Troubleshooting: how can I help my older toddler sleep?
Consistency and predictability are so important! But, there’s no one size fits all fix.
Predictability and choice are important to many preschoolers. Putting the bedtime routine on a visual schedule for your child (and you) can help keep things in order. In terms of giving your preschooler options, figure out where you can put choice into play at bedtime. For example, can he choose one set of pajamas from two, one special towel for washing up, or have some choice over the bedtime book?
Also, pay attention to where the breakdown is at bedtime. Is her imagination running away with her -something quite normal at this age considering general cognitive and language development? Does she want more time with a cool toy or screen time and has trouble starting the routine at all? Does your preschooler want more special attention or conversation from you as he falls asleep? Is he always asking for a snack? Do you think she’s worried about bedtime and falling asleep? Do your best to match the solution with what you see as the problem. There’s no one size fits all!
So, use that imagination to your advantage and let her know that the magical sleep fairy will come during the night and leave a special sticker (or anything small your little one might like) if bedtime goes well. If she’s having trouble giving up a toy at bedtime, try giving some extra toy time in the morning if bedtime is easy (or if she stays in her room all night – whatever you would like her to work on). If your little one seems to want special attention from you at bedtime, you may not want to reward an easy bedtime routine with a sticker or toy – instead, you may want to give him some special one-on-one time in the morning – even 5 minutes! Or, you can do a quiet, calming social game during the bedtime routine to offer that attention and time, or teach her to call you in a way that works in your family (e.g., saying excuse me and calling for you instead of doing something like crying or leaving the room). If it’s a snack he keeps asking for, give a small snack at the beginning of the bedtime routine as part of the bedtime routine. That way you know that he’s probably not hungry when he’s asking as he is trying to fall asleep. If you think she’s worried or feeling nervous, incorporate some deep breathing and relaxation activities into your bedtime routine to help calm everyone down.
There are many posts about toddler sleep on this website. Linked below are a few tips and tricks that I think can be helpful, depending on what you might be looking to change:
Excuse me drill
Good morning light
Bedtime routine chart
What are some signs that I should talk to a doctor or health care provider about sleep changes?
Asking your healthcare provider for a local behavioral health resource that can help with sleep interventions, or a pediatric sleep specialist, can also help. Beyond things like physical discomfort and/or working hard to breathe or snoring during sleep, contact a health care provider if a child’s crying or tantrum behavior seems to be more extreme or problematic than you might expect, if your child has difficulty following directions throughout the day as well as at bedtime, and/or if your child’s worries seem to interfere with her daytime and bedtime routines and functioning.