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.
The bad news is that some kids seem to be born good sleepers, and some don’t. The good news is that falling asleep is a matter of habit, and all kids can learn it. It may take some time to develop that habit, but your busy toddler can learn to put himself to sleep, and to stay asleep, eventually.
10 Steps to sleep without tears
Start the wind-down process early in the evening.
Toddlers who’ve been racing around can’t simply switch gears and decompress at bedtime. If dad comes home during the bedtime routine, make sure he reads a quiet story with the kids, rather than tossing them in the air as a welcome.
Follow the same evening routine every night, if possible.
Dinner, bath, stories, then kissing and tucking in all the stuffed animals who share the toddler’s bed, then prayers or blessings, then lights out while you sing to your little one, is common and effective. Beware of too elaborate a routine, because they have a way of expanding to take more time. Your goal is a sense of calm, safe, predictability.
Toddlers who are showing oppositional behavior may resist moving along with the bedtime routine. The best way to sidestep this is to have the clock, rather than you, be the bad guy. “Look, it’s 7:15! If we can get out of the tub now and brush your teeth, we’ll have time for an extra story before lights out at 7:30!” That way, you’re on his side, and he doesn’t need to rebel against you. He also begins to learn about responsibility and making smart choices.
Help your toddler set his “biological clock.”
Toddlers need a set time to go to bed every night. Most toddlers do better with an early bedtime (around 7pm), because it seems to fit their biological rhythm. When they stay up later, their adrenalin kicks in, and they actually have a harder time falling asleep. Dim lights in the hour before bedtime, as well as slow, calm routines, help kids’ bodies know that it’s time to sleep. And watch for those dinner-time yawns that signal he’s tired. If he kicks into “overdrive” mode, getting him into bed will be much harder.
Set up a cozy bed.
Your goal is to ensure that discomfort doesn’t exacerbate the normal cycles of slight waking into real waking. Quiet matters — make sure she can’t hear the TV. Consider a “white noise” machine if necessary. Darkness matters — make sure the curtains keep the streetlights out. Room-darkening shades are invaluable, especially in the summer months when your toddler will be going to sleep while it’s still light out. Warmth matters — if she kicks her covers off, make sure she sleeps in warm pjs with feet. And of course, once she’s out of diapers, be sure she uses the bathroom last thing.
Many toddlers need a bedtime snack.
This is especially true during growth spurts. Warm milk, a piece of toast with peanut butter (not hydrogenated oil, though), something calming and predictable, not too interesting, and without sugar, usually works best. If they can eat it at a snack table in their room while you read a bedtime story, before brushing teeth, you can move efficiently through the bedtime routine.