There are two important rewards in store for you as the parent of a two-year-old. First, you'll feel proud each time you help your child meet a challenge. Second, you'll come to recognize that child-rearing problems come in phases. With this perspective comes a realization that handling difficulties with love and understanding is far more effective than becoming worried or anxious.
If you have developed a daily routine, your two-year-old is now used to bedtime; she understands what's supposed to happen even if she doesn't necessarily want to go to bed. If she doesn't want to go to bed, it's usually because she has learned that life goes on even while she's asleep. Suddenly she very much wants to stay up with her parents or siblings, or else she is absorbed in whatever she's playing with. Maybe she has a fear of monsters in the closet or something under the bed. She wants to tell you about her fear and have you reassure her.
If your two-year-old resists going to bed, realize that the problem might not be bedtime, but the transition from play and the day to sleep. Rather than abruptly turning out the light, experiment to see if the transition has been too sudden. Perhaps your child needs something altered or added to her bedtime routine in order to make it more appealing.
Sometime during this year, your toddler will be moving into a bed, if he hasn't done so already. The more positive and enthusiastic you are about this transition to sleep, the more your toddler will follow your lead. If he is having trouble staying in his bed, give him some responsibility for it. Ask him to put his stuffed animals back on top each morning or to pick out clean sheets. Toddlers respond well to your belief in their abilities, because they want to be independent and to show off their skills.
Bedtime routines help children become relaxed and ready to sleep. In advance of this routine, it is helpful to give your child some time to get used to the idea that bedtime is approaching.
Transition from one activity to another is often difficult for two-year-olds because they become committed to the first activity and are not enticed by the prospect of the next one (no matter what it is). You must acknowledge and handle transitions so they don't become issues themselves.
It's a good idea to tell your child that it's almost time for bed about thirty minutes before he needs to start getting ready. Don't announce “Time for bed!” and immediately take him into the bathroom to brush his teeth. Instead say, “It's time for bed in a half-hour,” followed by suggestions for (and help in) finishing up the activity he's involved in. If it's a continuing activity, such as block building, offer to keep the project as it is overnight so he can return to it the next morning.
It's very important to respect your child's play time. Just as you aren't able to drop whatever you're doing at a moment's notice or to immediately put it out of mind, you need to help your child get used to the idea of postponing his play and returning to it later.
Once the transition is made — and he will need your help moving through it — then you can begin your bedtime routine, which should include, of course, washing up or a bath, brushing teeth, and a diaper change.
Just like a younger baby, a two-year-old needs a bedtime routine that features snuggling, listening to a story or looking at a book, and singing a song or two. Visualization, discussed in the following section, can help your toddler get to sleep when the bedtime routine ends.
As active and independent as your two-year-old is during the day, there is a good chance she will rediscover her babyness at night. While she may run all over the house (and the store and the park) during the day, for example, at night she'll want to be held. And though she might want to dress herself in the morning, she may insist she can't get her pajamas on by herself at night. Just as being tired can contribute to a toddler having a tantrum, it can also prompt less dramatic changes such as whining, wanting to be picked up, and needing more hands-on care.
If your child has trouble falling asleep, try a relaxation technique in which you verbally describe a scene to your child that is calming and relaxing. Try to make the scene as evocative yet as soothing as possible.
For example, ask your child to close her eyes and imagine the scene you are describing to her. Use as many descriptive words as you can. Turn the lights down, lie next to her, and speak very softly, using your imagination to create a scene that is comforting to her.
Try something like this: “It is a sunny day, and you are walking on the grass, feeling warm and tired. The grass feels nice and cool under your feet. The clouds are moving across the sky, and you watch them. One puffy cloud goes by, then two. And in the background you can hear some ocean waves.” Use a scene that will make your child feel good, describing a setting such as a beach, a park, or a lake, or even conjure up a make-believe scenario, like walking through a castle where princesses live.
This kind of visualizing helps young children go to sleep by putting them in a meditative state. The story makes them forget that they're supposed to be trying to fall asleep.
When your child was younger, you probably were reading him very short books in which you pointed out shapes, colors, and other identifying pictures. Now your two-year-old can listen to short stories. He will especially appreciate reassuring stories (such as “The Runaway Bunny” and “Guess How Much I Love You”) that help him go to sleep knowing that he is loved and cared for. In addition, the sing-song style of writing in storybooks helps lull him to sleep. See Appendix C: Books and Toys for Two-Year-Olds for suggestions.
Many two-year-olds also like hearing a song or two before they go to sleep. You can put music on for your child — there are lots of CDs created specifically for this — or you can choose a special song that you sing each night before turning off the light.