The toddler years range from 12 months to 3 years old.
They’re a time of major growth physically, emotionally, and socially. The toddler’s independence is expanding and their personality is taking shape. And combined, they sometimes create a likeness to “the perfect storm”.
A lot of times the storm builds around transitions - moving from one activity to the next.
Getting dressed in the morning… getting undressed at night…
Getting in the bath… getting out of the bath…
Quite a few transitions happen around sleep times and if transitions are hard in your house, then odds are so is nap time and bedtime.
Here are 5 tips to help settle the toddler storm and not only make pre-sleep times more enjoyable, but make sleep more likely.
1. Fill their "Emotional Buckets" - Quality Time
Even though toddlers are stretching their independence, they still need us far more than they’re willing to admit.
Making time each day to intentionally connect with them will help ease any separation anxiety that may arise around the longest stretch of separation that happens each day - through the night.
During this intentional time, let your toddler lead.
They choose the activity.
They make the rules.
Then change the rules.
They abandon the activity for another one then go back to the first one.
You just go with the flow, have fun, be silly, really listen and play with them and watch them light up with all the attention.
When children feel heard, seen, and loved they can rest easier and know they’re safe.
Some Good Night Families’ Instagram community’s favorite ways to connect with their toddlers are:
Playing with dolls
What’s your favorite way to connect?
2. Limit Screen Time
Ideally children under 2 watch zero screens for zero minutes a day and children 2-3 watch screens no more than 30-60 minutes a day.
For little boys and any “high energy” child especially (so, every child 🤔), staying close to these recommendations is best, they need to be spending as much time as possible running off all that energy.
But, even more importantly, all screens should be off 2 hours prior to sleep times.
The light from the screen tricks the brain into thinking it’s still daylight, messing with the circadian rhythm and the release of melatonin. (Really even the lights in our homes can do that, too, so less is best in the evenings, if possible.)
Do your best and give yourself grace.
3. Keep the Crib
Here are my 3 top reasons for keeping the crib until age 3:
The crib brings a sense of security and comfort from knowing right where the boundary lies. And plus, smaller spaces are just so cozy.
Children younger than 3 aren’t quite developmentally capable of understanding invisible boundaries like a bed with no rails.
You know they’re safe because they can’t get out. (Unless they can…)
Ok, so you agree with 1 and 2, but your little one is a climber. Here are 3 ways to keep your little climber grounded:
Turn the crib around and push it into the corner. Depending on the style of the crib, this may be enough to deter the climbing! Cribs designed with a higher back than front can be turned around, making the higher side the front. Pushing the crib to the corner lessens the amount of sides to climb.
Lower the mattress to. the. floor! Depending on the make of the crib, you may need to prop up the mattress just enough so no limbs can be caught between the mattress and the bottom of the crib rails. If you're handy/up to the task, you can build a small box frame to fit underneath.
Use a sleep sack or Little Grounders "grounding" pajamas. My oldest was a climber (and I have a feeling my baby will be, too) and we used a sleep sack! If nothing else, it slowed him down enough that I could catch him trying to get out. Both options are 100% safe for sleep and aren't so limiting on range of motion that it's still possible for children to walk in them.
✨ and a BONUS TIP✨
Use that baby monitor intercom!!
The crib we had for my oldest didn't lower because there were drawers underneath, so we used tip 3 and the intercom to stop him from climbing. It took about a month of consistency, but he learned and by the time he could climb out even with the sleep sack, he only did when Daddy or I were there to get him up. (Except that one time at 6:30am when I opened his door but didn’t get him out of the crib and went to the kitchen to grab something and when I turned around I jumped because he was standing right there.)
4. Have a predictable schedule and routines - use Routine Cards, a Planner, and a Toddler Clock.
When children are prepared for what’s ahead, or at least know what’s ahead, they’re more likely to go about it with a better attitude.
Better yet, if they feel like they have a say in what’s coming and can have some control over it, they’re even more likely to not only participate, but enjoy it!
Routine Cards and Planner Pages
The easiest way to make that possible is by using these printable planner pages, routine cards, and a toddler clock.
There are 3 planner pages in the printout - a monthly, weekly, and daily planner page.
The idea is…
… Print 1 monthly calendar. This is for a general overview of the month with minimal detail. Since the monthly calendar spaces are small, you can use stickers or draw an icon that represents what you'll be doing on certain days.
… Print 4-5 weekly calendars. Here is where you can add in more specific details about the happenings of the week ahead. Again using stickers or pictures to represent what you'll be doing each day, being as detailed as you'd like.
… Print 7 daily calendars each week. This is where you can be even more detailed. Each daily planner is broken down into 3 blocks. Together, you and your toddler can fill in each block and talk about the day ahead.
If these don't become a part of everyday life, using them around the holidays, during vacations, or any other time of the year when life is a bit different than usual, will help your toddler better grasp what's ahead and more likely handle the change better.
These planner pages will also help your toddler grasp the concept of time; something that can take a while for them to understand.
The routine cards are to be used during nap time routine, bedtime routine, and any other predictable routine you may have.
The cards are black and white so your toddler can color them how they want. This can be a great quality time activity! As they color, talk about what each card means and put them in the order they belong.
Once it’s time for their routine to begin, let them be in control of moving from card to card. Some ideas on how to arrange this are:
Using a string with small clothespins to hang the cards
Velcro and a felt board
A pocket chart
The Toddler Clock
The toddler clock is a wonderful way for you to stay in control while also allowing your toddler to have some independence. It’s an outside source dictating what’s next and diffuses the desire for toddlers to fight what’s next. I will use the Hatch as an example because it’s the one I’m familiar with, but any toddler clock that can function similarly to this will work!
What makes a toddler clock different from a regular clock?
The toddler clock shows colors to tell the time instead of (or sometimes in addition to) the actual time. You program the clock to light up the color you choose and the sound you’d like (or no sound) during a certain timeframe. For instance, setting the clock to shine red while they’re in bed telling your toddler it’s time to be in bed (“Red for bed”) and will also be a good night light.
How to use the toddler clock to reduce sleep time battles:
I recommend having 4 set colors, the only one I insist on you using is Red for bed. But, one suggestion is using the colors of the stop light: Green for getting ready for bed, Yellow for the last few minutes before bed for snuggles and prayer and for your toddler to grab the last sip of water, potty break, extra snuggle, any “stalling” tactic they may have tried before, now is the time for that. This is the time we do our snuggles and prayers. Then at bedtime the light turns Red and it’s time for bed - into bed; goodnight. The fourth color can be whatever color your toddler chooses - this is the color that will come on when it’s time for them to get up. I also like to have the birds chirping sound effect come on with the color, too. They’ll then know it’s time to get up! This really helps with early risings and will encourage them to stay in bed, too. They’ll know that if they wake and the light is still red, they can go back to sleep or lay there quietly.
5. Get outside!
➡️ The sunlight will bring regulation to their circadian rhythm.
➡️ The fresh air and the stimulation of nature will help relax them.
➡️ The exercise will burn off some of their (seemingly endless) energy.
➡️ They can be as loud as they want, explore, their surroundings, and have sensory input that no other environment can provide.
I know in the winter months it can be harder (and for some people (🙋♀️), less appealing) to get outside, but I like what Alfred Wainwright said in his 1973 book Coast to Coast
“There's no such thing as bad weather, only unsuitable clothing”
So dress appropriately and get outside.
Toddlerhood can come with quite a few struggles and obstacles, but they’re also filled with years of great potential.
If you’re needing more help with your toddler’s sleep than what these tips can provide, don’t hesitate to reach out! You can book your free 15-minute call with me here. We’ll find the best way possible to make sleep a reality in your home.