While many parents contend with fussing, crying, and protests at bedtime, what if your little one is perfectly content to play, sing, and chatter in their room for hours after bedtime comes and goes?
If you’ve got a would-be night owl on your hands, you’re not alone! Many parents go through a similar phase with their little ones. And have no fear, there is hope!
Read on to learn how to troubleshoot your toddler’s over-extended bedtime and get them into a healthy sleep routine!
Step One: Take a Look at Naps
Is your little one still napping during the day? If so, that might be the culprit. At two years old, toddlers are slowly easing into a longer, consolidated nighttime sleep, and losing the need for the daytime nap.
When they get to this point but they’re still going down for a one or two-hour nap, the end result can be a drawn-out bedtime.
The solution? You may want to consider pulling their afternoon nap. (I know, it’s a big step – but ultimately, if they’re ready, it’s the right step to ensure that they’re getting the quality nighttime sleep they need!)
Like any big change in a toddler’s life, graduating from the daytime nap can be a bit daunting. But hang in there and stay consistent. Your little one will adapt, and their nighttime sleep will settle into a great pattern!
Thinking it might be time to end your little one’s naps, but aren’t sure how to go about it? Check out this video!
Step Two: Dial In Your Bedtime Routine
If your little one has stopped napping during the day but still takes forever to get to sleep at night, take a look at your bedtime routine.
A solid, consistent routine will go a long way towards moving your child from waking to sleep. By following the same steps every night, you establish strong “time for sleep” cues in your toddler’s mind.
I recommend the following steps for a toddler’s bedtime routine:
Following a consistent, well-crafted bedtime routine can make a big difference in baby’s sleep habits. For more tips on putting one together, check this out!
Give these simple steps a try. If you stick to them, your little one will start to “know the drill” at bedtime, and the consistent sleep cues will help them get to sleep faster and more easily.
Step Three: Optimize Your Child’s Sleep Surroundings
Once you’ve got your bedtime routine down to a science, I’d recommend taking a look at your child’s room.
At two or three years old, your little one is busily absorbing sights, sounds, and sensations. They’re constantly curious and constantly learning – and it can be tough for them to stop when bedtime rolls around.
At this age, distractions are often at the root of your child’s delayed sleep. Who wants to get some shut-eye when there are books and toys close at hand?
The solution? If you suspect that the stuff in your toddler’s sleep space is keeping them from nodding off, do your best to remove the distractions. Yes, this may involve removing toys, stuffed animals, and books from their room until they’ve put some solid sleep strategies in place.
I have a bit of a “deep dive” into how to create an ideal nursery that you can check out by clicking here.
Step Four: Offer Incentives
If your toddler is getting to the stage where they can understand a reward system, go ahead and give one a try!
Sit down with your little one and explain that if they stay in bed, close their eyes, and do their best to get to sleep, they can have a treat in the morning.
Choose something small that you know will motivate them, whether that’s a cookie or a sticker. You can even put together a reward chart to get them excited by the challenge.
Step Five: Establish Consequences
So, you’ve got the routine down pat, and your child’s room is free from distractions. What do you do if they’re still getting up, playing, and not showing signs of slowing down and sleeping?
It’s time to consider consequences for your child’s behavior, especially if they’re being disruptive by yelling, jumping on the bed, or coming out of their room repeatedly.
Ensure that you’ve set clear boundaries. Let your little one know that you expect them to lay down quietly and do their best to try to sleep. And be clear about the consequences should they cross those boundaries.
You know your little one best, so choose a consequence that you know will be meaningful to them. In my experience, one of the most effective consequences for toddlers is “locking the door” – holding the door closed.
If they choose to get up, shout, sing, or otherwise ignore the bedtime boundaries, give them one warning. If they keep up the behavior, shut the door without engaging with them too much.
Start with 5 minutes, then settle them back in bed. If they still don’t want to settle, repeat the consequence, this time for 10 minutes. Keep this up until your little one understands that the door is going to stay closed when they don’t follow the bedtime playbook.
If you’re dealing with a toddler who keeps leaving their room at night, and want some tips for explaining rules and consequences to them, check out this video.
In my experience, it only takes a few nights of consequencing “out of bounds” behavior before a toddler adapts to the bedtime rules.
Step Six: Relax
My final tip? Don’t stress the small stuff. If your little one seems happy, and is simply chatting or humming quietly to themselves, it may be that this is part of their self-soothing strategy. As long as these habits aren’t stretching long into the night or disrupting you or other members of the family, don’t worry about it too much.
Get Bedtime Back on Track!
There you have it! The first step is to figure out if it’s time to transition your little one away from daytime naps. Once you’ve gotten that sorted out, help your toddler put solid sleep strategies in place with a consistent bedtime routine, a sleep environment that’s optimized for quality sleep, and an effective set of incentives and consequences.
With these simple steps, you and your toddler will soon be on track for a shorter, sweeter bedtime. Sweet dreams!
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