“Ah, toddlerhood – one of my favourite stages filled with humour, laughter and a touch of the emotional rollercoaster, reminiscent of those teenage years. Navigating the transition from baby to child requires parental guidance especially when it comes to behaviour surrounding sleep and sleep training. A toddlers behaviour and parental reactions is at the heart of settling and sleep. 

Toddler’s are budding individuals, taking their first steps into independent views and feelings. Yet, expressing themselves can be a challenge. As they move through emotions like fear, shame, pride, and the sheer joy of discovery, providing guidance becomes key. It’s not just about teaching behaviour skills; it’s about creating a feeling of security. Routine and boundaries gives security which allows a child to confidently settle and sleep independently. 

Wondering where to begin?  Here’s your Sleeping Baby Routines Guide to Toddler Sleep Training!

Self-Settling Strategy

Establishing a straightforward and consistent routine is crucial for toddlers. Clearly defined boundaries and rules contribute to their sense of security, even though toddlers, being at an age of budding independence, will inevitably stretch these limits. If bedtime routines involve delay tactics, like requesting more stories or additional visits to the loo, although cute at first can often lead to settling issues and potential separation anxiety. Maintaining a tight bedtime routine with simplified steps and consistent rules usually resolves such challenges within a matter of days. Inconsistency in approach and routine tends to convey a confusing message and is generally ineffective. Charmian’s sleep approach involves a holistic examination of a child’s daily routine to identify possible adjustments and investigate behavioural reasons before bedtime.

Set the Scene

Establishing a positive sleep environment involves working on daytime behaviour, modifying the bedtime routine, adjusting diet and food intake, and introducing comfort items or soft toys as settling tools. A structured routine that includes cuddling with a comforter before bedtime helps form attachment, and naming and talking to these comforters encourage a child’s engagement and bond. It’s important to keep comforters within the cot and bedroom. Experimenting with bedroom lighting and incorporating a longer, warmer bath, perhaps with the addition of lavender oil, contributes to a calming atmosphere. Between the ages of 2-3, children typically no longer need a daytime nap, so gradually reducing and phasing out this nap from the age of two might be needed. Preparing a child’s daily routine before implementing a settling plan is crucial for long-term results.

The Settling Plan

The bedtime routine and giving a bath 40-60 minutes before bed, signifying the official start of bedtime. Moving directly to a dimly lit bedroom instead of the living area reinforces this message. Limit bedtime activities to a massage, a maximum of two stories and incorporating any feeding routine, such as breast, bottle, or beaker of milk.

Dos & Dont’s

❌ Avoid going downstairs or to the living area to prevent confusion in the bedtime routine.

❌ No TV or screen time from mid afternoon. 
❌ Don’t spend too long in the bedroom waiting for your child to give sleepy cues, this will work against your settling plan, milk, story time and saying goodnight should take no longer than 10-30 minutes.

✅ Give your child full attention during their bedtime routine.

✅ If sleep props like white noise, rocking, or a dummy are used, simplify their usage to enhance effectiveness.

✅ Introduce a 30-second settling ritual during bedtime, which can also be utilised for night wakings and becomes part of a controlled plan.

Controlled Leave and Rescue

The controlled leave and rescue approach involves controlled crying with a comfort plan. The initial waiting time before re-entering the room is set at 5-7 minutes, gradually increasing by 1 minute each time (maximum 7-8 minutes). Frequent returns can lead to frustration for toddlers, so adjusting the waiting time may be necessary. When re-entering the bedroom to calm the child, the focus is on calming rather than assisting in falling asleep, ideally without picking them up.

✅ Keep toddlers in a cot until 3 years of age. 

✅ Maintain a calm atmosphere with minimal communication, following the 30-second settling ritual.

✅ Consistency is crucial for the success of the comfort and cry plan.

While all plans are tailored and personalised, this outlined plan has proven effective for thousands of families. For sleep support, visit my Toddler Sleep and Behaviour Consultancy Page.

Want to read some more? See all our Toddler Development posts