Bedtime is a battle of the wills for many parents of toddlers.
Does this sound like a familiar scenario? You read your child a story, kiss her good night and put her to bed after a long day. You’re looking forward to some time to relax or finish evening chores — but instead, you spend the next several hours answering your child’s calls, putting her back to bed and spending time in her room. By the time she falls asleep, the only thing you feel like doing is falling into bed yourself.
Most young children see bedtime as a time to establish their independence. This puts eager-to-please parents who have trouble laying down the law in a difficult situation. In addition to a need for independence, toddlers’ sleep can be disrupted by the increase in cognitive, motor and social skills that comes with their age. Some toddlers also experience nighttime awakenings, nightmares and nighttime fears that make them apprehensive about going to bed.
Despite all these barriers to a good night’s sleep for your toddler, there should be no room for negotiation between parent and child when it comes to bedtime. According to the National Sleep Foundation, toddlers need 12 to 14 hours of sleep each day. Insufficient sleep can have a negative effect on a child’s development, emotions, behavior and immunity, and may even contribute to obesity later in life.
Instead of being held prisoner to their toddler’s bedtime issues, parents should follow these tips for a peaceful bedtime routine:
Maintain a consistent bedtime schedule. Help your child establish a regular sleep pattern by putting him to bed and getting him up at the same time each day and even on weekends. Help your child begin to wind down at least an hour before bedtime by encouraging quieter activities and limiting use of television and the computer.
Create a relaxing bedtime routine. The transition from activity to sleep can be eased with bedtime rituals that help your child relax. Many parents find that a warm bath, quiet conversation about the day and reading a story all send a clear signal that it’s time to go to bed.
Limit your returns. It’s important for your toddler to learn how to fall asleep alone. If your toddler gets up after you say good night, return her to her bed. Let her know that you’ll come back once or twice to check in, but don’t fall victim to being called back several times.
Encourage use of a comfort object. Favorite blankets and stuffed animals are time-honored comfort objects for children. Help your child cope with separation by encouraging attachment to a favorite object that he or she can take to bed.
Bedtime is one of the most important times to remember that you are the parent. Avoid engaging in power struggles, and stand your ground if your toddler pleads and whines. Instead, comfort your child if he has fears or nightmares, assuring him that everyone sleeps at night and that you’ll be nearby in case he needs you.
When toddlers learn to fall asleep on their own, they are better at getting back to sleep when they awaken in the middle of the night. It may not be easy, but helping your toddler master the skill of falling asleep will help ensure that he or she gets a good night’s sleep throughout childhood.
Today’s article is written by Mandy Fricke. Ms. Fricke is the community manager for Georgetown University in Washington D.C. Nursing@Georgetown, a Master in Nursing program, as well as acontributor to the Nursing License Map. In her spare time, she enjoys traveling, reading, and yoga.