If you’ve woken up at 4:00am every morning this week to a pair of tiny feet in your face, you’re not alone.
Many parents struggle with getting toddlers to sleep in their own beds; once sleep habits are formed, they are hard to break. For some families, co-sleeping is not only preferred, it’s encouraged. For others, it results in poor sleep quality for both toddlers and their weary parents.
If you’re ready for your toddler to sleep in their own bed, start by letting go of any guilt you may be feeling. Boundaries are healthy for all relationships, and if everyone in the family is getting the amount of sleep they need, your days together will be much more pleasant.
Here’s how to get started:
👉 Be Consistent
Toddlers do better when they know what to expect. If you have multiple evening caregivers (for example, a nanny or a grandparent who does bedtime while you are at work) make sure everyone is on the same page. If one caregiver insists on doing it their way, it may be time to find a new one.
👉 Form a routine
Part of consistency is creating a routine your toddler can learn to expect. Try incorporating a brief, nightly bath and sing a song or read a book right before bed. Do the things you normally would do anyway, like brushing teeth and putting on pajamas, in a predictable order.
If your work routine makes the bedtime hours unpredictable, think of a few things that are consistent each time and lean into those.
👉 Create a sleepy environment
As fun as it may be to pal around right before bed, save the tickle fights for the morning. Instead, dim the lights in the house leading up to bedtime. Consider investing in blackout curtains if your toddler’s room is still bright at bedtime. Also consider an inexpensive white noise machine. Your toddler may be hearing outside noises at night that keep them awake.
Tailor all of this to their specific needs as much as possible. Every adult has different sleep needs, so why would it be different for your toddler?
👉 Let them have a little control
Any little bit of control your toddler can feel during this very out-of-control process is a good thing. Have them help prepare for bedtime. Turn down the sheets together and let them run the bathwater with you. Allow them to choose their own bedtime story and pajamas. Maybe even hold them up to switch off the lights on their own.
Some toddlers will fall asleep on the floor at this stage. Don’t be alarmed by it -- if they’re uncomfortable, they’ll move! It’s a way of exerting the small amount of control they have, and a fair compromise at that.
👉 Talk them through it
Especially the first few nights, when your toddler doesn’t know the routine, it helps to talk them through what you’re doing and what will come next. Don’t worry if your toddler can’t talk back yet; their receptive vocabulary (the words they understand) is far greater than their expressive vocabulary (the words they actually speak out loud).
👉 Be good to yourself
Most importantly, go into this expecting that it will not happen overnight. There will be good evenings and not-so-good evenings, but you’ll get through them together. When you (and your toddler) wake up smiling and rested after that first good night’s sleep, it will all be worth it!