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Sleep Strategies for Toddlers




One of the things I hear over and over again with toddler families is “It was so much easier when they were babies!” Yes, it was and you are not wrong! Toddlers are a THING. They will test you and push your boundaries each chance they get. While it can be really challenging and frustrating as parents, it is perfectly normal and actually is a sign of appropriate development as a cause/effect experiment in your little one’s brain.


So many of my toddler families have sleep trained their kiddos when they were a baby but somewhere down the line things fell apart and now their toddler is climbing out of their crib, coming into the parents room, or requiring the parent to lay down with them to get to sleep. These are the common issues I see and solve when working with toddler families. 


And what toddler families quickly learn is that the same strategy you used when your child was an infant doesn’t have the same effect on your child AND there is not much information out there on how to sleep train toddlers!


In this post, we will go over strategies on how to tackle the common toddler sleep issues.


Issue 1: Climbing out of the crib


Climbing out of the crib is quite common especially for young toddlers. If possible, I do recommend keeping your child in their crib until they are at least 3 years old because cognitively they are not able to handle the responsibility of a toddler/big kid bed before then. You can read about transitioning to the toddler/big kid bed here. 




Regardless of your child’s age, here are a few strategies to keep them in their crib:


  • Keep them in a sleep sack and TURN IT AROUND so they can’t get out of it

  • If the crib has a higher side or back, flip it around so the higher side is out in the room and the low side is against the wall

  • Put the crib in a corner (fewer sides to climb out of)

  • Drop the mattress all the way to the floor (removing the springs)

  • Sleep Training


If none of those things work, for safety reasons it is time to go to a toddler bed. 



Issue 2: Getting out of bed/leaving their room and coming to your room/bed


I sometimes call this the “boomerang kid” - these are the kids who are coming into your room multiple times a night no matter how many times you take them back.It usually ends with the kid in bed with the parents or the parents in bed with the kid (TOTALLY UNDERSTANDABLE!)




For this, you will need to pair sleep training with consequences. This blog post goes into what this involves a bit more. You need to find a way to get them to understand the rule of bedtime which is staying in their room all night. An OK to Wake Clock here is INVALUABLE!!!


Other strategies:

  • Devices to keep them in their room (door knob covers, Door Monkey, baby gate)

  • Walking them back less (in terms of distance) and less aka the “walk back ladder”

  • Closing YOUR door and adding devices to keep them OUT of your room such as door knob covers, door monkey, baby gate



Issue 3: Laying with the kiddo until they fall asleep


This is perhaps the MOST common issue I see when working with toddlers and older kids. Even for kids who may have had great sleep skills once upon a time, somehow they have convinced their parents that they need to lay with them.


For this, similar to the “boomerang kids”, pair sleep training with consequences. 



All Round Strategies


The following strategies are great strategies to implement regardless of the challenge you are facing.


Build connection - As parents, especially working parents, we often miss the chance to TRULY build connection with our kids. But this is perhaps THE most important thing to slow down and prioritize, especially if you are dealing with night time disruptions. Often, kids who are not getting their “connection cup” filled in the day, will seek the connection at night. Carve out 5 minutes EVERY DAY to spend one on one with your child - no screens, no distractions, and THEY are in charge. Let them lead, you follow. Simply be with them, observe them, engage with them, resist the urge to correct or make demands on them. Set a timer and be consistent with it - this will go a long way in fostering a secure attachment.


Reward system - This is usually a last resort for me because it reinforces extrinsic motivation vs intrinsic motivation.But it can certainly be helpful for some kids!! I like to do a progressive reward chart where they get a reward for sleeping through the night/not getting out of their bed for one night they get a prize/reward and then to get the next prize/reward they have to do that two nights in a row, etc. 


Tighten up your routine - Often, I find that the routine has just gotten too laxed and needs to be tightened up, rearranged, or needs a few specific components for sensory play. This blog will take you on a routine deep dive. 


Conclusion


There is nothing easy about a toddler or pre-schooler. They can really put parents through it! The good news is that all of these common sleep issues can be solved with behavior modification aka sleep training. It is a process and takes time, there is not an overnight fix. And there are so many layers to the work. It is ok to be overwhelmed because IT IS overwhelming!! If you need support and guidance, let’s set up a free call and we can be on our way to getting you and your child back to sleeping well within a few weeks!!


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