Sleep training a toddler has its challenges, but thankfully there are proven methods that can prevent it from becoming a nightmare. If you’re preparing for this next phase in your child’s development or find yourself searching “How to get toddler to sleep on their own,” we rounded up some expert-approved and parent-trialed suggestions to make bedtime and naptime less stressful.
What Is Toddler Sleep Training?
We all know that sleep is vital at every age, so helping your kids establish good sleep hygiene early is extremely beneficial. Toddlers and older children require less sleep than babies but still need an ample amount for physical, cognitive, and emotional development. At 1-2 years of age, a toddler needs about 11-14 hours of sleep total per day is ideal. This can be roughly broken up as 11 hours at night and 2-3 hours of napping throughout the day. Active toddlers might have difficulty winding down or even crawl out of their crib. Unlike newborns who might require co-sleeping for safety precautions, it’s not advised for toddlers as it can be a tough habit to break later. This is when sleep training toddler and older children can make a big difference in their confidence to self soothe.
Sleep training your toddler
Sleep training is a term for the variety of methods you can use to gradually reduce your involvement in your toddler’s bedtime. Like us, children develop sleeping preferences so asking them what kind of sleep environment makes them feel most relaxed can help guide you in creating a sleep routine that will work long-term. Below are some popular tips for sleep training.
Follow a Consistent Bedtime Routine
Studies show that a consistent bedtime routine can improve sleep onset and decrease problematic sleep issues for children. Signaling an hour before bedtime can help ease the transition. Not only can calming activities help prepare your child for bedtime, but dimming the lights can also naturally encourage their melatonin production. Melatonin is a hormone that’s taken on a few nicknames, you might know it as nature’s sleeping pill, the miracle hormone, or the hormone of darkness. Essentially, this hormone is released in response to darkness and provides a circadian signal that it’s time for the body to sleep and wake. Using the Loftie Lamp to gradually turn down the lights can support your approach in getting your toddler to sleep on their own.
When it’s 20-30 minutes before bedtime, begin your routine. This could look something like:
- Start with a warm bath.
- Change into pajamas and brush teeth.
- Potty break or diaper change.
- Storytime in bed with dim lighting.
- Set bedroom temperature to your toddler’s comfort level.
- Turn on white noise using the Loftie Clock.
- Say goodnight!
It might be challenging initially especially if your toddler struggles at bedtime, but be consistent and firm with your routine and soon they will adjust. It’s also best to communicate your routine with family and caretakers when you’re not present.
Go for a gentle exit
If you have a child that’s been in the habit of sleeping with you, transition gradually using the phase out method. This is a gentle but successful approach for answering how to get toddler to stay in bed. This method is not particularly comfortable for the parent in the short term but the payoff is worth it in the long term.
For the first few nights, focus on gradual separation. Put your child in their own bed while you sleep on the floor beside them. Then, decrease your presence from the floor to a chair. Then move to standing near the door until they are sleepy. If they are still struggling or regress at any time, offer a check-in in a few minutes. Throughout the entire process, it’s important that your bedroom remain off limits (even for naptime). The goal is that your child always associates their bed for sleep.
Reassure Your Toddler, But Don’t Reward Crying
Establishing boundaries at this age has the potential to go beyond bedtime and can help toddlers learn discipline and healthy habits. With time and patience, this process will get easier. If your child insists on getting into bed with you, bring them back to their bed and sit on the floor. It’s important to find a space that is not in their bed with them to help build their confidence to self soothe. Listen to their concerns and frustrations about bedtime, be kind but firm and follow through on enforcing that they stay in their own bed. The goal is to help them develop confidence to soothe themselves. Soon enough, this routine will become a habit.
Stand Your Ground About Staying in Bed
If your toddler won’t stay in bed or is particularly resistant at bedtime after you’ve said goodnight, you can also try the bedtime pass method. An exception to this approach is if your child is potty training, then one pass might not be enough!
This simple approach allows a child one pass per night to come out of their room. The key is setting up specific parameters of what the pass allows them to do. For example, going to the bathroom, getting a glass of water, or telling a parent something before they go to bed.
Enforcing rules and limits around bedtime is a great way to get a toddler comfortable with bedtime. Experts believe the bedtime pass method offers an element of control to both the parents for setting boundaries as well as the kids knowing that can come out one last time before going to sleep.