Arms thrashing, teeth gnashing, blood-curdling screams in the pitch black of night time—you might think this is a scene from a sea monster horror movie, but it’s actually just a scene from any parent’s home who has a toddler.
When kids are young, bedtime can become an epic nightly battle. When in the trenches, it sometimes feels like there’s no escape. But stay strong knowing that parents before you have braved the same battlefield and come out alive—but not without developing a new nifty tricks along the way.
Learn from their wisdom to keep from re-enacting The Shining each night it’s time to hit the sack.
1. 60 Minutes of Silence
This is a good rule for the whole house. An hour before bed, start quiet time. Turn off TV, tablets and tunes and calm your mind with silence.
If complete silence isn’t an option, just turn the volume down. Quiet signals to your mind that it’s time to wind down and prepare for rest. It’ll help your babe, and you, fall asleep more quickly and clock more minutes of slumber as a result.
2. Dark, Quiet, Calm
Use these three words as your bedtime mantra. Just like quiet, darkness tells the brain it’s time to get ready for sleep. Although our bodies naturally wake and rest according to the sun (called our circadian rhythm) the blue light from tech devices can mess up those natural patterns. Turn them off and dim the lights an hour before bed to prepare your toddler’s brain for sleep.
Calmness refers to your child’s environment as well as your mannerisms. If your child won’t stay in bed or keeps asking for you, don’t get angry with them. Try instead to calmly put them back in bed or tuck them in once more, say “good night,” and then promptly leave. After a few nights of this, your child should learn that bedtime means bedtime.
3. Bedtime Barrier
For children who won’t stay in bed, some parents suggest using the door as incentive. Children tend to prefer to sleep with the door open, so tell your toddler if they stay in bed, they’ll get to keep the door open. But if they get up, you’ll close the door for five minutes. If they do it again, make it 10 minutes.
If sleeping with the door open is comforting to your child, they’ll be incentivized to listen. And the door being closed provides a subtle but effective mental barrier to them thinking it’s okay to get out of bed.
Children often have overactive imaginations. The boogieman is under the bed, monsters are in the closet, and shadows on the wall are ghosts, strangers, fairies, or whatever their imagination can dream up.
To calm your babe before bed, create a nighttime tool kit complete with “monster spray” (a water bottle with lavender essential oil), and a flashlight.
5. Take the Burden Off Yourself
An important part of sleep training is teaching babies to be self-soothers. To help you accomplish this, try relying on objects, not actions, to help your child fall asleep.
If you singing or cuddling is the thing they need to sleep, then you’re roped into their room every time your child wakes up. Instead, try using a big, comfortable stuffed animal that will make the child feel safe or a cozy blanket. These objects can have the same soothing effect without requiring you to be the catalyst, because your sleep is just as important as your offspring’s.
6. Try a Fan
One mom tells the story of her 21-month-old little girl who would always wake up to sounds coming from the hallway, sounds coming from outside, sounds coming from China, everything.
The solution? A fan. A fan provided just enough ambient noise that her baby girl slept through the night without a fuss. If you have an overly aural child, try this tip and see if it does the trick!
7. A Different Point of View
When was the last time you saw your child’s room from their perspective? If your child wakes up in the middle of the night, what will they see? Is it different than what they see when they fall asleep (e.g. you sitting in the rocking chair, and then you magically disappearing when they wake up a few hours later)?
Try to see the room from their perspective. Make it soothing and consistent. This can help you establish an effective bedtime routine.
8. Understand the Scary Things
For older children with fears of the dark, it can help to talk it out. If your child gets spooked, talk to them about the shadows, what they could be, why they’re scary.
Reasoning through this fear could be just what your child needs to overcome it.
9. Follow Through
The biggest thing with setting a bedtime routine is to be consistent and follow through. If you say, “Okay, just one more story,” five times over, your child isn’t going to learn that your last word is final.
Try making deals with your child to help them fall asleep. Say, “If you stay in your room and go right to bed, I’ll be a much nicer mommy in the morning.” Then, follow through. When your child wakes up, shower them with love and affection.
End Bedtime Battles
When trying any of these tactics, it’s important to remember that change will almost never happen overnight. You’re challenging the status quo, and it will take your toddler some time to adjust. But, it’s worth sticking to your guns! Your sleep is just as important as theirs, and the sooner you all can develop good sleeping habits, the happier you’ll be.