What you need to know about toddlers for incredible sleep
Toddlers… am I right?
They’re sweet, sassy, and say the funniest things. But sometimes their sleep needs get a bit more complicated at this age. As new babies, all they needed was their sleep sack, a fresh diaper, and a snuggle goodnight. Now their routine consists of no less than 7 requests for water, 3 sudden realizations that they need to use the bathroom, and philosophical questions so complex, even Aristotle would be impressed.
So much for that coveted “me time” after they’re in bed.
The good news is there is plenty that you can do to help your child get the restorative sleep they need, and also a little “time off” of being a parent each night. They feel secure and rested, and you get to dive into a carton of Rocky Road without anyone asking to share. Oh yes!
Why Oh Why?
You might find yourself wondering “What the heck happened??” with this change in sleep habits. Your once Super Snoozer now fights every part of going to bed. I’ll tell ya why - It’s all about brain development!
Around the 2-3 year mark, you’ll undoubtedly notice an increased desire for independence. They want to do things their way, on their time. And if they can’t? Look out! They’re given the boundary, and they do what they can to push it. The trouble is, when our boundaries are not clear to our kids, it increases feelings of insecurity and those wild meltdowns pop up. To be honest, many of the behavioural flair ups your household may be experiencing has to do with a lack of clear boundaries for your kids.
It’s extra important that kind, clear boundaries are held around sleep as well. Sleep is the start of emotional regulation, physical wellness, and all the other good stuff your child needs for a great day. They might say they don’t want to sleep, but Mama knows best. Sometimes things change for your kiddo, and they’re looking to you for consistency during a time of adjustment. Think about the shift in circumstances for them when they get a big kid bed, or start potty training. Suddenly they’re no longer confined to their bed. Instead, they can run around their room or ask to come out - how new and exciting for them! And yet, it can also become a source of stress because they don’t clearly understand what the boundaries are. The same goes for potty training. You might find they’re pulling out all the stops to stall the sleep process. When they’re asking to be tucked in (again!), need another glass of water, or require yet another trip to the loo, you know it’s time to draw a line in the sand.
Between you and me, when kids are great sleepers, these new tactics catch parents off guard. Why? They’re not used to it, and haven’t had to flex their sleep boundaries muscle very often. Frequently they give in, and everyone ends up exhausted and frustrated. Here’s how you can put an end to that.
Give & Take
Wth toddlers, sometimes you just gotta pick your battles and let the rest go. They’re their own person discovering what they like to do, and how far they can take it. So pick the issues that are important to you, and let the others go. But that does mean that the things you do deem important need to be consistently addressed. When kids are told one thing, and not the next in the same situation, how are they supposed to know what to do? If you want to see the results, remember that boundaries are important, and consistency is your friend.
An “Okay to Wake” clock is such a great way to tangibly help your child understand when it is/isn’t time to come out of their bed. The Gro-Clock is practically a family heirloom in my house, and the Hatch is aesthetically pleasing in your nursery. Whichever you choose, have a conversation with your child about what it means, so the expectations make sense.
While I’m at it, I’ll share another secret for your toddler’s sleep success.
Hint: It’s all about your messaging.
Instead of saying “You need to go to sleep” or “Close your eyes”, try something that doesn’t create a level of stress for your child. Need an example? My go-to is “It’s important to lay quietly in your bed until the sun comes up.” This helps them calmly understand what they’re supposed to do, and when they can come out of their room. Having the assurance that your child understands their role (and you know that evenings are yours!), starts with using your words intentionally.
If you haven’t noticed, toddlers loooove independence! Fill their cup where appropriate so that bedtime doesn’t become a constant fight. Grab 2 pairs of pjs and let them choose which ones they want to wear. Story time? Pull out 3 books and have them pick 2 to read. Give them a choice of a few things so they have a sense of control, but not so many choices that it takes all night. Too many options can be overwhelming for little brains - and big ones too, for that matter!
If bedtime has become such a gong show, give reminders! Consistency is how you’ll reach sleep success, and sometimes that means a gentle nudge to keep things going. Natural consequences like “If you can’t put your jammies on, we can’t read a story” keeps them focused on their task. Offer a hand if they need it. It’s really important that our kids know that we mean what we say.
If you’re struggling with this (who hasn’t?), remember:
“Loving our child does not mean keeping him happy all the time and avoiding power struggles. Often it is doing what feels hardest for us to do… Saying “no” and meaning it.”
Your Secret Weapons
So how can you support your child in feeling safe & secure, while also getting the rest they say they don’t need?
Keep a chart! A list of their nightly routine helps keep them focused on what they need to do. Keep it in the bathroom or bedroom where they can clearly see that after a bath, they brush their teeth, then get into pjs, read a story, and then hit the hay. Give them some control over the situation and have them colour each task as they complete it.
Beat them at their own game. If your toddler loves to stall by continually asking for water, incorporate that in their routine! Before they go to bed, let them have the drink you know they’ll be asking for, then you can confidently decline the request if it comes up later, knowing they’re properly hydrated.
Show compassion. Using the bathroom is like a toddler’s “Get out of jail free” card.
Have them go as part of their routine, and if they ask once they’re in bed, let them once more! Toddler sleep doesn’t have to be so strict, but let them know “This is the last one. After this we need to lay quietly in our bed.”
Just like infant sleep, it’s not linear. You’ll go through tricky times, but having solid sleep foundations will help you navigate things smoothly. When in doubt, I’m here to help! If sleep is a serious struggle in your home, book your call for all the ways I can get your kiddos (and you!) get the rest you’ve been dreaming about. The first one is always free!