they pulled a Houdini.  

It’s recommended to use a sleeping sack for them in the correct size so that it makes climbing out of the crib much more difficult. You can check out my sleeping sack review here.

Transitioning to a Bed

When your child is around 35 inches tall, you should begin looking into using a bed instead of a crib.

Transitioning from a crib to a bed might not be the easiest thing for your child to get used to. The sides of the crib are very familiar to them and a regular bed obviously doesn’t have those.

Interestingly enough though, you can actually replace the crib mattress with a larger mattress if you want. Then, later on if you choose so, you can even raise it onto a frame.

You have so many different options. One option is a toddler sized bed. Obviously, your choice will vary compared to other parents and children so you really just need to think about what would really be best for you and your child.

If you switch to a bigger bed, you will definitely need frame/guardrail to make sure that they’re safe and secure and don’t hurt themselves.

At the minimum, you need to absolutely child-proof the room. You might need a gate at the door to stop your little explorer from walking all around your house unattended.

What About Co-Sleeping with a Toddler?

It certainly seems like there are an endless amount of different ways to sleep train a toddler. Co-sleeping with a toddler is one of those ways.

In most cases, toddlers prefer to sleep with their parents instead of sleeping in their own bed. For your own sake, you should start making them get used to sleeping in their own bed. I’ll explain why.

First and foremost, you absolutely need to be patient and consistent throughout this process if you want to eventually achieve success.

One way to make them prefer to sleep in their own bed is to make them want to sleep in their own bed. How exactly do you do this? By making their room fun and enjoyable. This means you should spend time with them, play games, and do fun activities in their room. All this should be in some proximity of their crib.

By doing so, your child will associate their crib/sleeping area and their room with something fun and something that they enjoy/like.

After playing with them for a few days in this way, choose a night where you put your son/daughter in their own bed and explain in a calm way that they will be sleeping in that room this night.

Regardless of what you say or do, there is a good chance that your child will still come straight to your room multiple times during the night. This might last for quite a few amount of days or even longer.

Here’s the trick though: every time they end up in your room, patiently take them back to their room and their bed. Eventually, they should get used to their own bed and gradually stop visiting you during the night. The tough part about this is that it may not happen until several nights of training, so it’s extremely important to be as patient as you can until they can achieve this on their own.

If you’re interested in co-sleeping and want to learn more, I have several posts that are helpful below!

Pros and Cons of Co-Sleeping With Your Baby

Safely Co-Sleeping With Your Baby

What methods are best for sleep training a toddler?

There are quite a few different things you can try: but let’s cover the top three most popular methods.

These include:

  1. Withdrawal Method
  2. Camping in Their Room
  3. Positive Reinforcement

The Withdrawal Method

This is great for children who enjoy having at least one parent around before they go to sleep.

If you’re used to sitting with your child until they fall asleep, keep doing this for a few nights. Then, start to gradually increase your distance at or before bed time with them.

Basically, you’re going to move to the end of a bed or chair so that you’re slightly further and further away from them each night. Gradually increase the distance over time, don’t drastically go from next of them to out of the room one night for example.

Camping in Their Room

For this method, you will be sleeping in their room on a mattress/wherever you can find to sleep. By doing so, the main goal is to give your child a sense of security and comfort that comes with you staying with them.

This should help them get used to sleeping in their bed faster. Just make sure that you can explain to them that this will only be temporary (such as a few days).

Positive Reinforcement

You should always reward them for appropriate/correct behavior. This can include sleeping in their own room/bed and just listening to you in general.

The best time you should give them a reward is right in the morning and not before bed. This can be whatever you want. It doesn’t even have to be expensive or anything over the top, just give them something that you know they’ll like.

You definitely don’t want your child watch TV/use any electronic devices before bedtime. Not only is blue light bad for sleep but children should definitely not be using any of those before bed regardless.

Also, you don’t want them riled up between dinner and bed. That in itself can cause numerous problems.

I’m going to stress this again; having a consistent bedtime routine that gives them attention, yet tells them that it’s almost time for bed is the best thing you can do. This can include a bath, one-on-one time, or maybe a story or a lullaby before bed.

Here’s an example, let’s say your child is happily sleeping in their own bed. But, the main issue is that they don’t like being alone in the room by themselves, or maybe you’ve caught them out of their bed playing with toys in the middle of the night or past bedtime. Here you have an option to sleep in the same room as them and make sure that they don’t repeat these actions.

Eventually, once you feel that you corrected them or that they are improved or feel safe, and don’t need you to be in the room with them, you can go back to your own room.

When it comes to their sleep, just try to do the best that you can but don’t feel bad if things don’t go as planned. You can always try the next day.

Not everyone is perfect, and always remember that no parent can be truly perfect. Some days and nights your child might sleep well, others they won’t. And you know what, sometimes there really isn’t much you could do to prevent that.

Not everyone can be there for their child at all times of the day so give yourself some slack and just try to make sure that whoever watches over them are following your own rules/guidelines about how you want them to be put to sleep.

Don’t beat yourself up if they don’t go to bed on time every night or miss a few. Just try to get back to your schedule as soon as you can and everything should hopefully work out.

If you can tackle solving your child’s sleep problems early, not only can you pat yourself on your back because you got them to bed earlier, but you can also enjoy so many nights of restful sleep for yourself and your family.

Remember that if they’re sleeping, then hopefully you are too. If you’re chronically sleep deprived, you’ll be a worse parent overall, so keep that in mind.

Getting your child to sleep can be one of parenting’s biggest challenges ever. But, if you can pull it off, you’ll be able to enjoy yourself much more because you won’t have to deal with this frustrating portion of raising a child!

I hope these tips help you as a parent and give you the opportunity to get a restful night of sleep. Plus, at the same time, you’ll be giving your child a healthy night of sleep too!

Just remember to be calm, patient, and don’t expect things to change overnight. It will take time, effort, and dedication. However, if you do manage to achieve successful sleep training for your toddler, everyone in your family will be thankful for it.

Remember that above all else, your pediatrician can be a great source of advice, support and experience. Also, many pediatric centers have skilled and trained specialists that can help you and your children get a better night’s sleep.

About the Author Elizabeth

Hi everyone, I'm Elizabeth. My beautiful daughter Alice keeps me awake occasionally...but when I'm busy and can't sleep, I post parenting tips and different ways you can get your baby to sleep soundly through the night, and even naps!

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