Sleep issuesBehaviourBlossToddler

Navigating sleep advice when you hit a problem with your child’s sleep can be stressful and frustrating as there is a lot of conflicting information out there.

Here are 5 common Toddler Challenges troubleshooted for you:

1. Bedtime Resistance

Toddlers can turn into little boundary-pushing monkeys, when you are trying to get them to go to bed. They will often try every trick in the book, to resist your attempts to get them to sleep on time. It can be super stressful as a parent, especially as you know delays in bedtime can lead to over-tiredness and then potentially early morning wake-ups.

Setting boundaries at bedtime and for sleep as a whole, is really important. Just as you would set boundaries for unwanted behaviours in the daytime, it is just as important to do so at bedtime, although for some reason this can feel a lot harder to do.

Establishing a consistent bedtime is paramount. Your little one needs to know what to expect and what is coming next.  Let your child have some autonomy at bedtime, for instance, what they wear and what they read, as this will allow them to feel in control without testing boundaries.

When your child asks for one more story, one more drink, one more kiss and cuddle, stand your ground and take control. It’s really easy to give in to them to keep the peace but they will soon learn that if they whine enough, ask enough, cry enough, they’ll get what they want in the end.

Try explaining to your child your expectations and even why it’s important for them to get a good night’s sleep. You could use consequences if rules are broken but if you do this, make sure they are relatable to your child.

For instance, if your child is constantly getting out of bed and they are wanting the door to be left open, you could say, “I will leave the door open but I will close it if you come out of the room”. You may want to use some positive strategies like rewards, storyboards and role play.

It’s really easy to feel frustrated when your child simply isn’t playing ball but remember it’s not intentional, it is their way of learning and understanding the world around them.

2. Early morning wake ups

Early waking is a really common problem amongst little ones. If your toddler is waking up for the day earlier than 6am, then you may want to consider the following:

  • Environment – is your toddler’s room dark enough? Is the room warm enough/ cool enough? Have they been woken up by a noise?
  • How do you respond? Is your little one waking up because they are looking forward to something, for instance coming into bed with you or getting to watch TV?
  • Naps – Is your toddler’s first nap or only nap, too soon in the day and is it too long? If so, it could be acting as an extension of nighttime sleep. Is it time to drop a nap?
  • Tiredness levels – Could your little one be overtired when they went to bed?

Early morning wakes are reinforced by social interaction, feeding and light. Therefore, minimise interaction and stimulation. Make those early hours as boring as possible so that you do not give them an incentive to start the day before it is time to.

3. The behavioural clock doesn’t work

Firstly, to say, unless your child really understands what the clock is for and is able to follow the instructions, for example, “We need to stay in bed and try to fall back to sleep until the sun comes up”, then it won’t be of much use, no clock will change the behaviour.

We want to set our children up for success, not failure, so really make sure they do understand. You need to be consistent with its use. If you are teaching your little one to stay quietly in bed until the sun comes up and they don’t do this, try not to go into their room.

If you wanted to, you could try standing outside their bedroom door and say, “The sun is still sleeping”. What you want to try and avoid is teaching them that it’s okay to ignore the clock.

Obviously if they are upset, then by all means go into their room, comfort and reassure them. “It’s sometimes hard to go back to sleep when we wake, we can try again tomorrow. “

If they managed to follow whatever their instructions were, celebrate their success. Lots of praise is usually well received and reinforcing for our little ones.

Make sure you set the clock to a realistic awake time. If your little one has been waking at 5 am every day, setting the clock to 7 am is unlikely to change this behaviour. What you may want to do is start by setting the clock to 5am, celebrating their success for maybe 3 days, before moving the clock gradually forward by 10-15 minutes.

You can continue to do this every few days, provided that they are continuing to sleep until the “sun” comes up. Do not move the time forward too quickly as tempting as it is.

4. Frequent night wakes

Another one of the most common challenges that a parent experiences, is that their toddler no longer wants to be on their own at night. This can lead to parents spending hours stuck in their child’s room at night.

Whilst there are various sleep training methods, such as a gradual retreat or rapid return, they all rely on one thing to be successful and that is consistency.

When we are inconsistent with our actions, it encourages a child to persist even more to get what they want. For instance, because of the occasion when you went to the supermarket with your little one and you let them pick out something small from the toy section, each time you’ve been shopping after this, they spend the whole time begging to go back to the toy section to buy something.

They may tantrum and scream, and sometimes you give in and sometimes you don’t. There is no pattern as to when your little one gets the toy or when he doesn’t. The same behaviour only gives your child the response some of the time. And this is the trap all of us as parents fall into.

Obviously, you can’t deprive your child of the occasional toy, but if you transfer this analogy to sleep then you can understand why consistency is so important 100% of the time. This concept is known as the intermittent reward system and this is what keeps a child motivated to persist with their behaviour until they get the desired outcome, that is until that outcome is no longer on offer

Without consistency, we won’t see improvements. When we don’t see improvements, we understandably become easily discouraged and we give up and thus the viscous cycle continues.

5. Nightmares

Nightmares occur during REM sleep (this occurs at the end of our sleep cycle). They are very common and part of normal development. The best way to deal with a nightmare is to provide comfort and reassurance. Try not to talk to your child about the nightmare the next day.

Nightmares are common in children aged 3 to 6 years old. Most children grow out of them. Potential causes include overtiredness, sleep deprivation and exposure to scary movies, books and TV.

It may be worth having a look at what your little one is watching and also reading before they go to bed. You may want to read books that are recommended for a younger age than your child.