Getting a good night’s sleep can be difficult, especially for parents of young children. Yet, without adequate sleep, you may not find the energy to be as loving or patient as you would like. So getting your child to sleep well is imperative, for your health and sanity as well as his.
No one solution will work for all children. Try one technique, and if it doesn’t work, try another. But here is a basic list that will work more often than not.
Make sure your child gets enough regular exercise – especially outside.
I’m always amazed when I take my granddaughter to the playground. In the summer, it will be crowded with children of all ages. But once school starts in the fall, even the number of toddlers and preschoolers drops off until around November, the playground feels like a ghost town. Slides still work when there is snow on the ground! They probably work even better, as the snowsuits are slicker than bare legs and sneakers.
Little children need to run around. They need to jump, and spin, and crawl and yell and throw things. If you don’t take them outside, they will do these things in your house. Take them out, and let them get fresh air and sunshine. Toddlers can go outside any time the temperature is about twenty degrees (fahrenheit) or higher. Just dress warmly. A regular outdoor playtime will help ensure that your toddler is tired when it’s bedtime.
See that your child eats well, and at regular intervals
Another common toddler issue is one of eating. Many parents complain that their toddler seems to be living on love! When they were infants, they had great appetites, but now that they are toddlers, they turn up their noses at many foods and often skip meals entirely. As parents, we know that skipping meals is not healthy, and we want to make sure our young children are getting all the necessary nutrients and vitamins to aid in their health and development. These food issues can be very distressing – and they can also affect the child’s sleep.
If this sounds like your child, then you need to solve the food issue before you’ll make much headway on his sleep problems. Eliminate all sugar from your toddler’s diet. He may have developed a taste for “sweet” and now won’t eat anything that doesn’t taste sweet. Take away all white sugar, all sweetened foods and all deserts, and his tastes will widen. I have seen sugar-free toddlers eat green peppers or olives for an afternoon snack!
The toddler should have three meals a day, and one or two snacks. Schedule his meals about five hours apart, and keep all snack servings very, very small! An AM snack could be no more than two crackers and two ounces of juice! The child will be hungry by lunch if he doesn’t fill up at snack time.
Establish a solid bedtime routine
Make a list of about five activities that you want your child to do every day night before bedtime. Write the list down and make copies, posting one in the bedroom, one on the fridge, and one in the bathroom, until you and everyone who helps you with child care has it memorized. Five is a good number, because the toddler has five fingers. You can teach him to count off each step on his fingers, until all are done. Then you both know what comes next – bedtime!
Many bedtime routines include some variation of: pick up toys, take a bath, put on pajamas, brush teeth, hear a story. Next, put the child down in his crib and if it is part of your tradition, pray with him. Turn out the lights (night lights may be used) and close the door.
Having a routine helps. While the child is picking up his toys, and taking his bath, he knows that it is almost bedtime. This helps him to unwind, and prepare himself. His body will naturally be tired, and will fall asleep faster. It is important to do the routine at about the same time every night. You don’t want him to fall asleep in the middle of picking up his toys.
How to handle crying – method one: Cry it Out
This method is just what it sounds like. You put your toddler down. He’s clean, fed, dry, and well-loved. He doesn’t need a thing. You just let him cry and cry, and eventually he will learn that bedtime means bedtime, and you aren’t going to go in and read him another story, or rub his back, or let him crawl into your bed. He will go to sleep. The next night he won’t cry quite as long, and the next night he’ll cry even less. In about a week’s time, he should stop crying altogether.
This method was common a generation or two ago. Many parents today are just not comfortable with it, or maybe their children are just more strong-willed. But when this method doesn’t work, try the next one.
How to handle crying- method two: Training
For this method, you put your child in his bed, and you sit right there (get a chair!) and hold his hand. You do not talk to him, or read another story, or get him another drink. But you can stay right there, and hold his hand until he falls asleep. This will reassure him that you are there, and it is safe to sleep. This can take as much as forty minutes the first day! If it takes much longer, then you may need to go back to the first three steps – more outside play time, more food, stronger bedtime routine.
You continue to sit with him, holding his hand, for several days. Eventually he will fall asleep a little faster. Then, you move your chair back from the bed about a foot. You don’t touch his hand, but you stay in the room until he’s asleep. Keep this up for three or four days. Then move your chair farther away. Continue to do this, sitting on your chair in his room, at farther distances, until your chair is in the hallway. But that time, your child should be falling asleep without your presence, and you can put the chair away.
If he wakes up in the middle of the night, you must repeat the chair-routine again! You cannot pull him into your bed because you’re tired. You sit on your chair in his bedroom until he falls asleep. It could take several weeks, to a month or more, to cure your toddler’s sleep problems, but if you remain firm, you will solve the problem and be able to look forward to years of sleeping well. At least, until he starts driving.