The early days of figuring out how to establish your toddler’s sleep schedule can be quite chaotic at times. Although every child is different, one thing that’s consistent across the board is this: If you don’t intentionally work toward creating healthy sleeping habits for your child, it will only make it harder for the whole household to get some rest. Below are some tips to help you establish a solid sleep schedule for your toddler, so that everyone in the house can reap the benefits.
1. Do your best to create a consistent bedtime and wake-up time.
Make sure that your child’s wake-up time and bedtime are roughly the same every day, whether it’s a school day or not. Since no two days will be exactly the same (especially for parents), you shouldn’t expect to have your child in bed at the exact same time down to the minute, but the general time frame should be very consistent.
2. Make sure that your child has something on his/her stomach before bedtime.
A child will have trouble falling asleep when they’re hungry. Provide them with something light, but hearty enough to sit on their stomach as they’re drifting off to sleep. This can be a small cup of milk, a small bowl of cereal (Cheerios work great), or even a piece of bread. Try not to go to the other extreme and load them up with a heavy meal 1 to 2 hours before bedtime, as this can interfere with their ability to sleep just as much as hunger can.
3. Start a “winding down” time about 1 hour before bedtime.
When bedtime is approaching, it’s important to establish an environment that signals a “winding down” time for your child. This means that the TV should be turned off, video games and other electronics should be powered down, and any high-energy physical activity should come to a stop. Ideally, the winding down needs to start about 1 hour before bedtime, with everything being completely bedtime-ready within 15 minutes of the lights being turned out. You can include a bedtime story as part of this time, but be sure you choose a book or story that contributes to the relaxed mood.
4. Make sure that your child has an opportunity to exercise every day.
A child who’s been physically active all day will typically have no trouble falling asleep. It’s only when your child hasn’t had a chance to release all of their pent-up energy that they become restless at nighttime.
5. Avoid long naps during the day.
There’s nothing wrong with your child having a daily nap time, but try to keep the duration to a reasonable minimum. Extensive nap times during the day can make it harder for your child to go to sleep at night.
6. Consistency is the ultimate key.
Children need structure and predictability far more than we realize. In fact, scores of studies have shown that children with no sense of structure or boundaries typically have higher levels of anxiety than those who do have those provisions in place. Try to end each night in a predictable manner, whether it be tucking your child in and giving them a kiss, saying some bedside prayers, or making sure they have their favorite stuffed animal on hand before they go to sleep. If they keep wanting to get up and out of bed, patiently and gently lead them back to bed, even if you have to do it 10 or 15 times. Although it may be difficult at times, stick with it–the rewards will be well worth the effort.
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