Sisterly Advice

The “terrible twos”…and threes and fours

Everyone talks about the “terrible twos” and we understand – two-year-olds are challenging. They are starting to exert their independence but don’t necessarily have the skills they need to do all they want to do. Imagine you just arrived in a new city – one you’ve always wanted to visit – but when you arrive, you discover no one understands you, you can’t figure out how to move as quickly as everyone else, and they seem to be on a different time-zone. Frustrating! That’s how toddlers feel. And this impacts their sleep, too.

We get lots of questions about sleep habits of young children who are no longer babies. There are a few issues that confound toddler sleep issues including toilet-training, transitioning out of a crib, and sibling relationships/room sharing. All of these life-changing events interrupt previously great sleep. And we’ll talk about them this month in future blogs. In THIS article, we just want to focus on general sleep habits – mainly, not wanting to cooperate and go to bed when we tell them!

I mentioned above that toddlers want to be independent and that’s wonderful. Most parents encourage independence and we are thrilled when we can take a step back and help our little one a little less! I love the fact that I no longer need to dress my daughter (granted I never know what she may end up wearing to school on any given day but does that REALLY matter?), that she can wash herself (sort of), that she can tell me what she wants and needs (often when I’m on the phone). However, with all of this new-found independence also comes willfulness! And why wouldn’t our children also be willful about sleep when they seem to want to exert independence in every other way!

Toddlers tend to start becoming more challenging at bedtime – they want another story, more cuddles, a lullaby, some water, ice for their knee. And before we know it, it’s 8 pm and our child is very overtired (and we are pulling out our hair).

Here are 10 suggestions for dealing with toddlers at bedtime:

  1. Insist on a nap!  Just because he’s walking and talking and using the potty (maybe), does not mean that he has less of a sleep need. Nap is still around 1pm in a dark and quiet space.

  2. Bedtime should be consistent and you should be firm – toddlers TEST LIMITS so you need to be firm about yours.  Bedtime is probably still between 7 and 7:30, so watch the clock and try to leave the room when you know it’s time.

  3. Establish family sleep rules together. Create a family art project and make a cool poster to hang in your child’s room. Try to keep it brief – 5 rules or so. (Examples: I brush my teeth, We read 3 books, We sing 2 songs, I close my eyes and go to sleep, I wait for my green light)

  4. Use behavioral rewards if you’re struggling – good old fashioned sticker chart where your child can earn a “prize” after a few successful nights.

  5. Be firm!

  6. Promptly return “jack-in-the-box” kids to bed without engaging. If your child is getting out of bed in the middle of the night, return him to bed without eye contact or talking.  You may have to do this many times in one night but you shouldn’t need to do it for more than 3-5 nights in a row if you also are doing the other techniques.

  7. Be firm!

  8. Stay calm. Try not to become emotional with your child – toddlers are GREAT at picking up on our stress and frustration.

  9. Establish a morning routine as well – Lots of toddlers tend to wake earlier than we’d like – see Melissa’s blog on the traffic light alarm clock.

  10. Be firm and loving!



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