Overcoming Bedtime Battles with Your Toddler


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 bedtimemanager 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.


Where Does Your Preschool Child Sleep?

Where does your child sleepSome young children are perfectly content to sleep in their cribs or junior beds whether they are alone in a room or with siblings.

Others may go to bed in their crib or bed but wake screaming and cannot be comforted, except by getting into mommy and daddy bed and spending the rest of the night there. Still others will not even start out the night in their own bed and the only way anyone in the house is going to get a night’s sleep is if little one gets to go to sleep in mommy and daddy’s bed.

In an article written by Dr. Sears, a practicing pediatrician for over 30 years and father of eight children, he speaks to the concerns that many parents have about allowing their preschool child to sleep with them by answering a question from a reader who wrote,”Our three-year-old wakes up in the middle of the night and either demands to sleep in our bed or insists that Mommy comes sleep in her room. How can we break this habit?”

Dr. Sears answers by advising the parent that she needs to determine if  her child’s desire to sleep with her is a habit or a need. He reminds parents that nighttime can be scary for little people.

If it isn’t fear that is the cause of wanting parent contact during the night time hours, than what could be the reason? Dr. Sears suggests that the need for nighttime contact may be particularly strong if a child had little or no contact with the parent(s) during the day.

The key is to find a solution that meets both a parent’s need for privacy and sleep and a child’s need for attachment and security.

Here are some suggestions Dr. Sears made for addressing the sleep situation:

  • Lie down with your child in her room and parent her to sleep with a story, a back rub, and some cuddle time.
  • Put a futon or mattress at the foot of your bed and explain that if she wakes up she can come and sleep in her “special bed.” Your three-year-old needs to understand the importance of not disturbing your sleep. If she needs comfort during the night, tell her to tiptoe quietly and slip into her special bed without waking mommy or daddy.
  • Above all, don’t feel you are spoiling your child or that she is psychologically disturbed because she can’t sleep on her own. Many emotionally healthy children simply enjoy the nighttime security of sleeping close to their parents.
  • Remember that the time your youngster spends in your room (or in your bed) is relatively short, but it encourages a positive life-long attitude about bedtime, conveying that sleep is a pleasant – rather than fearful – state to enter.

To read more of Dr. Sears advice on children’s sleep problems go to www.askdrsears.com.


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