by Matthew Devoti
our three-year-old is up. It’s just after midnight. She’s screaming and crying for Mom. The commotion woke not only you and your spouse but also the older kids and the family dog. Your family is raring for another restless night and early morning.
There’s no doubt that your toddler is a difficult sleeper now that you’ve moved her from her crib to her “big girl” bed. This wasn’t always the case. Your little girl was a terrific sleeper, going to sleep in your arms with a bit of rocking after a bedtime story or two. Now neither you nor your spouse can leave her room without her throwing a fit. What happened to your precious baby? What can you do to help your toddler sleep in her bed?
Establish a Routine. Routine provides certainty to your toddler. She learns that there is a certain habit and expectation to every bedtime. Routine removes a certain amount of anxiety from your child as she moves from one experience—those activities that your family does after dinner—to another—going to her own room. In sum, your child knows what to expect as she goes to her own room.
Start your routine by establishing a firm bedtime. Once done, the routine should follow the same ritual each night. That ritual differs from family to family, perhaps child to child, but must remain consistent for the individual. It also should provide the toddler an opportunity to wind down, which is to “quiet.” The ritual may include daily tasks or chores, such as sitting on the toilet, washing hands, brushing teeth, dressing for bed and bedtime reading.
Also, be patient. It takes time to establish the routine. Don’t give up after a day or two, much less a handful of weeks.
Tinker with the Routine as Necessary. Don’t be afraid to adjust. Flexibility is key. The same routine may not work for each of your children or, for that matter, your toddler as she matures. You may find that certain activities fuel your child and don’t help her relax. Drop the activity from her routine. Or, you may find that your child requires additional time to calm. Perhaps read another book to her or engage her in the process, asking her questions about things that she’s then learning at home or pre-school, such as the color of certain objects, sounds made by animals or the shapes shown in illustrations.
Take Little Bites. Your child may fight her move from crib to bed. Perhaps she’s never been a terrific sleeper. If so, be happy with the progress that you’re making and be willing to adjust the routine to help your child calm and ease any anxiety she may be experiencing. For instance, you may find it helpful to assist your child by lying next to her until she falls asleep. When she’s ready to progress, you may move from the bed to the floor near her, and once she’s mastered that benchmark, take a post just outside her bedroom until she calms.
If your child wakes in the night, you need to establish a routine that you and your spouse are both comfortable tackling. You are a team, and your response to your waking toddler must be uniform.
That response may include spending time back with your child until she falls asleep. You may consider teaching her to climb from her bed and walk to your room, where she takes a place in your room, off your bed, to sleep for the night. Whatever the response, the action must be to calm your toddler, establish an expectation and, once calm, get her back to her bed as quickly as possible.
Cherish the Time. A bedtime routine may take 30 or 40 minutes or more. Reality is that taking that time is tiring and burdensome on many of us, particularly after a long day at home or work.
Adjust your attitude. Your child will only be a toddler for so long. Bedtime is often tricky because your toddler wants nothing more than to be with you and your spouse. Realize that the want will not last forever. Take the time to enjoy one-on-one time with your toddler.
Also, know that the time you’re spending with your toddler is a chance for you to unwind. While lying in bed with your daughter as she falls asleep allow yourself to recount your day, consider what you’ve achieved and what you need to do tomorrow. Once down, clear your mind, focus on your breathing or simply try to calm your mind. These activities help you wind down, preparing you for the beginnings of your bedtime routine.
Shrug Off the Setbacks. You are not alone. Your toddler’s struggles and your experience is not unique. There will be setbacks, realize that fact off the bat and don’t sweat them. Review your routine. Adjust as necessary. Cherish that time you’re spending with your toddler and keep marching forward.