biggest toddler sleep problems

Kids / 10 February, 2019 / Dana Obleman

How to Solve The 7 Biggest Sleep Problems in Toddlers

Waking up too early in the morning

For the first little while after your toddler learns to sleep independently, they may start waking up a couple of hours before you would like them to. After months or even years of fragmented, fitful nights, their bodies feel like sleeping ten hours in a row qualifies as a full night. In addition, this is the age of testing boundaries and they’re likely to just check and see what happens if they pay you a little visit at whatever time they happen to wake up.

My favourite solution to this issue is to get a digital clock and place it next to your little one’s bed. Put some tape over the minutes so that only the hour is visible, then explain to them that they’re not to get out of bed before that number turns to “Magic 7,” or whatever time you’re OK with them getting out of bed. If (and by that I mean ”when”) they leave their room prior to that, casually walk them back, put them back in bed, and let them know what the consequence for leaving again will be.

Toddler doesn’t get tired until 10 or 11 at night

Oh yes they do. They might not seem tired at that hour, but that’s usually because they’ve gone past “tired” and are now “overtired,” which, when it comes to toddlers and sleep, is your worst enemy. Kids that have hit the overtired stage often appear really energetic and giddy, so don’t be fooled. They may be tearing around and laughing, but they need to be in bed.

Two big reasons kids have a hard time falling asleep before they get to that overtired stage is due to too much light in their room, and/or too much noise, so invest in some blackout blinds and a white noise machine. Both are available for a reasonable price and will work wonders getting your toddler to fall asleep before they hit the wall. (and subsequently crash through it.)

Toddler leaving their room after lights out

Seeing your little one come out of their room and asking for another kiss goodnight is pretty cute the first time it happens. It’s significantly less cute on the fifteenth iteration, especially when they catch you eating the good snacks or watching some grown-up TV.

So the solution here is the good old fashioned carrot-and-stick approach. Offer your toddler a reward for staying in bed all night. Whatever the reward is, give it to them first thing in the morning, and make sure it’s a daily reward. Toddlers have a hard time understanding the working-towards aspect of a weekly or monthly payoff.

That’s the carrot. The stick is a consequence for leaving their room. That can take the form of anything that your child doesn’t particularly care for, but make sure it’s consistent and easily enforceable. One of my favourites is to close their bedroom door all the way for a minute on the first offence, two minutes for the second, three for the third, etc. There’s just something about a door closed to the point where it latches that a lot of young kids really don’t like.

If that doesn’t do the trick, try taking their lovie away for the same increments of time. Remember to be absolutely consistent with the enforcement. A rule isn’t really a rule, unless it’s a rule.

Transitioning to a big-kid bed

What’s the best way to switch from a crib to a big-kid bed? How about, “Don’t?”

I’m only kind of kidding there. Obviously your child needs to move to a regular bed at some point, but if they haven’t expressed any interest in it yet, or if they’re less than about 2.5 years old, I really suggest you just wait on it. There is absolutely no rush to move your toddler out of their crib, especially if they haven’t expressed an interest in doing so.

If you do feel that it’s time to make the switch, be sure to get your toddler involved in the process. Bring them with you to pick out a bed frame, sheets, pillows and comforter, and ask them to pick a night when they’ll move to their sweet new bed. Be sure to explain to them the rules and expectations around the new arrangements, and that they’re not allowed to leave their room in the night.

Finally, once your toddler’s made the switch, don’t let them switch back. There may be a few nights of less-than-stellar sleep, and kids tend to want to revert back to whatever’s familiar, but stand your ground and things should settle down within a week.

Toddlers and new babies

The arrival of a newborn can be a real whirlwind of emotions for everyone in the house, and there tends to be a regression or two as your older child learns to share your attention with their sibling. The two most common are around potty training and bedtime.

If you’ve already potty trained your toddler, there’s a decent chance you’ll see an accident or two, and this can happen for a couple of reasons. Sometimes your toddler might get a little bit jealous of the time that mum and dad are spending with the new baby, and a few minutes of time on the changing table can make them feel like the centre of attention again. Other times, they may just get caught up in all of the activity and excitement that comes with a new baby in the house and forget to make it to the potty on time.

I know it’s not easy to find time when you have a new baby in the house, but even 15 minutes a day spent alone with your toddler can really help to remind them that they’re still loved and special. If you’re raising your kids with a partner, take turns providing your older child with some “you and me time” every day. Reinforcing their confidence in your relationship can work wonders in avoiding accidents and preventing regressions in their sleep.

Stalling at bedtime

“Toddlers are like little night watchmen. They walk around trying all the doors, but they don’t actually want to find any of them open.” So goes one of my favourite quotes about kids of this age, and it’s 100 percent accurate. Toddlers test boundaries all the time, but they do so because they crave structure and predictability.

Trying to put off their bedtime is the most common method of testing the waters at this age. They’ll resist getting out of the bath, want another story, ask for more hugs and kisses goodnight, come out of their room looking for another glass of water, and so on, and so on.

The only way to prevent this endless negotiating is by not negotiating at all, ever. Set up a bedtime routine and stick to it militantly. Set up a chart so that your child can see what their responsibilities are in the routine, set a timer, and reward them with something small if they get it done in time. (Bedtime stories make a good reward, incidentally.)

Once the routine is understood, do not give in to any requests for changes or exceptions, and enforce a consequence for uncooperative behaviour. I promise you that if they realize that they get nothing from negotiating, they’ll stop, and if they learn that they can get a little extra from negotiating, they’ll do it until they drop.

Separation anxiety at bedtime

I hate it when people tell parents, “It’s just a phase they’re going through,” when they’re looking for advice, but in this case, it’s right on the nose. Separation anxiety at bedtime is totally normal and will pass with some time, provided you stick to your boundaries. Having said that, there’s one big “do” and one big “don’t” that I would suggest.

If your toddler’s getting anxious when you turn out the lights, tell them you’ll be back to check on them in a few minutes so long as they’re quiet. Reassure them by going back to check in 30 seconds or so, and then again in about 45 seconds to a minute, and then two minutes, and so on.

On the flip side, don’t give in to the temptation to bring them into your bed or to sleep next to them in their room. This is possibly the biggest finger-in-the-dike solution to any parenting problem I know of. You might solve the problem temporarily, but you create a bad habit that’s going to be much harder to break once your child has gotten used to sleeping next to you. Stick to the rules and you should be out of the woods within a week or two.

Article by Dana Obleman, Sleepsense


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