Let’s be honest, those first few months adjusting to having a new tiny person be a part of your house is tiring. Newborns are adorable, worth it, but demanding. As they grow, they don’t seem to be any less demanding, the challenges and needs just shift.
As a new parent, we’re prepared for our newborn to wake us up multiple times per night. However, as they get a bit older, we can expect to sleep a bit more. Yet, this doesn’t always go as planned and parents are still exhausted throughout the toddler years.
On social media and in my Baby and Child Sleep Training Support Facebook group, I am often asked about the toddler years and how to teach them the sleep skills they need to transition to a big kid bed, share a room, deal with the dark, or sleep more!
Here’s a quick round-up of some of those questions.
Afraid of the Dark
“Lately, my son has wanted the hallway light on and his door open. It’s almost like he’s becoming afraid of the dark. Is it okay to start doing this or will it be more disruptive?”
Natural and artificial light can have a big impact on our child’s ability to fall asleep and stay asleep. It’s one of the main reasons that we promote keeping your child’s room as dark as possible during sleep time. Light suppresses the production of melatonin, our wind-down hormone.
However, being scared of the dark can cause anxiety, which doesn’t promote sleep either. So, if a dim light will give your child some comfort and he can fall asleep easily with it on, go for it. A hallway light is the best option. You can get dim, low watt bulbs that emit just a soft glow. If you want to keep the door closed, a Hatch Rest gives off a very soft colored light in the bedroom.
You can read more tips on how to deal with the fear of the dark here.
Middle of the Night Feedings
“How do you suggest getting our almost 2-year-old to sleep through the night soundly; most importantly, how to take away the nighttime bottle? She will wake up in the middle of the night & oftentimes want milk to fall back asleep.”
That association between milk and falling asleep is called a sleep prop. Other sleep props include rocking or pacifiers.
For this situation, the first thing to work on is eliminating the milk during the bedtime routine, so that your child no longer connects drinking milk to sleep. Typically for all younger aged kiddos, how they get to sleep at bedtime, that is what they will look for in the middle of the night to get BACK to sleep. Secondly, if your child does wake up in the night, do not offer her a drink of milk or the sleep prop they’re relying on.
“Our 2.5-year-old does great for the most part. He sleeps almost the whole night but still wakes around 4am. If we bring him into our room, he goes back to sleep for another couple hours but we know that isn’t a great long-term solution.”
This is a bigger question than it appears. First, I’d work with a sleep coach to make sure that your sleep times and routines are ideal. We’d make sure that bedtime is super clean and that he isn’t overtired at bedtime. Ironically, overtiredness can actually lead to early rising.
If you’ve chatted with a sleep coach or researched the appropriate wake-windows for your child and they are still an early riser, you could try pushing bedtime a bit later, by 30 minutes.
The bigger issue to tackle is the morning snuggles. I know, they’re great, but your child has learned that if he fusses or calls for you early in the morning, he gets to come into your room. In his mind, that is a huge payoff so if it worked once, why wouldn’t it work again right! So, he will keep doing that. We somehow have to break the cycle of him expecting to cry, you come, and then he gets to come to bed with you.
Click here for more tips on how to deal with an early riser.
Transitioning To A Big Kid Bed
“Advice for guidelines/rules/what not to say and how to introduce our 3-year-old to a big girl bed? She’s very rational, so I want to explain expectations to her, but I don’t want to make her feel trapped in bed, nor do I want to open the flood gates.”
If your child is happy in her crib, doesn’t climb out, and still fits comfortably, don’t rush into a big kid bed. Let them enjoy the comforts of their crib.
If it is time for the transition to the big kid bed, keep as much of your routine the same as possible: the timing, the story time, brushing of teeth, etc. To give them a sense of control with this big change, allow your child to take some ownership of their new bed, like picking out new sheets or blankets.
Read more about switching to a big kid bed here.
“My son is 2.5, he’s had the same routine since he was 5-6 months, but now… he bawls when we put him into his crib, tries to climb out, finds every excuse in the book to get us to come in there. He hates bedtime all of a sudden! Thought it was just a small phase, but it’s been going on for a few months. Any idea on what has changed for him?”
As your child grows, your child will need less sleep during the day and longer stretches of being awake. For a 2.5-year-old, the time awake (aka wake window) should be around 5.5 hours. So, if your child is suddenly hating their bed or bedtime, double-check that the wake window is appropriate.
As your child approaches the 3-year-old mark, you’ll notice that your child will start to drop napping. Naps will be met with more protests or complete refusal. If you’re constantly having to battle naptime, it might be time to drop it cold turkey. Some children might need a little “catch up nap” every three or four days as they transition. However, still give your child quiet time – a time in their room that they are reading books by themselves or playing with a few quiet toys.
Sleep schedules and routines are crucial to teaching your child independent sleep skills. If you have any specific questions about sleep training, let’s chat.
Being perpetually sleep deprived does not have to be your life.