Insisting that toddlers nap or go to bed if they aren't sleepy can provoke power struggles. Instead, have them observe quiet time. A noisy environment can certainly interfere with a child's ability to fall asleep. After entering dreamland, some can tolerate a lot of hullabaloo; others remain susceptible to being awakened by sounds, especially during lighter phases of sleep. If you can't produce a quiet environment on cue, classical music can help to mask telltale sounds that suggest interesting happenings are going on elsewhere in the house.
To create a quiet and relaxing transition, help them unwind by providing soothing entertainment, such as listening to music or looking at books. Bath time routines help, too. Discourage continued requests to get up by putting a kitchen timer in their bedroom. Tell them that, unless it's an emergency, they must wait until the alarm sounds before getting up or calling to you.
Once they do relax, sleep may not be far behind. Even if sleep doesn't follow immediately, children need to learn to relax and spend time entertaining themselves. Common strategies parents use to help their toddler fall asleep include rocking them to sleep, singing lullabies, telling stories, giving back rubs, holding their hand, and taking the child into their bed.
Nursing and giving children a bottle to help them fall asleep is
Meanwhile, some desperate parents have gone so far as to childproof their little night owl's bedroom, leaving no outlet uncovered, no hard edge exposed. They empty it of all toys except board books, stuffed animals, and other toys that can be safely enjoyed without supervision, and remove all furniture but the bed. They install a gate across the doorway to contain their darling, and allow them to play until they're ready to sleep, instructing them to call Mommy and Daddy if they need anything. Then they head off to dreamland, and let their night owl entertain himself.
Stress and Exercise
Little insomniacs may not lie awake pondering their worries like their adult counterparts do, but stress definitely makes it harder for them to unwind at sleep times, or fall back asleep if they awaken. The birth of a new baby, a change in child care staff, weaning, cranky parents — anything that produces stress — can complicate sleep and result in sudden difficulties at bedtime.
Exercise relieves pent-up energy born of stress, tension, and the basic need to be on the go. Be sure your child gets lots of chances to run and jump and engage in active physical play during the day. A kiddie exercise class may encourage more sedentary types to move more and sit less. Then, spend more time engaging in quiet, pleasurable activities before naps and bedtime to soothe frazzled nerves. Try an extra-long bath, a second storybook, or a third chorus of a lullaby. Remember, however, that although stress can make it harder to relax enough to sleep, this too is something children need to learn to do. Anytime they are able to recover from an upset during the day, point it out. This skill will serve them well at night.
Rituals that induce relaxation can help toddlers make the transition from a busy, active day to sleep. Going through an invariable progression from taking a bath, hearing a story, listening to a lullaby, and saying prayers helps toddler insomniacs, just like their adult counterparts. As people come to associate the ritual with sleep, their bodies automatically begin to relax.
Many parents don't consider instituting naptime rituals, but they can make a real difference. It's good to communicate with your baby sitters or child care workers, if possible, so that the routine never varies. Rituals should be designed to soothe, so avoid stimulating activities like roughhousing, tickling, and exciting or scary stories.
Some children engage in troublesome rituals such as repetitive rocking, which can escalate into head banging, as a way to soothe themselves. It usually stops by eighteen months. You can help by not overreacting, by padding the sides of the crib, and by beefing up other bedtime rituals to provide a more gradual transition.
The downside of all that rocking and singing and back rubbing and music playing to quiet fretful children and help them fall asleep is that they come to depend on someone or something outside of themselves — a real problem if they wake up in the middle of the night. Children need to learn eventually to handle the task of falling asleep — and of falling back asleep — unassisted.
Many parents dedicate themselves to learning how to put their child to sleep, when the goal should be for
To help toddlers wind down at bedtime, check out books like
The first step is for them to learn to spend time alone. Being comfortable spending time alone in a crib or toddler bed is a prerequisite for falling asleep and for falling back asleep. By handing toddlers a stuffed animal after they awaken in the morning or from a nap, leaving the room, and waiting five to fifteen minutes to rescue them, parents can give them time to practice being by themselves in their cribs. Some experts say this can serve them well at night.