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Bedtime for toddlers: 10 Steps to sleep without tears

Dr. Laura Markham is a clinical psychologist and the founding editor of the parenting web site YourParentingSolutions.com, featuring a popular advice column and parent-tested solutions you can use every day to connect with your kids and ...

Sleepy time solutions

Toddlers don't seem to have an off switch. Often, when they're tired, they just reverberate faster, like an overwound toy... until they crash.

5 more Steps to sleep without tears

6Don't give up naps too early.

Although every child has individual sleep needs, most kids aren't ready to give up naps till age 3. For many kids, going napless can make them cranky and adrenalized, which makes relaxing at bedtime harder.

7Make sure they get enough fresh air and exercise during the day.

Your grandmother was right: kids really do sleep more soundly when they get more outdoor play. Just not in the hour before bedtime, which re-energizes them!

8Most toddlers fall asleep easily if you lie down with them.

And many parents do this. Other parents resist the temptation, because they too often fall asleep themselves, and lose their evenings. This is an individual call, and there is no shame in waiting till your child is a little older before expecting her to put herself to sleep -- it does get easier for kids as they get older. Many working moms, particularly, treasure this time with their kids, and love being able to go to sleep early, then get up rested at the crack of dawn. One downside of this habit is that if the child is not in your bed, you'll need to move, which wakes you up. The other downside is that when he awakens slightly in the middle of the night, during normal sleep cycles, he may well protest your absence.

9All humans wake slightly at night during normal sleep cycles.

Statistically, toddlers who sleep by themselves often wake fully looking for mom, since sleeping alone isn't a natural biological state for them. If you don't want your toddler appearing by your bed at night, you'll need to teach new sleep habits so he can put himself back to sleep during the night.

If you've been nursing or rocking your child to sleep, he's likely to wake during the night looking for you, and will need to be nursed or rocked again to fall back asleep. Your goal now is to help him fall asleep in his own crib or bed, comfortably. That means putting him in bed when he's awake, so he gets used to falling asleep there himself. Breaking habits can be challenging he can't understand why you won't nurse or rock him now. You can expect him to need your close physical proximity to settle down. In the beginning, it can also help to reward him with star charts and prizes.

10Start slow.

Begin (after your bedtime routine) by holding your child until he falls asleep -- not lying down, which puts you in danger of falling asleep. Use the time to meditate, if you can, or think of something delightful that you can look forward to.

The next phase is to touch, but not hold, your child. Then, begin to sit next to your child while he falls asleep, without touching him. Finally, sit further and further away (with a good book and a flashlight if he can handle the light), until you're outside the bedroom door. Another variation on this process is to move quietly around the room, straightening up or folding laundry, while your toddler falls asleep. This provides a sense of security, without him depending on your physical proximity.

Eventually, you'll find that your toddler is asleep almost as soon as his head settles on the pillow, and you'll be amazed to find you actually have time for yourself in an evening!

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