Is this a familiar image at bedtime? Does your toddler or preschooler fightfightfight when you’re trying to get them settled for sleep? Here are three common causes and fixes to this nightmarish situation!
1) Bedtime is too late! Your child’s sleepy wave has passed, and now they are running on cortisol. They won’t be able to calm for at least another 45-90 minutes or so!
FIX: Make bedtime earlier! A good rule of thumb is that bedtime should be about 12h after they wake for the day. The ideal wake time for a young child is between 6 and 7am (some kids can handle 730), in order to be ready for their body’s natural nap times.
2) Bedtime is too early! Your child hasn’t built up enough sleep pressure to easily fall asleep. This can be especially true in children over 3 who are still napping.
FIX: Make sure nap isn’t too long (cap it at 2h for older 2s or 1h for over 3) or too late (they should be up by 3/330). Some kids need that midday nap, and are fine to chill for a while in their before falling asleep. Some kids are better off skipping the nap and going to bed earlier. If you think skipping the nap is better suited for your child, see if their daycare teachers will allow them to do a quiet activity while the other kids sleep.
3) They are not sure of your expectations! Young kids don’t know what we want them to do if they are not explicitly told. Inconsistent boundaries can also lead to this scenario.
FIX: Establishing “sleep rules” – decide on your boundaries and expectations (different for every family), and write them clearly and concisely on a piece of posterboard. Try to include more positive statements than negative, we want to tell them what TO DO, and avoid the ambiguity of what NOT to do. (Unless it’s something self-explanatory like “don’t touch the curtains”.) Let them decorate it (taking ownership), hang it in their room, and go over it every night at bedtime. Give lots of praise in the morning, even if it didn’t go well – congratulate them for trying and remind them that you know they willl try even harder that upcoming night. The poster keeps everyone accountable – it is HARD to stay 100% consistent when you are fried AF, but that’s the most effective way to get this done!
If the DIY route just isn’t working, don’t be afraid to call for help! Don’t suffer in silence.