Ten must-try tips to put your toddler to bed for the whole night
Being a parent is amazing, exciting but also very tiring. It’s only natural to crave some down-time in the evenings. If bedtime is challenging or the nights keep being interrupted, it can really hold a mommy or daddy back from being their awesome selves during the day.
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As a recovered mombie, I want to start out by saying that even parents with the best of routines can have sleepless months or years. “It’s not your fault”, is a great way to start a conversation with a sleep deprived mommy, before launching into the personal tips and tricks. A bad sleeper can happen to you, it isn’t always the parent’s doing. Elliot and Amelia were terrible sleepers when they were babies but as toddlers it seems like we are being rewarded by the universe. We put them to bed by 7.30 P.M. and wake them up at 7.30 A.M. In general they both like to go to bed and are such cuties during their bedtime routine. However we have had our ups and downs and they have inspired this list!
Stick to a routine
At our house the routine is dinner, bath, tv, brush teeth, pee. Then we put Amelia to bed together: I put on her diaper and sleeping bag and the three of us kiss her goodnight. She then takes her paci and doll, pulls her music toy and we leave the room. Then we take Elliot to his room: he switches on the light in the hallway, talks about who fixed the light when we moved in, puts on his pj’s, we look out of the window together and discuss who else is probably going to bed, he picks a book, gets in bed and turns on his nightlight. He turns the big light off and we read a story in bed together. Then we give a big hug, he pulls his music box and pulls up his cover over his head (I know) and goes to sleep.
Change the routine
Routine not working? Change it or add something new to it, like this music toy both of them have. They’ve had it since they were babies and from ten months up or so they’ve been able to pull the string and console themselves. We still hear it go off at night sometimes. Or add a new teddy to the mix, or switch the order around. But then,… stick with it.
Give your toddler responsibilities. Around bedtime you’re probably trying to keep your toddler in check. After all you don’t want him/her to deviate from the routine, right? And there’s a Netflix binge (or if you’re lucky Netflix and chill :) ) waiting to happen downstairs. But it might help to let go a little. Let your toddler walk to their room instead of holding him, let him/her turn on the light again to look for that one specific paci, let them pick the book, make it a routine that he is the one to put toothpaste on the brush,… Let them take care of little things they can do themselves, it shows that you trust them and trust the routine. If Elliot wants to look out of the window again, I go with the flow and negotiate with him: “one more time honey, but then it’s time for you to go to bed without any other requests” and it helps. This was my husband Bart’s advice to me and it helps! Try it, you won’t regret it.
What if they won’t go to sleep?
Ok, so some of you are thinking: cute, these are supernatural kids that walk up to their bedrooms all jolly, mine go into a frantic meltdown by the time we reach the stairs.
Well try baby steps: explain to your toddler why he has to sleep. Tell him about all the fun things you’ve got planned for the next day and he’ll need his energy for. Then prepare him for the routine, tell him what it’s going to be like. “Look Elliot I ‘m going to give you one last hug, you turn on your music and then I ‘m going to leave the room. If anything’s the matter you know I can hear you through the monitor, ok?” Elliot even went through a few weeks that he would test us and call us up for something random just to see if we could hear him. We didn’t get upset and went up to reassure him.
If that’s a step your toddler’s not ready for yet. Then try to sit on the bed till your toddler sleeps, three nights later or so move over to the sofa or a chair closer to the door, another three nights later wait outside the door, or put away some laundry or something on the same floor, after another few nights, say you’re running down to get something and return (with me it was my phone- not sure that’s very educational but this way I could read a bit while he nodded off), last step: go down and stay there.
Cry it out
This is a tricky subject. Every parent has a different approach and every child is different. In general, I’m not pro letting a baby cry. On the other hand, at around the age of 11 months we realized that Elliot needed to cry a bit to fall asleep. He cried about ten minutes, and fell asleep. However, this wasn’t the kind of crying he had done before. We had tried to let him cry it out twice before and it was really physically unbearable for me. And I decided to never do that again.
There are gray area’s to explore as well though: you don’t have to pick between either co-sleeping till the age of six or letting your baby cry inconsolably. You can, for example, try to teach the baby to console himself a little before you head to their room. This is an important skill your baby needs to be taught - in a gentle way. Try to make the wait a little longer every time. As a breastfeeding mom I would immediately respond to every cue in the first months, but by the time we were ready for some form of sleep training because we were so sleep deprived, I restrained myself just a bit and didn’t jump up right away. It surprised me how often a mumble or cry wasn’t an actual feeding cue or cry for comfort, but just a sleepy interruption before he would doze off again.
Amelia was very different. She didn’t cry unless something was the matter. And after endless terrible nights, we discovered that she was lactose intolerant (read more about this in my post “That time I didn’t sleep for a year…twice”) After that, she loved to sleep and we didn’t think about letting her cry because it meant there was something specifically wrong (sick, teething,…) and moreover, it didn’t work.
Now some sleep related practical things we like:
Elliot has one of those @kidsleepfrance alarm clocks where the bunny lights up when he can get up. It started working from the age of two and a half (tried it before as Elliot was understanding a lot, but it wasn’t a hit).
In the mornings we always go get him out of bed after he calls us. He doesn’t come out himself. This is so handy, he will never – and he’s three and a half now – he will never come out of bed alone. This grew organically but I’m thankful for it and will try to teach Amelia to do the same thing.
Sleep creates sleep
Don’t let your toddler get overtired. In our case it’s always been very true that the better the kids nap during the day, the better the night is. So we only very exceptionally mess with naptime.
Have you tried changing the interior of your toddler’s room? We never had this problem with the kids as toddlers but when Elliot was a baby we did end up changing the location of his bed: further away from the door and in a corner. It seemed to help and might be worth a try!
What if they wake up at night?
For a while Elliot would call us in the middle of the night for a cuddle. Very sweet but very tiring, especially when he started combining it with another call a little after for water. That’s when we tried the bunny clock again. Then we picked out a stuffed animal together (just one he already had up in his room) and promoted it to night cuddler. We suggested to Elliot to first check his bunny clock and then to cuddle his stuffed bunny. If that didn’t work, he could call us. He didn’t again.
In general we also try to stay very calm when one of them wakes up. We take our cell phone as a dimmed light, and use low voices or preferably say nothing. We don’t get upset, and try to consent in what they want. The next morning we discuss how mommy and daddy need their sleep and energy to do fun things as well and we remind them before bedtime. That usually helps.
In the confessional
Looks like we’ve got our act together when it comes to sleeping and honestly, after two years of barely sleeping, we are very proud of where we are today. However, I must admit, we still have highs and lows. There are “phases” we go through that are rough. The most annoying one is that I often can’t get Amelia to bed. I had the same problem with Elliot for a while but with Amelia there really is no way that I can get her to sleep. Daddy to the rescue: he gives her a cuddle, lays her down and bob’s your uncle. I’m so happy she listens to him but it’s very frustrating on nights that Bart isn’t at home. I take his advice so seriously and do exactly the same but she won’t have it. Periods like this can last weeks and even months! And then, without any other changes, she’ll suddenly go to bed in no time!
I wish all of you long, healing nights soon and let’s continue the conversation about sleeping, toddlers, babies, pregnancy, parenting hacks and fails on Instagram @mommoiselle_com!