Category Archives: Toddler sleep

Building your bedtime routine

A question I hear all the time from new parents revolves around bedtime routines. How do we create one? What goes into a bedtime routine? Why should we do a bedtime routine? When do you do the bedtime routine? Here are some answers to all of these very important questions.

Even as adults we have a bedtime routine. For adults, this may mean that we brush our teeth, we wash our face, we change into pajamas or something different then we were wearing during the day, maybe we read a book or some adults watch TV (which is the number one sleep crutch among adults in the US but that is a topic for another article). This process is important because it helps our brains prepare for the process of falling asleep and also helps it begin to produce melatonin, the hormone that helps us to fall asleep and stay asleep for long stretches at a time. The bedtime routine for a baby or child serves the same purpose.

Babies as young as about 8 weeks old can begin to appreciate a bedtime routine. Sometimes the question of what point in the night to start this becomes a challenge to figure out because bedtime may not yet be a fixed time. In fact, newborns typically have very late bedtimes (starting as late as 11 or 12 at night and gradually creeping earlier) until about 3-4 months old when it usually shifts to some time between 6 and 8pm. Yes, I realize that for newborns, bedtime really may just be when you finally turn out the lights and change into a different pair of sweats and try to catch a couple of hours of sleep before the next waking and feeding. As your baby approaches 8 weeks, it is a good idea to begin to incorporate a bedtime routine prior to whatever seems like it will be bedtime.   Don’t worry if your child doesn’t actually fall asleep soon after the bedtime routine. That is okay. Eventually it will become easier to determine when that day’s bedtime really is (I say “that day’s bedtime” because until nap schedules start to evolve, which may not be until close to 6 months or sometimes a few months later, the actual bedtime may move around a bit based on when your child woke from their last nap).

Bedtime routines for babies

I will typically encourage parents of babies to keep bedtime routines pretty short and concise. It doesn’t need to be longer then about 20 mins and this is often including a feeding. This is partly because babies are sometimes very tired by the time the day comes to an end so a long drawn out bedtime can lead to them becoming more overtired and exhausted. The other reason to keep it short is because as your child grows and you move into the toddler and preschool years, your child will likely want to add on to their bedtime routine with an amazingly creative variety of stall tactics. If your routine was pretty short to begin with, it has some room to grow before it is taking 45 minutes to an hour to get through your bedtime routine. For babies, bedtime often entails a short bath or maybe just a brief washcloth wipe down. When you come into the room where your baby will be sleeping, it is a good idea to turn down the lights and turn on a white noise machine if you are going to use one. You are then light and sound changes to create associations between the things that are changing in your child’s environment and what is about to be happening (going to sleep for the night). Many families like to do a short infant massage as they are putting on lotion, a diaper and pjs. You can certainly attempt to read a short book if your child isn’t too tired, but for many infants, they don’t have the attention span to read a book or they are so tired that they are trying to eat the book or hit it away. If this is the case, don’t stress, there are plenty of other great opportunities in the day to read to your child. For babies there is often a feeding as part of the bedtime routine. Where to put this feeding in the process is often related to how old your child is and if you need to use the feeding to help your child fall asleep at bedtime. I speak with moms all the time who will say “I nurse my baby to sleep…I know this is bad” or “my baby falls asleep drinking his bottle…I know this is bad.” Neither of these things is bad. It is only something to change when it is no longer working well for your family and also when your child is at an age when he is more capable of putting himself to sleep without needing the help of a sleep crutch to fall asleep. When you are no longer nursing to sleep or feeding with a bottle to sleep, I have parents move the feeding to before the bath or before the pjs go on. I will also often suggest to families that they just walk around the room, saying good night to three things in their child’s room and sing a song before putting their child in the crib for sleep. These are further associations that your child will make between what happens prior to going to sleep and then what is coming next.

Bedtime routines for toddlers and preschoolers

For older children, more often they may have a bath regularly at bedtime, especially in the warmer months when they are outside, playing hard and getting dirty, or after a particularly messy dinner. Following last trips to the potty and teeth brushing, return to your child’s room for pjs and stories. As children reach the toddler years, the more parts of your bedtime routine that you child can make choices about, the better as going to bed is not a choice. For instance, your child can choose which toothbrush from 2 or 3 he wants to use, he can pick out his pjs, he can choose a few books to read (be sure to set consistent limits with books otherwise you will end up reading until you fall asleep yourself!). Some families prefer to play a quiet game or do a puzzle before bed. These are also great ideas. Then come kisses, maybe a song and the final tuck in. I always found it helpful to also ask my kids of there was anything else they wanted to ask me before I say good night. They often asked some silly, nonsensical question, but this seemed to head off a call back as it gave them a chance to get the last of their words out for the day. While bedtime for toddlers and preschoolers may sometimes feel like the home stretch after a long day, keeping that routine consistent and predictable is essential and will set you up for a smooth transition to sleep.

Sweet dreams!

Taming toddler sleep shenanigans

Ahh toddlerhood…What a wonderful time! Wait, who am I kidding? Any parent of a toddler will tell you that this can be a very challenging time for both children and parents alike. It is an incredible combination of your child learning that he is a unique and individual being with his own set of likes and dislikes and also the knowledge that he can start to be in control of various parts of his life like dressing and undressing himself, going to the potty and making demands such as “I do it myself!” even if it is not something that he is fully capable of. Don’t get me wrong, there are a lot of great parts of toddlerhood like the lightening speed at which he is learning new words or his ability to recall events or obscure details that you long forgot (an inconvenient combination of this is the way he recalls the exact words you used when you discovered a parking ticket on your car 3 weeks ago!). It is an understatement to say that this can be a very challenging time for parents. Despite our brain’s convenient ability to forget the challenging parts of parenting as they fade into the past, I still vividly recall my daughter’s toddler years (she is now 10!) and how every night of toddlerhood, I would fall, with exhaustion, into bed and think to myself “that is one less day of toddlerhood that I have to survive.”

toddler sleep troublesSo of course, when it comes to sleep, toddlers can present new and unique challenges that may differ from what you experienced when your child was a baby. Here is just a smattering of what I refer to under the general heading of “toddler sleep shenanigans” as well as some tips to survive them.   Some of them are endearing while others may make you swear (either under your breath or more audibly) and wonder “why oh why does the hardest part of the day have to be at the end of the day???!!!!”

Your basic stall tactic

You’re in the home stretch. You’ve brushed teeth, put on the PJs (which may or may not have felt like a wrestling match worthy of WWF), read the books and you’re ready for that final tuck in (you’re so close!) when your child innocently requests a last sip of water. So here you go, back into the bathroom to fill up the cup and while you are in there, he suddenly has the urge to poop which rivals the time your husband spends in the bathroom as soon as he walks in the door after work. Now you have made it back into the bedroom but you must say good night and kiss each and every one of his stuffed animals and tuck them in as well. Before you know it, bedtime is now 45 minutes later then you intended it to be.

What to do: toddlers love their routines and predictability. They also respond well to having the expectations and limits laid out ahead of time. But like anything else with children, when you set a limit but don’t stick to it (inconsistency), your child will push you harder and escalate more quickly to a tantrum. Be sure that your limits are things that you are prepared to follow through on. To handle the last ditch attempt stall tactics, try to preempt as much as you can as telling your child while you are in the bathroom brushing teeth “this is your last chance for sips of water,” “this is your last opportunity to go potty before morning, do you want to try to go now?” And even presenting your toddler with the opportunity to make a last request of you before you walk out like “do you have a last question for me?” This helps them feel like they have the chance to make choices during a process that ends with something that they don’t have a choice about: going to bed. When your toddler protests, be very clear that he has gone to the potty or had his last sips, you will do those things again in the morning. And stick to it!

The call back

You have successfully escaped the room but are now being recalled for one of many “very important” requests. This can be anything from “my finger hurts” to “I’m hungry” to an immediate need to discuss something he learned at school that morning.

What to do: keep interactions brief and try not to troubleshoot and problem solve too much. It is likely that the more you try to come up with solutions to whatever the issue is, the more your child will find other things to request

ticket1For older toddlers (3 and up), some children are capable of understanding a “ticket system” which involves giving your toddler 2 or 3 tickets at bedtime and explaining that every time there is a call back, he pays a ticket. If he has tickets remaining in the morning, he can earn a small prize. The prize doesn’t have to be anything grand, depending on your child, a sticker might even suffice.

The early morning wake up call

Just as you were trying to get in your last hour or two of sleep before the alarm goes off, in walks your human alarm (aka: the toddler), ready to start the day. You glance at the clock in disbelief because it can’t possibly say 4am.

Okay to wake clockWhat to do: Early rising (as waking between 4 and 6am is know) is one of the most painful and stubborn sleep behaviors to resolve in children. There are some very specific factors that contribute to early rising that you should certainly read up on. Beyond those factors, I highly recommend behavior modification clocks for toddlers, such as the Okay to Wake clock. This clock looks one way when it is time for sleeping (in this case, a soft yellow color) and different (green) when it is time for your child to wake up. You can set the wake up time on the clock (I recommend starting at 6am and then as your child becomes successful at sleeping until 6, you can inch the time later) and teach your child that when it is yellow, it is bedtime/sleeping time and when it turns green, it is okay to get up. If he wakes before the clock is green, he has to go back to sleep. Unfortunately, these clocks don’t work their magic on their own. As a parent, you will need to reinforce it. So, if your child wakes before his clock turns green, you will need to tell him that it isn’t morning, the clock doesn’t say it is and he needs to go back to sleep. It’s okay to blame it on the clock. If, however, you allow your child to get up before the clock changes, the clock becomes meaningless.

There you have it, just a few ways to troubleshoot some of the more challenging toddler sleep behaviors, for more answers to your toddler questions, visit Sleep Tight Consultants on Facebook or contact me to schedule a free 15 minute phone consultation.

 

Toddler transitions: 12 to 24 month sleep

12 to 24 month toddler sleepToddlerhood often presents a whole new set of sleep challenges for children and their parents.  I often tell parents that up until about 1, parenting is largely about management.  Gaining some semblance of control over the peeing, pooping, spit up, sleep, etc.   Once your child turns one and begins toddling as well as really taking in all the information you are relaying to him and also responding back, this is where parenting really begins.  Your child is now becoming a truly interactive human being.  This may mean that your toddler is starting to express some strong opinions about when and how he wants to sleep.  What follows is an outline of what to expect between 12 and 24 months.

Regression

Many children are starting to figure out walking around 12 months.  This can often throw sleep for a loop.  Like all developmental milestones, this new skill has the potential to derail sleep and lead to a regression.  Practice, practice, practice!  The more your child is practicing his new skills in the waking hours, the less he will feel the necessity to practice when it is time for sleeping.  This regression can often lead parents to think that their child is ready to move from two naps to one.  Ideally, your child will hold onto his two nap schedule until at least 15 months.  I would also not recommend moving to one nap until your child is sleeping through the night.  It is very hard to make it to one nap without a good, solid 11-12 hours of night sleep.  Certainly some will be able to transition to one nap sooner then 15 months, but if you can make it to 15 months, you will be in a better spot for less night sleep disruptions, potential night terrors and early rising.  This article has a lot of important information to keep in mind when moving from two naps to one.

There can also be another regression at 18 months and 24 months.  These often have much to do with increases in separation anxiety and sky-rocketing verbal skills.  Along with all the other things you are attempting to do as a parent, 20 minutes of concentrated, eye to eye contact at the ground level with your toddler can significantly help with separation anxiety.  When children feel close connections with their parents, it strengths the feelings of attachment and ultimately make separations (of which night time is the biggest separation they experience all day) easier in the long run.

Two naps to one

By 18 months, most children have moved to one nap.  The nap typically starts at noon, at the earliest, (and is proceeded by lunch so that your toddler can begin to understand the new order to the day—wake, breakfast, play, snack, play, lunch, nap, snack, play, dinner, bed) and ideally lasts at least 2 hours.  Many parents are worried about the large window of time that now exists between morning wake up and nap.  Your child will adjust to this window.  Usually there is a tough patch between about 10 and 11am where your child will look super sleepy.  This is a good time to offer a snack and get outside for some fresh air to help rejuvenate.  The window of time that is now much more significant is the time period between waking from the nap and bedtime.  This is the one that we don’t want to be too long.  At 18 months, you want to aim for this window to be not much more then 4 hours if it can be avoided.  When children move to one nap, bedtime often moves earlier to minimize that gap between waking from the nap and going to bed.  As your toddler approaches 24 months, some children are fine with a 5 hour window between nap and bedtime.  If your child looks very sleepy around dinner time and then gets a burst of energy before bed (this is that rush of cortisol from being overtired), it can be a good indication that you need to move bedtime earlier.  A typical schedule for a child over 18 months is:

Wake:  6-7am

Nap starting 12-1pm, lasting approximately 2 hours, may be longer

Bedtime:  7 (may need to be even closer to 6 or 6:30 for some children right after transitioning to one nap) and sometimes moving again closer to 8 as your child gets older.

Bedtime routine

I would not advise moving a child to a toddler bed/or non-crib bed before 2½ years old and holding out until closer to 3 years old has many benefits as well.   Stall tactics also begin to emerge in toddlerhood.  In theory, as parents, we should be flattered by this.  Toddlers stall at bedtime because they want to spend more time with their favorite people:  You (their parents)!  Bedtime is also that moment in the day when we are most worn thin (either by being at our outside-the-home jobs or our extra strenuous job for caring for a toddler all day long) and are in the biggest hurry to shuffle our toddler off to bed for some much needed grown up time (which often involves clean up and collapsing into our own beds).  Toddlers are very smart, they know this.  Taking your time to go through a consistent and predictable bedtime routine will help your toddler settle into bedtime with less struggle.  Routines should be generally the same each night to give your toddler some sense of control and also offering as many choices as possible.  Here are some things your toddler can choose:  their toothbrush (offer a two choices), their pjs (select from two pair), the book(s) to be read (careful not to fall in the “just one more story” trap, offer 3 or 4 and let your toddler pick 2).  With regard to stories, give your toddler warning when it is the last book or the last pages.  Then stick with it.  Inconsistency will lead to tearful and escalating begging for “just one more!!!!”

When my daughter (now 9) was a toddler, I went to bed each night telling myself that I now had one less day of toddlerhood that I had to survive.  I recently heard someone say “if toddlers were 6 feet tall, we would have a much higher murder rate in society.”  Toddler mood changes and demands can be fierce as they are rapidly figuring out the world around them with little self-control to guide them.  Offering consistent and predictable routines with as much patience and understanding as you can muster will help you through tough time.  Hang on, it can be a rocky climb, but your more rational little person will hopefully be meeting you on the other side of the toddler mountain.

Toddler transitions: 2 naps to 1

Yawning toddlerJust when you thought you had this whole child sleep thing figured out, your toddler goes and changes things on you. So frustrating! By about 9 months, most children are taking two naps but as they move closer to sometimes a year and most often 15-18 months, they will begin to only need one nap. Here are some helpful things to know about this transition from 2 naps to 1.

How to know its time for one nap:

  • Your child is between the ages of 15 and 18 months. Sure, some 12 month olds will try to go to one nap. This is often associated with new-found developmental skills like walking. Walking is a big new step in your toddler’s life that requires a lot of brain work. This, in turn, can often seem much more interesting then sleeping during the day. If your newly turned one year old is on the cusp of walking and is also fighting naps, I would give it some time before you give up on two naps entirely. Below are some tips for helping to hold onto two naps for a little longer. Yes, I have seen some children who are younger 15 months who are able to handle one nap. It’s not ideal, but some children are really not good nappers until they consolidate their day sleep into one time per day. However, if you are using sleep crutches to get your child to sleep (holding, rocking, feeding, bouncing, etc), it is likely that it will look like your child is ready to go to one nap long before they are really ready. This is because in order to successfully use crutches to get your child to sleep, they have to be very tired. As children get older, and especially in the afternoon, they are less tired. Therefore, it will take more work to “induce” your child to sleep using crutches. If this is the case, teaching your child how to put himself to sleep using sleep coaching can solve this problem. I have seen children who haven’t taken two naps in months go back to easily taking two naps a day once they are sleeping independently.
  • Your child spends their whole morning nap talking, playing, singing and never falls asleep.
  • Your child spends the whole morning nap talking, playing, singing and then falls asleep right as you are about to get him up at 11am.
  • If your child no longer seems tired for their morning nap for a period of about two weeks, rather consistently.
  • Your child decides he loves his morning nap, couldn’t imagine not taking it but then won’t fall asleep in the afternoon. This is more problematic and a less desirable way to drop a nap because when you move to one nap, it needs to happen in the afternoon and not the morning otherwise you will end up with a very long window between the morning nap and bedtime. This often leads to late afternoon meltdowns (by parent and child), bedtime struggles, and early rising.

How to make the move to one nap:

When children are showing the indications (see above) that they are ready for one nap, it is important that this nap happen after noon. On average, when children start taking one nap, it may be that you can hardly make it to twelve o’clock before your child looks like they will pass out. As his brain adjusts to being awake through the morning, this will get easier. There can often be a real rough patch between about 10 and 11am where your child is showing all the signs of being tired. You know that if you put him down for a nap, he will sleep but that will likely mean that is the only nap you get for the day. It’s too early. This is the time to work on rejuvenating your toddler with some fresh air, snacks and distraction. I typically suggest then giving your child an early lunch and then nap after lunch. This will help your child start to organize how they think about their new routine: “I eat lunch and now I take my nap.” Remember, you have a toddler now and they love routines and predictability. Some parents will start by moving the nap to 11am but be very careful that you don’t get stuck there. If your child naps from 11-1pm, you will end up with a long window to bedtime. As your child approaches two years old, the nap often moves closer to 1pm and sometimes even later as you move further into toddlerhood.

Things to keep in mind:

  • Your child may not be able to handle one nap every day quite yet.
  • It is okay to do a day or two of one nap and then a day or two of two naps to keep your child from getting too overtired.
  • When children go to one nap, it may be only the length of one of their naps from before. For example, if your child was taking two hour and a half naps, when he goes to one nap, he will probably initially take one hour and a half nap. It will take his brain some time to figure out that he is only going to get in one opportunity to sleep for the day, and he has to consolidate all his daytime sleep into that one nap.
  • If every day you are doing one nap still feels like a struggle, and it’s not getting better, its okay to go back to two naps until you just really cannot make it work anymore. Incidentally, I did this with both of my kids when they were transitioning to 1 nap.

What to do if you know your child still needs two naps but you can’t make it happen

This commonly happens somewhere between 12 and 15 months when your child will start fighting one of the naps (most often the PM nap) but you know that he’s not ready to make it through the whole day on one nap.

  • Make sure that your child’s naps are already no earlier then 9 (for the AM nap) and 2 (for the PM nap). If they aren’t there yet, move them so that they are happening at those times.
  • If your little one wants to take a nice long morning nap and then no nap at all in the afternoon, one option can be to shorten the morning nap. I have had families shorten it to even 30-45 minutes in order to create enough sleep pressure to be tired enough in the afternoon for the nap. This, of course, can backfire because if your child’s brain will only allow him to fall asleep one time during the day and you have shortened that one time, then it’s going to be a long, rough day.
  • You can lengthen the awake time between first and second nap. Start with 2:30 if you aren’t already there and then you can push that PM nap as late as 3 or 3:30. It may not be long but you just need to get it in. Incidentally, because of this late PM nap, I find that children in this age group have some of the latest bedtimes because they wake at 4 or even a bit later from their nap and can easily be awake 4 hours before bedtime. ****This bedtime will need to move earlier again when your child goes to one nap in order to shrink that window between nap and bedtime.
  • As a last ditch effort, in cases where a child just cannot make it to a nap at noon but trying to make two naps really happen is no longer working, I will have parents do a 15 minute car nap in the AM around 9am. This is just enough to take the edge off and help everyone make it to noon for the nap. Again, if your child will only fall asleep once during the day, this can backfire. See Honest Toddler for the “science” behind this. Please remember that if your child tends to fall asleep in the car anyway, if you are in motion around nap time (noonish), it is very likely that he will fall asleep there and this may be all you get for the day.

Good luck!

 

Pacifier pros and cons

pacifierI frequently hear from parents that before their child was born, they thought they would never use a pacifier.  Then once their baby arrived and had a strong urge to soothe by sucking, all those firm beliefs went out the window.  Pacifiers can be a great tool, especially for babies who want to be sucking all the time, and it doesn’t have to be a problem unless it becomes a sleep crutch. 

Here are some of the pros and cons of the paci and ways to figure out what to do about it and when to make a change if it has become a sleep crutch.

PROS

Pacifiers can be a great way to soothe your baby.  Don’t forget that your baby was likely to be sucking on his hands when he was in utero.  Sucking is one of Dr. Karp’s essential 5 Ss to help soothe your baby.  In the first 3 months, your baby has very limited ability to soothe himself.  Unless your baby has successfully figured out how to suck his thumb and then remembers that it makes him feel better, the pacifier can be a very helpful tool.

There is also research that suggests that pacifers can help prevent SIDS.

CONS

For young babies who are still being swaddled, the unfortunate news is that when your child doesn’t have access to their hands for soothing, you are going to be the human “rebinker.”  Since children don’t typically have the pincher grasp required to put the pacifier back in their own mouth until about 8 months old (although I have seen some particularly determined children do it around 6 months), it is likely that until he is able to pop it back in on his own, you will need to do it for him.

If you keep the pacifer until your child is a toddler, inevitably, there will come a day when you have to get rid of it.

Pacifers have also been linked to higher rates of ear infections in children.

What to do when the pacifier that has become a problem

If your baby is not at an age when he is ready for sleep coaching, you will probably need to keep the paci until you can begin sleep coaching.  This can happen as soon as 4 months for some babies while others need to be closer to 6 months.   If your baby is ready for sleep coaching and you want to be done with the paci (at least at night), then I typically recommend getting rid of it at the same time you do sleep coaching.  There is no way to wean the paci, it is either in or its out.  I find that cold turkey is the only option.  After 2 or 3 nights, your child won’t remember that he ever used it.

If your child is able to put the paci in his own mouth but just doesn’t do it (meaning you have seen him do it during playtime or he is able to pick up pieces of food and put them in his mouth), then it is time to encourage some paci independence.  You can start with putting the paci in his hand and then guiding his hand up to his mouth, then just put it in his hand and eventually pointing to it on the mattress in his bed and saying “here is your paci, put it in your mouth.”

Hint:  if he loses the paci in the crib during the night, put several in there and use a breathable bumper to keep the pacis from falling out through the crib rails.

Getting rid of the paci for an older child

I don’t typically recommend getting rid of the paci for a child over 15 months (children become very attached to things at about 15 months and will begin to experience another burst of separation anxiety) until he is 2 or 2½ and has a bit more ability to have a conversation about what to do about the paci (more on that in a bit).  Truthfully, by about 9 months, the paci has become your child’s security object and taking it away will be likely to produce a great deal of distress.   If you are going to do away with the paci between 9 and 15 months, introduce a security object or lovey.

If your child is an age when you can have a conversation about saying good-bye to the binkie (around 2 or 2 ½ or even 3 years old), begin talking about what is going to happen a few days before getting rid of the paci so that you can help your child prepare for the changes.  Make sure that you are not choosing a time of new stresses like moving into a big bed, right before a trip, or when a sibling is about to arrive on the scene.  You can read a few books that address the topic like Little Bunny’s Pacifier Plan by Maribeth Boelts, No More Pacifier for Piggy! by Sam Williams, or Goodbye Binky:  The Pacifier Fairy Story by Sinead Condon.

Here are a couple of ideas of plans you can make with your child:

  • Give the pacis to the “Paci Fairy” who can exchange them for a new special toy to sleep with.
  • You can pack them all up and bring them to your pediatrician to give to less fortunate children who need pacis.
  • You can take a paci to Build a Bear and your child can put it inside a new stuffed animal to sleep with.

Whatever you decide to do, make a plan and stick with it consistently.  Expect that there will be tears of frustration and a few rough nights ahead but trust that your child can learn this.

Make a smooth move from the crib to the bed

transition from crib to bedMany families contact me when they move their toddler from a crib to a bed stating that their child slept great when in the crib but now that he is in the bed, it’s a circus all night long.  This can be a tough move for some children.  Many children are comforted by the familiarity and confinement of the crib and struggle with the loss of boundaries when the rails of the crib are no longer there.

Before moving your child out of the crib, be sure to seriously consider your child’s age and level of cognitive development.  There is no reason to rush the move from the crib to the bed.   Think about how well your child follows instructions.  Does your child have the ability to understand the rules for sleeping in a big bed?  Sometimes I hear from parents that their child wasn’t sleeping well in the crib so they thought they would try the bed.  Other times there is a new baby on the way and the parents want to use the crib for the baby.  Moving your child out of the crib before he is ready can backfire.  If your child isn’t sleeping well in the crib and he is under 2½ years old, I would work on helping your child improve his sleep while in the crib before making the move to the bed.  If your child doesn’t know how to fall asleep on his own in the crib, this will not become easier in a bed.  If a new baby is coming along, consider having the baby sleep in a pack n play or bassinet before moving the baby to your toddler’s former crib.

Once you have determined that your child is ready to make the move, here are some helpful tips to make this transition as smooth as possible.

  • Let your child be part of the process.  Give him choices of new bedding for the bed and, if possible, the actual bed itself.
  • Consider getting a behavior modification clock.  The Good Nite Lite is a very simple one that even young toddlers can understand if they know the difference between the sun and the moon.  These clocks won’t work their magic on their own.  You, the parent, must reinforce it.  That means if your child wakes 10 minutes before the clock changes, you need to remind him that the clock doesn’t say it is time to wake up yet.  If you don’t reinforce it, the clock is meaningless.
  • Sit down and talk to your child about moving into a big bed.  Pick a good time when he isn’t tired or hungry and can focus for a couple of minutes.  Explain that he is growing up and this is why he is going to be in a big bed but that this also comes with responsibilities.
  • Make sure you have a good, predictable bedtime routine so that your child knows what is about to happen at bedtime.  This is important for any age child.  Having a bedtime routine is comforting and helps your child’s brain prepare to go from an awake state to a sleeping state.
  • Put together a sleep manners chart or a “Beddy-Bye Book.”  Both of these are visual ways for your child to understand what happens at bedtime and also what is expected of him.  I suggest walking through the bedtime routine with your child and taking photos of him to use for the chart or book.  Use positive language in your chart or book to describe what you want to have happen such as “Lay quietly in bed,” “Stay in your bed all night,” “Go back to sleep if you wake up and your wake up light isn’t on,” “Wake up when your clock says it’s okay.”
  • Talk about your plans for bedtime before, during, and after.  Remind your child about your expectations as you are tucking your child in and reinforce their accomplishments first thing in the morning.
  • Most importantly, be consistent.  Toddlers learn VERY quickly what they can and cannot get away with and they will test your limits.  Be prepared to reinforce your expectations.

Good luck with your big transition!  Your baby is growing up!

Toddler transitions

crib to bed transitionToddlerhood is a time of exploration and big change.  The hallmark moment of toddlerhood is, well, toddling so if your child is walking, this means that you now have a toddler.  With walking comes an increased need to explore as well as the continued importance of knowing that you, as your the parent, are a secure base to provide your child with comfort and security when he return from his time away.  Time away can mean simply exploring in a different room or a few feet away at a play space or it can mean the biggest separation of the day that occurs when he is away from you all night long for sleeping.  As a result, there is often a burst of separation anxiety that your child will experience around their first birthday and then again between 15 to 18 months as they begin experiencing this ability to explore independently.

As with any transition that your child has made up until this point, big changes can often have a significant impact on sleep.  The three big sleep changes that occur for toddlers are:

  • Going from 2 naps to 1
  • Moving from a crib to a bed
  • Learning how to stay in bed all night

Most children make the transition from two naps to 1 between 15 and 18 months.  The way you know that your child is ready to move from two naps to one is that he or she takes a very long time falling asleep for the morning nap, takes a very short morning nap or takes such a long morning nap that then the afternoon nap doesn’t happen.  Some toddlers will even “boycott” a nap for several days or even weeks.  When this happens for a few days, don’t rush to assume that your child is ready for one nap.  If your child is consistently not napping for one of his naps a day for more then two weeks, then it is likely that it is time to move to one.  Keep in mind that if your child is not sleeping through the night at this point, it will be hard to make it to one afternoon nap.  Also, if you move to one nap and it seems as though your child may not have been ready, there is no harm in going back to two, even every other day, until your child is more ready to make the jump to one nap.  When making this change, gradually move the start of the first nap later incrementally until you are finally at one nap that occurs mid-day (ideally between 12:30 and 1pm).  When your child moves to one nap, you will most likely need to move bedtime a bit earlier because now there will be a bigger gap between waking up from the nap and bedtime.

The move from the crib to the bed can be a daunting for some parents.  Other parents seem to be in a big hurry to move their child.  Please know that there is NO correlation between the age that your child moves out of the crib and their intelligence or future success.  In fact, moving your child too soon can sometimes set them up for failure in terms of the ability to understand the rules of staying in a bed.  Ideally, the closer to age 3 that you can keep your child in a crib, the better.  Some children are able to understand “stay in your bed all night” at 2½ but not all.  It takes a lot of self control to be able to stay in one place for so long.  When you do move your child, make sure that your child’s room and home are safe for roaming alone.

Before making the move, have a talk with your toddler about what is going to happen, what their job is at bedtime, and throughout the night (to stay in the bed).  Although your child may not be able to have an extensive conversation with you about it, he understands much more then he can express.  Let your toddler know that a change is coming and with this change comes new responsibility.  It is important to talk to your child about what your expectations are with regard to being in a big bed.  It is helpful to make this very clear and as visual as possible.  When you talk to your child about the “rules of the big kid bed” you can make a sign or a chart that has pictures of what you expect.  Kim West refers to these as your child’s sleep manners.  Manners are not about what you should or shouldn’t do, they are just what everyone does whether it is saying “please” and “thank you” or using table manners.  Manners that your child can learn with regard to sleep can be cooperating at bedtime, laying quietly in bed, and staying in bed all night.  You can use a sticker chart or simply lots of positive reinforcement both before bed and in the morning to help emphasize the behaviors you expect.  Setting your toddler up for success in the big bed and helping him take pride in his accomplishments will greatly ease this transition.

Toddler sleep

Sleeping-toddlerJust when you thought you had a handle on your baby’s sleep issues, toddlerhood hits. While you may have been able to lull your baby to sleep with a long walk or some gentle rocking, your toddler may have different plans. The fact is that you cannot talk your toddler into going to sleep. Actually, you can’t talk a toddler into anything. Your little ones’ newfound sense of independence means more than the ability to call for ice cream at will. It means that it’s high time for them to learn how to fall asleep on their own.

Toddlerhood is a time of monumental transition. Children are learning to walk, run, and climb, potentially out of their cribs. They are verbal, and they want you to know it. Not only do they call you when they want you, but they are hell bent on exerting some control on the world around them. Make no mistake. They are learning at an incredible rate, absorbing and processing everything they come into contact with each day. As each day unfolds, however, with freshly realized powers to test out, the prospect of shutting down for a nap in the middle of the day becomes less and less appealing.

Nap Consolidation

Somewhere between 12 and 18 months old, your toddler will decide that he or she needs only one nap in the afternoon instead of the morning and afternoon naps he or she has probably been taking. This can be a rough transition. For some time, it will be hard to know if the day is a one-nap or two-nap day. Two naps may be too much but one not enough. Or your toddler may take a morning nap but then talk all the way through the afternoon nap but never fall asleep, making the day far too long and probably ending in a meltdown, one that only a toddler can produce.

To help minimize the challenge of going from two naps to one, when you start seeing signs that your child is ready to make this change, start inching the morning nap later and later over a period of two to three weeks, until the nap falls between noon and 1 pm. Initially, when your child moves to one nap, it may not last for very long. After a few weeks, your toddler will start to learn how to nap for an hour and a half or longer. Learning how to consolidate two naps into one is a learning process, and yes, it can be painful, but you can do it. When naps aren’t long enough, consider moving bedtime 30 to 60 minutes earlier until the nap starts to lengthen.

The Big Sleep

Toddlers undergo a period of heightened separation anxiety between 12 and 18 months, making bedtime that much more challenging. To make bedtime as stress-free as possible, follow a predictable and consistent routine in order to provide the comfort and security your toddler needs to face this extended period of separation. Toddlers thrive on repetition and predictability. When routines are changed or disrupted, little ones are often thrown for a loop, one they won’t let go unnoticed.

If your toddler isn’t sleeping through the night, I strongly encourage you to get help teaching improved sleep skills. As little ones become more involved in the ever-expanding world around them, a full sleep tank becomes even more essential. The truth is that most good sleepers aren’t born that way. Learning how to sleep well is a learned skill, one that you can teach through consistent and comforting routines.