When you’re still in the early years of parenthood, sleep can feel like a myth you once heard stories of. Babies and toddlers aren’t known for their excellent sleep schedules, and the challenge of teaching your child to develop a regular sleeping pattern can feel insurmountable. It’s not - every parent goes through this. Your child will settle down with time and patience; in the meantime, setting strict boundaries, rules and expectations go a long way towards helping them find a comfortable routine.
If you’re struggling to keep your child in bed throughout the night, rethink your bedtime strategy. Look around for potential distractions, identify where in the night you may be making your child excitable again and figure out how to arrange your evenings so that everyone - child and parents - gets a good night’s rest.
Establish a winding down routine
Your children learn by example. Although we may feel comfortable ignoring some oft-repeated rules before bedtime, our children will have a much harder time dealing with distractions like TV in the late evening and consuming media before bed. When it’s time to think about bedtime, make sure you have the TV and radio turned off, and that your child is using books and toys to stay entertained.
Turn the TV off at the same time every night. Plan your bedtime routine and stick to it - this can mean dinner at 7:30, a shower at 8 p.m., and then reading a book until light’s out. Try to avoid letting your child play with electronic toys or things that get him excited - for example, the Transformers will probably be a thrilling entertainment, while a Leapfrog book or a puzzle will force him to sit down, focus and stay calm. By building this winding down time into your evening schedule, you can ensure he’s not bouncing off the walls when you’re trying to put him to bed.
Prepare your child’s bed for easy sleeping
There’s an excellent chance your toddler will get up multiple times throughout the night. You can prepare for that by setting up their bed so they can easily fall back asleep. This can mean anything from keeping a very quiet lullaby playing all night, to providing a soft white noise machine that he can turn on and off as he needs. Provide him with a warm blanket but don’t make it so big he can’t kick it off easily, and keep a gentle night light on in a corner somewhere so he won’t panic when he wakes in the middle of the night.
Most importantly, try to ensure the room looks the same when he is falling asleep as it does when he wakes up in the middle of the night. This will allow him to feel safe and comfortable lulling himself back to sleep. Don’t stay in the room until he falls asleep unless you plan on doing so every time he wakes up as well.
Keep them active during the day
One of the best ways to ensure your toddler goes straight to sleep at night is by making sure he’s all tuckered out come bedtime. You can ensure this happens by planning busy, active days for him where he gets to run around outside, play with kids, use his intellect and curiosity and gain new experiences. Children don’t want a calm, novel life - they want to see the world and do everything. If he doesn’t feel at the end of the day like he’s done enough, he will resist all attempts to put him to bed.
Get him up early and make sure his day is full of activity. If running around in the backyard doesn’t seem to do it for him, try to go to a park or arrange a playdate with a friend. On rainy days, try play wrestling or playing make believe with him.
Set rules and follow them firmly
The most important thing you can do to get your toddler to fall asleep regularly is set a routine, and then stick to it. If you give in everytime they cry for you in the middle of the night, every time they get out of bed and climb into your bed and every time they beg for another half hour of playtime before bed, they’re going to control the night time routine. By setting firm rules, you let your child know that bedtime is a non-negotiable event. Struggling to get your child to bed is part of the parenting experience. But so is learning how to overcome your stubborn toddler’s wakeful nature and getting them to sleep through the night. It will happen eventually, but with a firm hand and schedule, you can significantly ease the process and get everyone to bed on time.