There is so much advice and information out there on babies sleep. When will they sleep through the night? Will rice cereal make them sleep longer? When will they start to nap more consistently? There is an abundance of sleep information for parents of young babies, but what about parents of toddler age or older children, is it a lost cause if they’re not yet sleeping through the night? The answer is: NO!!
I am a Gentle Sleep Coach and I was trained under Kim West, aka “The Sleep Lady”. I work with children ages 0- 6 years old to help to teach them the skills they need to get the sleep they (and, you!) deserve. Sleep is just as important for toddlers and preschoolers, as it is for young babies. The average 2-year-old should be getting 11 hours of nighttime sleep and 1.5 hours of daytime sleep. So, how do you coach a child that can walk, talk and negotiate, how to sleep? The principles are the same but the approach is different.
- It’s a Learned Skill! Your 2-year-old must learn the skill of putting himself to sleep without help. It may sound scary to you, if you’re used to staying beside him until he’s fast asleep, but it is possible for you to teach him how to do this without making him cry-it-out. Does this mean you must stop co-sleeping? No! A child that sleeps with their parents, can still learn how to fall asleep independently.
- Don’t Begin on Empty: Make sure on the day that you begin sleep coaching that your child has a full “sleep tank”; they’ve had a good nap during the day- if that means that you need to take her for a walk in the stroller, or for a car ride, then do it. Do whatever you need to do to get her sleep, and make sure that her nap ends 4-5 hours before her bedtime. This is a major component to sleep coaching, we don’t want her overtired when we’re trying to teach this new skill, daytime sleep = nighttime sleep!
- What Is Your Coaching Plan: What are your parenting philosophies and how are you going to approach sleep coaching? Is there a certain method you are going to use? Is there anything you’re absolutely against? If you can determine the method you are comfortable and confident implementing, then you will be successful. The key to success in sleep coaching is not magic, it’s consistency! Toddlers can understand more than an 8-month-old, so include them in the planning. Have a family meeting and come up with a sleep chart, explain the behaviors that are expected when sleep coaching; such as: staying in their bed at night, not coming out of their bed until their wake-up clock says it’s time, etc. Review the chart each night before bed.
- Soothing Bedtime Routine: This is an important part of the sleep coaching process. If your toddler has been running outside right before bed, and you bring her inside, put on her pajamas and turn out the light, she’s probably not going to fall asleep. A wind-down routine is important. It’s important to let them get their energy out, but when it’s time for bed; give them a bath, read some books, sing them a song and turn out the light. Toddlers need help with a soothing routine, just as babies do. By creating the environment and tone for sleeping, we can help them to become drowsy. When toddlers are drowsy, they’re more likely to fall asleep.
- What Time is Bedtime? Pay attention to your toddler’s sleep cues. Is he rubbing his eyes and yawning at 6:45pm? Then it’s probably time to start his bedtime routine. If you miss their sleep window, children can become over tired, and their brain begins to release cortisol. When this happens, it becomes more and more difficult for them to settle down and fall asleep. And, contrary to popular belief, a later bedtime does not mean a later morning. In most cases, it means an earlier morning because of being overtired at bedtime.
- Remain Consistent: Once you begin, stick to it. Don’t go back to old habits like lying down beside your child until they are asleep, as this sends a mixed message. Try to see things from your child’s eyes when you’re sleep coaching them. If one day you explain that you’re not going to lie down beside your child until they fall asleep anymore, and the next day you decide that today you’re too tired, and you lie down with them, it sends mixed messages and causes confusion. Results with sleep coaching are not immediate, it takes time for children to learn these new skills, be patient + consistent and you will see results.
If you are struggling and are not happy with the amount of sleep your toddler or preschooler is getting, there are ways to help him or her get the sleep they need- it is not too late. The #1 thing to remember is to not begin any sleep coaching until you are 100% ready. When you are ready, you will be more likely to continue what you’ve started, which makes the process easier for you and your child. Remember, just because your child has “never been a good sleeper” doesn’t mean that he or she can’t learn to become one!
Ingrid Hanifen, RN, BSN is the owner/operator of Best Rest Families, LLC. She works to support and empower families, while teaching children sleep skills. Her ultimate goal is to help tired parents and families all over the world get more rest! To contact Ingrid, please email Ingrid@BestRestFamilies.com or visit http://www.bestrestfamilies.com/