Navigating Nap and Bedtimes with a Toddler
By Tara Mitchell (The Gentle Sleep Specialist)
Let’s talk toddler sleep. It’s a biggie!
I would love to share with you some ways you can effectively navigate your toddler’s bed and nap times.
The dreaded second wind:
It may come as a surprise that sometimes our efforts to wind our toddlers down can actually be what causes them to get a second wind and fight bedtime. Screen time is a major factor when it comes to inhibiting melatonin which is our little one's drowsy hormone. In turn causing a combination of a burst of energy once we turn it off, paired with the negative effects on behaviour that can come with screen time. Lengthy story time, chill time on the couch whilst sipping on a bottle for example can also give our toddlers a serious second wind. Think of it as the calm but shortly followed by the storm. Instead, we want to think about engagement, time together and activities in the lead up to bedtime.
The requests in the bedtime routine can start slow but can blow out very quickly, keep an eye on boundaries in the lead up to bedtime. You may find stalling and a myriad of requests seem to be coming in more and more as your little one heads closer to 2 years. It is really important to manage these requests well, this can often be the beginning of your little one running the show and the bedtime routine becoming a lengthy painful process.
This is where I recommend a bedtime chart but not as a reward chart. More like a step by step checklist that your little one gets to stamp or sticker after they complete each activity. Brush teeth = stamp, 2 books = stamp. It gives your little one a sense of control in what really is parent guided. It is a positive part of the bedtime routine and a great distraction from usual means of control. Plus when they ask for even more books or another drink you can refer back to the chart, “look we’ve done that one”.
From there it’s important to remember that boundaries are crucial for our toddlers. In fact, their little brains thrive with them so if you have said no, keep that boundary. Don’t feel the need to appease any pushback but rather support and hold a kind, loving space for your little one to get all of their big emotions out.
Connection matters most:
We have such busy lifestyles that for some, bedtime is their only time to feel connection to us. This can lead to “attention seeking” behaviour and drawn out bedtimes but rightly so. The key is to saturate them in our undivided attention even for a few minutes a few times across the bedtime routine or in the evening to really fill their cup.
The “boring” rush:
If we take a look at bedtime from our toddler’s perspective it is a series of boring requests, pjs, water, nappy change etc before “boring bedtime”. Paired often with us being over it for the day and getting rather short and pushy with the approach. It’s no wonder they aren’t thrilled. So can we connect to direct, take their toy and brush the toys teeth, can we sit and play with them while we get them dressed or shower together a little earlier. Mix it up, try to get playful, connecting and respecting how unappealing the bedtime time is. Remember also they are tired and instructions are hard for them at the best of times.
Bedtimes and sleep doesn’t have to be a lengthy, painful process. I have seen thousands of family’s bedtimes turn into a time of enjoyment and ease. No matter how bad they felt their circumstance was. I would love to support and guide you to easy bedtimes and a full night sleep.
Feel free to reach out.