Toddlerhood is one of my favourite stages, it’s hilarious and rewarding but a demanding stage where your child can seem to be on an emotional rollercoaster, much like the teenage years.
Toddlerhood is a time of separation as individuals from their parents, the first step of independent views and feelings without the ability to express themselves well or understand logic. For the first time experiencing strong emotions such as fear, shame, pride, embarrassment but also joy, excitement and love. Toddlers need lots of guidance through this stage to learn behaviour skills but also to feel secure.
How does a parent navigate toddlerhood harmoniously?
The toddler stage is the transition period from baby to child and although communication lines are opening, negotiating and reasoning may not be quite there. As a toddler sleep consultant I thought I’d share my advice on a typical toddler issues, I see on a regular basis, settling to sleep at bedtime.
Toddler Sleep Training and Settling
A simple consistent routine, boundaries and rules help toddlers feel secure. Partly by understanding a clear message, although left to their own agenda they will stretch those boundaries as they start to become independently thinking around this age. Stretching the routine at bedtime with delay tactics such as one more, two more stories, one more visit to the loo, one more kiss, refusing to lie down, wanting you to stay in the room until fallen asleep, will often result in settling issues which can spiral out of control and sometimes lead to separation anxiety.
If this sounds familiar then keeping a tight bedtime routine will help. Simplifying your bedtime routine and keeping consistent rules will give a clear message which will eventually work, often in a matter of days. Inconsistency with your approach and routine gives a confusing message and generally won’t work.
When it comes to toddler sleep training you might be surprised to know that sleep is the last thing I focus on. My approach is holistic, firstly look at your child’s daily routine to see if there is anything that can be tweaked to help promote your plan and investigate any reason for the cause of behaviour before bed.
Set the scene.
Set up a positive sleep environment and routine which will support your plan of action. This can involve working on behaviour during the day, changing the bedtime routine, diet and food intake and introducing a comforter or a couple of soft toy bed friends which will become the new settling tool and make bedtime more inviting. You can do this by cuddling with a comforter before bed to help attachment, also naming and talking to the bed friends will help encourage your child to chat and engage with them in a bid to occupy and calm them in the cot on falling asleep and waking up. The only rule is to never let them out of the cot and bedroom. You might want to try changing the light in the bedroom and giving a longer, warmer bath before bed, I like to add lavender oil to help calm and relax.
Between the age of 2-3 a child will no longer need a daytime nap, reduce the length and phase this nap out gradually from the age of two when settling and sleep if effected.
Prepping your child’s daily routine before starting your settling plan is really important as no settling plan will work long term if your child’s routine is at the root of the issue.
So what is this settling plan of action?
Giving a bath 40-60 minutes before bedtime means it’s officially bedtime when getting out of the bath. A bath before bed relaxes.
Moving straight to a dimly lit bedroom instead of a living area gives a clear message it’s bedtime.
Read a story or two maximum (breast, bottle or beaker of milk if part of your routine) and then bed.
✅No going downstairs to a living area, this will confuse the bedtime message.
✅ No TV or screen time for child or parents 😉
✅ Don’t spend too long in the bedroom waiting for your child to give sleepy cues, this will work against settling quickly. The story/ milk and saying goodnight should take no longer than 20-30 minutes.
✅ Do give your full attention to cuddles and story time before putting down to bed.
If you are using sleep props such as white noise, rocking or a dummy, simplify this by not using them unless unless you have to and not as a default but as last resort, this gives the prop more power which means it should work more effectively.
Start a 30 second settling ritual on putting down to sleep, this will add to the consistent routine and give comfort over time. It could be a simple as three pats or a head stroke while saying Mummy/ Daddy loves you, night night. This ritual is then used for settling on waking in the night if needed and part of your controlled plan.
Controlled Comfort and Settling
Here’s the hardest part of the plan, leaving the room and waiting for an increasing length of time before going back in to settle your child if they are crying, ideally using your settling ritual and without picking them up. This is NOT cry it out but a controlled crying and comfort plan. The starting point to leave the room and wait would be 2-5 minutes depending on the level of cry, age of your child and parent’s ability to wait. You then need to increase by 1 minute each time before going back in. Often the more frequently you go back in, the more frustrating it can be for your toddler so you might want to leave the length a little longer. If the crying is stop start or calming then also wait longer as your child is working it out, going back in at this stage could stimulate and ramp up the frustration.
When going back in to the bedroom to calm your child, you are to do just that and not helping to fall asleep. This is ideally done without picking them up. If they haven’t calmed in a few minutes then leave the room again and start the timer again. If your toddler is in a bed and not a cot then this might be a much trickier situation with your child getting out of bed and coming out of the room. I normally keep a toddler in a cot until closer to 3 years of age for this very reason. In this case you will need to keep putting your child back to bed with little to no communication.
✅ Do not wait outside the room where your child can hear or see you
✅ Do not bring your toddler out of the bedroom.
✅ Keep calm with little to no communication other than your 30 second settling ritual.
✅ Do be consistent, don’t start this comfort and cry plan unless you can see it through.
This plan is working for lots of families on a weekly basis with my guidance. If you’d like a personalised plan? Head over to my Consultancy page.
You might also be interested in my Toddler Settling and Sleep Training post.