Navigating sleep with toddlers and preschoolers can be tricky, especially with their newfound need for independence and autonomy. Here are some quick tips to consider if sleep has become a battle in your home.
Make time for connection every day: Usually sleep issues are a symptom of larger issues, like power struggles and boundary testing, that may also be happening throughout the day. To help prevent these issues, you’ll want to dedicate at least 10 minutes a day for connecting with your child. Give that special time a name like, “Mommy and (child’s name)’s Special Play Time” and make it a part of the routine so your child knows they can count on it.
Talk about the importance of sleep with your child: In parenting, marketing is everything and you need your child to understand why sleep is so important. Be sure to communicate all the benefits of sleep to your child. For instance, you can let them know it helps our bodies feel better and helps our brains think clearly so we can play and have fun. Tie in their interests with the importance of sleep. For instance, if they enjoy running fast, let them know good sleep helps them run fast like cheetahs. Make this simple, fun, and relatable.
Brainstorm ways to make things more comfortable (get their input!): Another important step is to brainstorm ways to make their bed/room more comfortable for them. You can say something like, “I’ve noticed bedtimes have been rough lately. What do you think would make it better?” Allow them to share their ideas with no judgement. This could give you a window into possible items to add/subtract from their room or how you can fit these things in during the day and/or bedtime routine or during the day (i.e., if they’re asking for extra snuggles, fit this into the bedtime routine).
Have a solid bedtime routine & stick to it: Routines are imperative! Create a solid bedtime routine in which you do the same things in the same order night after night. Sure these may change periodically, but your child must be able to count on a bedtime routine most days. You can use visual reminders like a timer and/or a picture checklist to help them move through the routine.
Role play bedtime routine: During the day, you can role play your bedtime routine and what happens after the routine (i.e., go to sleep). You can invite them to play the role of the adult as well.
Aim for between 11 and 14 hours of sleep per day: Many behavioral issues during the day are rooted in inadequate amounts of sleep. In order to prevent this, you’ll want to ensure your child is getting enough rest. Generally speaking, toddlers and preschoolers need anywhere from 11 to 14 hours of sleep per day.
Make sure their room is dark and cool (70-72 degrees Fahrenheit): Humans sleep best in cool environments so make sure their room is at a comfortable temperature and their clothing isn’t too warm or cool.
Consider helpful sleep tools like a Hatch Rest or Rest+: Blocking out outside noise is essential to restful sleep so consider getting a sound machine if this is an issue in your home. Toddlers and preschoolers often appreciate a visual representation of sleep and wake times so it doesn’t feel like they’ll be alone in their rooms for indefinite amounts of time. Consider investing in Hatch Rest given that it comes with a sound machine and time-to-rise feature all-in-one! The time-to-rise feature enables parents of toddlers and preschoolers to stay in bed until it’s time to rise (and enjoy those extra minutes of sleep).
Cap bedtime routine at 30 minutes. Bedtime is a great opportunity to wind down and connect with your child. Just be sure to keep it at a finite amount of time so no one is dawdling. 30 minutes or less is a sufficient amount of time to get through the routine.
Discuss at bedtime what exciting things are happening the next day. Children love to know what’s happening next and discussing the next day as part of your bedtime routine can be very helpful. Get them excited to go to bed by sharing some fun things they can look forward to the next day.
Dr. Jazmine McCoy is a clinical psychologist, author, and proud mom of two young girls. She works with children and families in her private practice and is committed to helping overwhelmed parents understand and connect with their young children. Through her online community on Instagram (@themompsychologist), YouTube videos (@themompsychologist), books, and masterclasses, she aims to provide parents with simple, practical parenting support that's easy to implement. Her books include "The Ultimate Tantrum Guide". "Let's Talk Discipline," and "The First-Time Parent’s Guide to Potty Training." She lives in the Sacramento, California area with her husband, two children, and dog, Valentino. For more information on Dr. Jazmine's work, please visit www.themompsychologist.com.