We’re having problems getting our toddler to go to bed at a reasonable time - in his own bed. What are your recommendations?
Similar to babies, toddlers also need a nice, calm routine in the evening. There is no point expecting a child to be ready for bed after lots of raucous fun and activity. Also watch their diet - have they filled up on sugar or junk food in the evening? After dinner, have a calming routine that is the same or similar every night, such as a warm bath, stories, kisses and cuddles, then bed. It will also help to talk to your child, explaining in advance what will happen so they are prepared, eg. “We’re going to have a nice warm bath, then you can choose two stories, then it’s bedtime.”
Decide on what is a reasonable hour for your family. This may range from 6:30 - 8pm. As your child goes through to a school age, you might allow an 8:30/9pm bedtime before they enter Intermediate School. But unless it’s a rare occasion or school holidays, you are not doing yourself or your child any favours by putting them to bed later in the evening. Your child needs a lot of sleep, and are usually early-risers having to get up for morning activities such as kindergarten or school. If they are tired, it won’t help their development or their concentration when learning, and you may find their behaviour improves drastically just by putting them to bed earlier in the evening.
Ideally, good sleep habits need to be developed in your child’s first year of life. If that hasn’t happened, you have a bigger and louder child to deal with, which makes your job a lot more difficult. Many families have a battle with their child going to bed at night. It is unpleasant and exhausting, and can interfere with your relationship with your husband/partner if they are climbing into your bed in the middle of the night, or refusing to go to sleep anywhere but with you. The more firm you are early on, the easier this habit will be to break.
There are two ways to help your child go to sleep at a reasonable time in their own bed. There is the long, “easy” way - or the short, “difficult” way. The first is that you remain in your child’s room, returning them to their bed each time they get out, and after your first initial kisses, cuddles and ‘goodnight’, you do not speak or interact with them - even to tell them off. At this point, your actions speak louder than words, and if you engage with your child vocally, the message is not heard! This option may be easier for parents because they may feel there is less distress from the child since you are present in the room, and you don’t leave until your child is asleep. The alternative is that you don’t stay in the room, but you do return your child to their bed if they come out. This option can have its benefits in the long run because in my experience, your child gets the message quicker since they have less of your attention.
It can be an exhausting, upsetting experience for everyone concerned, but it is temporary, and the benefits far outweigh the process in my opinion - not only for you, but also for your child.
It will require agreement from both parents/caregivers so they can lend support to one another. It will also require strength, being firm, and a determination to see it through. I would recommend parents take turns putting your child to bed alternate nights - it is too confusing for a child if you take turns returning your child to his/her bed. Your child may run to the other parent during this time. It is important that the other parent does not get involved or engage with the child, but only lends support to their partner, when the cihld is out of the room - hugs and words of encouragement help tremendously!
And it’s important to remember that the more firm you are, the more you stick to your plan, the fewer nights you will have to do this. If it takes more than a few nights for your child to go calmly into their bed and stay there until they’re asleep, it may be that you have engaged with your child or not remained firm with them.
Be encouraged - the goal is the prize!