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Among the many challenges that parents face, getting your child to sleep ranks pretty high on the list with almost all parents literally losing sleep over the issue!
Though there is no one-size-fits-all formula to lull our children into a healthy sleep habit, here are some basics that we need to be aware of along with keen observation of what works with our children. Each of my children had different challenges with regards to sleep in their toddler years, but with our patient support, could learn to sleep on their own.
WHY TODDLERS FIGHT SLEEP?
The most common reasons for your toddler to drag out bedtime include:
Rocking the baby, nursing or bottle feeding the baby to sleep, or keeping the child in the lap are the most common ways parents put the child to bed. Though having high temporary success rates and making it easy for the parents to quickly put the child to sleep, it creates a dependency in the child for external help to sleep. The child starts associating these techniques with sleep and it becomes more difficult to soothe himself in the absence of these external dependents. Giving a milk bottle or nursing a child in a lying down position could even cause ear infection. Putting the child to bed when they are just sleepy but not asleep yet will help the child to slowly learn ways to self-soothe.
The amount of sleep a child needs varies based on the age of the child, physical needs, diet and certain other factors.
Children love routine. It is important to have more or less same sleeping schedule each day. The body’s built in clock helps to support the routine. For instance, the routine could be each night your child gets a bath, listens to you read them a story, has a snack, and then its lights out. The child gets a cue that it’s time to fall asleep. It is best to start a routine early, by 4 months.
Having activities that are too exciting or which have bright lights like TV, mobile can make the brain too alert for sleep. Ideally avoid over stimulating activities and bright screens an hour before bedtime. To prepare the child for bed, do something to relax. Take a warm bath or listen to calm music.. Once the child is in bed, an eye contact with adult or talking or singing too much can excite the child. Speak softly, lie down with the child, comfort her (maybe by letting the child come over you or touch you) but don’t make it rewarding by picking her up. Keeping the room too dark can make the child uncomfortable as the child is suddenly not able to see things or move around.
Many toddlers will try anything to stay up just that little bit later. There’s so much to learn and explore that they simply don’t want to miss anything! Children can get very creative when they want to stay up longer. Asking for one more drink of water, taking one more trip to the toilet, or simply getting out of bed repeatedly, are all ways for her to spend more time with you. If she needs to go to the toilet, let her. But explain that bedtime is bedtime, and put her straight back to bed. After her bedtime routine, sit quietly, talk in hushed voices and make things seem boring.
How do I know when my child is sleepy?
If your child is sleepy, you might see some of the following tired signs:
How to handle mid night waking up?
Night waking is common among toddlers. Up to half of under five-year-olds have times when they don’t sleep through. It could simply be that your toddler’s going through a developmental leap, in which case her sleeping patterns should soon get back to normal. It is normal for adults and children to wake up a number of times during the night. Adults tend to be unaware of waking up and quickly go right back to sleep. Young children respond in a much different way. They may feel very insecure when they wake up. As a result, they cry, scream, and do what they can to get someone’s attention. The natural response from parents is to comfort the child. They may feel that they need to “help” their child return to sleep. They do this by feeding, rocking, holding, or lying down with the child. As they do so, the child learns that this “help” pattern will always occur to assist him in going back to sleep. Many young children are then unable to fall asleep without the help of a parent. Be consistent with your sleep routine during the night too. Talk in a calm and quiet manner, and reinforce the idea that it’s a time for sleep.
Do naps in the day interfere with sleep at night?
If they don’t nap enough during the day, young kids may have trouble falling asleep at night. Most babies need two or three naps a day. Toddlers need at least one nap. Most kids still take an after-lunch nap until age 5. If your child is cranky and sleepy, let her nap, as long as it’s not too close to bedtime.
What are the ways toddlers soothe themselves to sleep?
They may suck their fingers, or thumb or fists. It is an instinctual behavior. Some toddlers also become quite fixated on stroking their parent’s ears, faces, or hands. Toddlers may stroke their bellies, their ears and their feet. Some toddlers yank on or twist their own hair (or their parents’ hair!) as a way to soothe and calm themselves before sleep. Some may rock their bodies back and forth during the naptime. Some may grimace, shrug their shoulders, twitch or make repetitive noises as they wind down for sleep.
One of a parent’s most treasured moments is to look in on a child who is sleeping peacefully!! It is important to understand that many sleep problems in children are both common and natural. They are not a result of poor parenting. We must understand that bedtime is a big transition for many young kids. As parents we need to support them in a consistent manner.