Adults often take sleep for granted, but, for toddlers, sleep can signify the end of good times and the beginning of something that can often be scary. Being placed in a dark room away from his parents can prevent a toddler from falling asleep. Likewise, toddlers waking up in the middle of the night, alone in the dark, often deal with it by getting out of bed to seek mom and dad, hurting the sleep quality of everyone in the family. Luckily, parents have a number of sleep training techniques at their disposal -- techniques that can help toddlers fall asleep quickly and get back to sleep with less difficulty.
Making the Bedroom the Bed Room
The playful personality traits of a toddler make her averse to the simple act of sleep. Not only is sleep not fun, but the word “bedtime” signals an end of fun times, making it hard to get your toddler to cooperate with her sleep schedule. One way to help your toddler fall asleep more easily is to make the bedroom a place that’s meant only for sleep, not for play. Avoid playing with your toddler in her bedroom. Move her toys and other distractions out of the room. In this way, you train her to see the bedroom as a room for one specific activity: sleeping.
Bedtime: A Real Time
According to UNICEF, toddlers lack the cognitive powers of self-control and require their parents' assistance in developing such skills. This weakness in self-regulation can result in not responding well to reasoning or encouragements to go to sleep. In many cases, the physiology of a toddler controls him more than his will, so sleep training your toddler relies in part on taking advantage of human physiology. Your toddler's biological clock can help you in this endeavor. Create a sleep routine for your toddler, making sure he gets to bed at the same time each night. This routine trains his body to know when it’s time to sleep, which, in turn, will make it easier for you to get him to bed.
Alone in the Dark
Sleep training a toddler involves more than just getting her to bed. One aspect of toddler sleep that frustrates many parents is the inevitable waking up and coming to your bed in the middle of the night. Toddlers will occasionally wake up at night, and the realization that they are alone in the dark can frighten them. To help toddlers feel safe in their own beds, make their rooms more comfortable. As many toddlers are afraid of the dark, installing night-lights or glow-in-the-dark stickers in their bedrooms can help them feel more comfortable in their rooms when they wake up in the middle of the night.
Being a Sleep Monitor
Part of any good training routine is measurement. As a parent, you should monitor your toddler’s improvements in sleep and find ways to contribute to better sleep quality. An easy way to do this is to check on your toddler after putting him to bed. According to O'Grady Psychology Associates, most healthy toddlers won't take more than 15 minutes to fall asleep, so check on your toddler 15 minutes after putting him to bed. If you find that he is still awake, comfort him with a hug or by slightly altering the room to make it more comfortable for him. Then, leave and do not return for another 15 minutes. This process will help you identify the most effective changes to your toddler's sleep environment.
- The World of Children's Sleep: Parent's Guide to Understanding Children and Their Sleep Problems; Alexander Golbin
- When Children Don't Sleep Well: Interventions for Pediatric Sleep Disorders Therapist Guide Therapist Guide (Treatments That Work); Mark Durand
- Parenting Your Child to Sleep: Sleep Problems in Toddlers and Preschoolers
- UNICEF: Early Childhood Development
- O'Grady Psychology Associates: Help Your Child Sleep Alone