The toddler years are classified as the period between 12 and 36 months. Developmentally there is a big difference between a 15-month-old, a 2-year-old and a 36-month-old though. Accordingly, there are differences in how you will approach sleep training a 15-month-old, an 18-month-old, a 2-year-old or a 3-year-old. During the toddler years, a great deal of development takes place – cognitive, emotional and social development. Healthy toddlers should not be waking anymore at night especially to feed. This is easier said than done and this article will hopefully help you to help your child to sleep through the night. Here is how can you help your toddler get better sleep.
Consciously during this article, we will use the controversial words Sleep Training. The reason for this is that sleep becomes more of a discipline with toddlers. It is not simply and exclusively about
creating the foundation for sleep but more about how to get your child to sleep in their own bed and giving them the confidence to sleep on their own. This takes training, and sleep training toddlers take commitment, consistency and follow through. Toddlers will no longer merely accept change – they are built to protest the change.
Understanding your toddler
When it comes to toddlers there are three concepts to always remember as a parent – in general, and with regards to sleep. Of course, these are not the only things to remember…
The first concept to remember is that toddlers cannot tell time (surprise surprise). Imagine that! A whole day without knowing what time it is? Even though they cannot read the time it is amazing how they can create and desire to create order through repeated instructions and tasks. This is why routine and schedule is important as it helps to give them a concept of time. They know their routines, for example: they bath, put pajamas on, read two stories and then it is time to sleep.
The second concept to remember is that your toddler is essentially an emotional being, with ups and downs just like you. One minute your toddler is happy, the next they are screaming! Most emotions they experience are new to them and they are getting used to dealing with these. In all honesty, most adults don’t know how to react appropriately to most emotions, so you should not expect your 2-year-old to always know how to behave “accordingly”. As parents, we should teach our children how to react but this takes time and consistency. Sleep training an 18-month-old will involve change and they are allowed to be angry about the change but they should also learn how to deal with the change.
The third concept to remember is that toddler years are synonymous with autonomy. They want to do things on their own. Independently walking, talking and eating. So sleeping on their own is an extension of their personality.
Common toddler sleep issues
Sleep Training on a basic level involves removing sleep associations. We all have sleep associations. A pillow, comfortable mattress or even your partner can sleep associations. That one thing or person you cannot go to sleep without. Positive sleep associations are things that we can use independently (pillow, blanky, taglet, teddy) whereas negative sleep associations (partner, mom/dad, bottles, breast) requires external intervention. The most common sleep associations with toddlers include sucking (bottle, breast or dummy) or a parent having to lie next to the toddler in order for them to fall asleep. When the toddler then wakes at night (which they will) they require the same thing to fall asleep again. With toddlers, their sleep associations have been present far longer than with babies and thus involves more consistency and time when retraining them with healthier sleep association options. Sleep training a 2-year-old or 3 years old also involves confidence. They need to have the confidence to sleep on their own and as parents, we need to give them this assurance.
Parents lie with their toddlers as they feel this is the only way they know how to put their toddler to sleep fast, or they keep offering a bottle as it is the only way to make their child fall asleep? But if this is how they have always fallen asleep at bedtime, you cannot expect them to behave any differently regarding these sleep associations throughout the night.
Should you baby sleep in a bed or a cot?
Toddlerhood also brings other challenges such as the arrival of a sibling and this can prompt parents to want to move their toddler to a bed. When moving your toddler to a bed the only concern should be safety. Most 18-month-olds are too young and often can’t handle the change and being able to roam around their room or the house while parents are sleeping is NOT safe. On the other hand, an 18-month old that continues to try and climb out of his cot is also NOT safe and should then rather be moved to a big bed. The room should then be seen as cot and suitably be made safe.
The ideal time to move a toddler would be around 2 and a half or 3 years. Most toddlers are then able to understand to concept of staying in their bed, the consequences of getting out as well as be excited about moving to a big kid bed. When sleep training a 15-month-old it is recommended to keep them in their cot even if a new baby is on the way. If they are already trying to climb out one can try to restrict their movement with a sleeping bag or by removing pillows and blankets that they may be able to use as leverage.
Bedtime is too late
Parents often complain that they need to make bedtime later with older toddlers by saying that ‘my 2-year- old won’t go to sleep too early.’ Up until the age of 5 years, children still require 11 to 12 hours of sleep. So don’t be tempted to move the bedtime later too soon.
Knowing how to create a space for a nap with an older child is a different challenge, yet just as important as nighttime sleep. And most toddlers still need to nap. During toddler years there are two nap transitions.
The first is moving to one nap. This transition takes place between 12 – 16 months. One of the naps start becoming shorter and shorter and then either struggle to happen or just does not happen and then it is time to start gradually moving to one nap a day.
The second transition is moving to NO nap. Most toddlers still need to nap. But some do start skipping the naps around 2.5 years but children usually only start skipping naps after toddlerhood, so between 3 and 4 years of age.
Natural Sleep remedies for toddlers
Magnesium in the form of bath salts or Epsom Salts is a natural anti-inflammatory, helps with the absorption of calcium and is known for helping with sleep as it helps to naturally relax the muscles.
As toddlers grow and increase their variety they eat they can become picky and parents can be tempted to give them things they like eating. Make sure to monitor sugar and caffeine intake. Give them a variety of healthy snacks throughout the day as toddlers on the move rarely have much time to eat.
Toddlers change and grow all the time. This should not be seen as a challenge but should be celebrated. All the cognitive, emotional and social development is a permanent change, not a phase and throughout this change, it is important to remain consistent to create confidence and security.