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Ending Bedtime Sleep Struggles

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One of the biggest bedtime struggles that I hear about from parents concerns setting limits – especially in regard to toddler bedtimes.

It can be hard to tell who is training whom – are you sleep training your toddler or are they training you? If your toddler has the upper hand, it can lead to all sorts of chaos around bedtime. With 3 kids of my own, I get that it can be hard at times to set limits and that at the end of a long day, the last thing you want is to battle your toddler over bedtime.

Sorry to be the bearer of bad news, but bedtime is exactly when limits need to be set and parents must be in control so that toddlers can get the sleep they require. Of course, your toddler will try to gain the upper hand at bedtime, but it is essential that parents keep (or regain) that control. When toddlers have the control at bedtime, it can lead to acting out and disrupted sleep patterns because they don’t feel secure or know what to expect.

Regaining control doesn’t require yelling or screaming – it’s a matter of creating a routine and rules and following them consistently.  When your toddler knows what is expected from them and what to expect from you, bedtimes will become something to look forward to – for parents and tots alike. By following my 4 C method for setting limits, parents can regain the upper hand and make bedtime battles a thing of the past.

 

Consistency

Consistency is key – without it, you’re setting yourself and your child up for bedtime failure. It doesn’t matter which sleep training methods you choose or how you schedule your bedtime routine, you need to be consistent in order to have success. It won’t happen overnight – you need to have patience and stick with it, but a consistent bedtime routine and consistent expectations regarding sleep are vital to your child learning good sleep habits.

To that end, make sure everyone who will be putting your child to bed (including babysitters and grandparents), know the bedtime routine and expectations (and stick to them).

Communicate

Sleep is a natural thing, but so is resistance to it by toddlers. One thing that helps is to discuss sleep with your child. They need to know why they need to sleep and how important sleep is to their mind and body.

Start by asking your child how they feel after a good night’s sleep and how they feel when they’re tired. Once they understand why they need sleep (and all of the important things that happen during sleep) it will be easier to convince them to go to bed (and sleep) without a fight.

Make sure you discuss your expectations and sleep rules with your little one before bedtime – don’t assume they know what is expected. Model good sleep habits and talk about sleep yourself – use phrases like “Mommy feels so great and is happy today because you let me sleep all night last night, thank you” – to start the conversation.

Your child will feel proud of their role in your sleeping better and will want to continue to help you.

Consequences

Toddlers are masters of figuring out when you’re making an empty threat versus when you mean it. You need to communicate the consequences of what will happen when sleep rules are broken before your toddler breaks them and follow through. Make sure any consequences are immediate and relatable so your child knows why they happen.

It can be helpful to explain using an “if…then...” technique. For example: “your door can be open, but if you leave your room, I will shut the door” or “If you come out of your room once I’ve left, I will put up a gate to help you stay in your room”. Both of these examples follow the one-strike rule and are easy consequences for toddlers to understand.

Take Control

Parents, not kids, need to be in control of sleep. Bedtimes and naptimes should be treated like any other non-optional part of the day.

You likely don’t allow your child to dictate when you eat dinner or leave for work, so why let them control when bedtime or naptime is? Once naptime or bedtime becomes open for debate, your child will try pushing his or her limits further and further.

You need to avoid phrases like “sure, we can miss nap today so you can stay at the park” and “okay, one more episode of your cartoon, but then it’s bedtime” because they teach your child that negotiations around bedtime are ok.

You can be in control of your child’s bedtime routine and still help them develop some autonomy and independence by allowing your child to have some control over bedtime (just not the time). Get your child to pick out which pyjamas to wear, stuffed toy to sleep with, or which story to read first. This gives them the feeling of control without disrupting the bedtime routine.

Once your child knows the limits around bedtime and what will happen if they push those limits, they are much more likely to settle down into a bedtime routine that leaves everyone happier and well-rested.


Alanna McGinn is Founder and Certified Sleep Consultant of Good Night Sleep Site, a global sleep consulting practice. She is Representative and Director for the International Association of Child Sleep Consultants (IACSC) and serves on the faculty of The Family Sleep Institute. She and her husband, Mike, live in Burlington, Ontario with their 3 children (1+twins!) and when she’s not on route to the bus stop or tripping over fire trucks and tea sets, she and her global team are working with families to overcome their sleep challenges. You can follow her expert advice in national publications like Today’s Parent, Yummy Mummy Club, PBS Kids, and Canadian Living. Alanna strives in helping families and corporations overcome their sleep challenges and have happy well-rested smiles in the morning. You can find out more about Alanna McGinn and Good Night Sleep Site at www.goodnightsleepsite.com and you can join Alanna on the first Wednesday of every month at the Burlington location of Snuggle Bugz/Nestled for her in-person sleep clinic from 10-11am