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How to Sleep Train Your Toddler

Updated on March 13, 2012

For many parents, it can be difficult to sleep train their young babies at the right age (3 to 6 months). It can be especially difficult for single parents or parents whose child have one form of special need or another.

So if you have found yourself in the situation of needing to sleep train your toddler or young child, then this hub is for you. Know that you aren't the only to have been through this, and although the path ahead will be a bit rocky, you and your child can learn to develop proper bedtime habits.

Clear and Consistent Bedtime

You (the parent) need to pick a bedtime and stick with it. For young children, anytime between 6pm and 8pm is best, but work with what you can. The most important part is that you pick a bedtime that you can be consistent with that gives your child an ample amount of sleep for the next day. This isn't one of those choices you should allow your child to make, because they will choose to stay up as long as possible in most cases. Or they will be inconsistent in their schedule.

This is really important, because by being consistent with your bedtime, you will set yourself and your child up for success every night.By being consistent, you'll make sure your child always gets enough sleep, which will make it easier to get them to bed the next night and so on. It will also help them be more pleasant during the day and will show them that bedtime is not optional.

Nothing but water before bed

This is an important one. You don't want to allow your toddler to have any sweets, treats, juice, soda or other consumables before bed. They can have water if they truly need something, though you'll want to limit the amount of water they have to avoid bed wetting or potty training troubles at night.

By giving them anything other then water, you are fueling the fire in their battle against bedtime and you will lose every time. They should always get all the food they need to eat at dinner time, which should be at least 2 hours before bed time. If they elect not to eat all their dinner, then they must deal with the consequences of being hungry when they go to bed. Being hungry at bedtime will be a lot more exhausting then having that little extra snack, it won't hurt them and they'll will learn quickly that dinner is the time to eat, not bedtime.

By avoiding anything but water before bed time, you will also be taking away one of the tricks they have up their sleeve, as many children will use the "I'm hungry mommy" trick in order to try and get you to allow them to stay up just a little bit longer. Don't give in. They don't need the snack or drink, but they do need to sleep.

Effective exercise before bedtime

For most children, a day that includes some running around, screaming and having fun in the afternoon, is more then enough exercise to wear them done. Though for some children, especially those that present their parents with sleep troubles, you'll need to be extra proactive about making sure they are well worn out by the time bedtime is here.

Your most effective plan will be to make sure they are worn out before dinner. This way, they will be tired at dinner and the warm food in their tummies will do most of the rest of the work for you. Plan to spend at least an hour with your kids, doing something very physically exerting. Play catch in the yard, go for a jog or very long walk (more than 30 minutes) or play a game of tag. Anything that includes getting their heart rate up for a while, will work well.

By making sure they have regular exercise before dinner time, you will make sure they are as tired as possible by bedtime. They won't have nearly as much energy to fight bedtime when you do this, and they'll probably want to go to bed sooner because they are so tired.

Regular Nighttime Rituals

You can read, sing or watch a movie with your child before bedtime. These are the most effective rituals that I know of, though you have many other options. The key is that you and your child develop a bedtime ritual that includes some brief quality time with each other.

You need to be absolutely consistent with this, as many children will try to avoid going to sleep or try to keep you in the room with them, because they want more time with you. They love you and they will act up or prolong bedtime if it means more time with mom or dad, even if it means they will get into trouble.

Plan to start your nighttime rituals at least 45 minutes before bedtime. Have them brush their teeth, shower, get pajamas on and be in bed with at least 20 minutes of time left to read, sing or watch a short bedtime movie. Make it clear to your child that they will not get that time spent with you before bed, if they don't get ready for bed in time.

Most importantly, when they are ready for bed on time, don't ever avoid giving them that good attention. It is their reward for doing well and they will enjoy bedtime more when they realize they can depend on you to be with them for a little while before they need to go to sleep. This is especially helpful for children with bed time fears, separation anxiety or whom are just particularly fond of keeping you around in their room for as long as possible at night.

Don't hang around after they are put in bed

This technique is much harder for parents to deal with, then it is for children to get used to. Especially if your child cries, screams, throws fits, gets out of bed or tries another tactic to keep you in their room at night.

It is extremely important that once you have completed your bedtime ritual and tucked them in, that you LEAVE THE ROOM. Don't stick around at all for any reason, because once you do, they will know that they can keep you in there longer. Even if it's just an extra minute, they will go for it. They will try every thing know, especially when it comes to pulling at your heart strings. If that doesn't work, some children will try to insult you or get violent. Don't give in. Bed time is bed time and you mean business.

If you've found that you already made the mistake of staying in their room with them, to cuddle, snuggle, calm down or console, then you have some heavy work in front of you. I say this not because the task ahead of you is hard. I say this because clearly you have chosen your needs over your childs needs, and that is a hard habit to break, or even to consciously accept.

Parents that stay in their childs room with them at night, or whom allow their children to get into bed with them or to stay up, usually aren't doing so for the child. Though it's easy to convince yourself that you don't want them to be upset, or hurt, or sad, or mad - you need to keep in mind that you are the parent and you know what is best for your child. You know that they need sleep in order to grow and be healthy kids. You know that you also need some time in the evening to just be you, and plenty of sleep yourself, so that you can be an effective parent.

When they cry at you with pity pleas, you aren't staying in their for them, you are staying in their for you. Because YOU feel bad and because YOU don't want them to cry or be upset. When they throw a tantrum before bed, you try to calm them because YOU don't want to hear them screaming or YOU don't want to deal with their fits.

Don't get me wrong, bad bedtime habits are a two way street. Both parent and child contribute to developing the bad bedtime habits, but you need to clearly understand that what is best for your child isn't always the nice answer. It won't seem fair to you or them at first, but it is what is right for them and doing what is right for them is showing them the most love that you can.

If you've developed these bad bedtime habits, and your child is really that insistent to keep you in the room in order to go to sleep, you'll need to quickly get them used to you not being there once they are in bed. Start out with the above tips first, and if they still want to keep you in the room, your most important challenge will be to separate yourself from them as much as possible. Sit on the floor at least a few feet away from their bed. Do not look at them, talk to them or react to them in anyway.

The main idea here is that even though you are in the room, you are preparing them for when you are not in the room. The other point, is that once it's bedtime, that's it. There should be no more playing, cuddling, consoling or communication once it's bedtime.

Work your way out of the room by slowing moving forward towards the bedroom door as time goes on. Try not to spend anymore than 20 minutes in there with this method, though you can stay there if your child continues to get out of bed.As long asyou are not talking to your child, touching them, reacting to them or looking at them, and you are moving away from them, then you are going in the right direction. With this method, it should not take more than 3 or 4 days for them to get the idea and get with the program.

For children who are particularly difficult or strong willed, you will have to be very brave and remember that you are doing what is best for them. Remember that they will try everything. Crying, sympathy pleas, guilt trips, insults, tantrums, threats, screaming or anything else they can think of to get a reaction out of you. Remember that every time you give in, you are setting yourself back more and more, and taking away the health and happiness of your child.

You can do it.

You need sleep training as much as they do

As said above, both parents and children play a part in bedtime habits. It takes two to tango, and you cannot put yourself in the mind frame that this is all your child's doing. It doesn't matter what you've tried in the past, how strong willed they are, if they are disabled or anything else. In order to have healthy sleep habits, both the parent and the child need to be sleep trained.

Because of this, it's important to understand that you need to do what is right and reward yourself for doing well when you do. So when you finally get them into bed, take the time to pamper yourself before you go to bed. Watch a movie with your spouse. Cruise the net for a little bit. Take a hot bubble bath. Have a light drink. Do something that helps you remember that bedtime is not just about your child's health, it's about your health and sanity too.


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