How to help your toddler go to sleep + stay asleep (so you can get rest, too)

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toddler sleeping on the couch

If you are parenting a toddler, you are my hero. From potty training to tantrum managing, and learning your child's little personality, life is nothing short of an adventure.

You might be enjoying sleep as a part of your life again, and now you can finally experience the wonder and excitement of your sweet little one—or you’re wondering why your two-year-old still isn't sleeping through the night. Either way, sleep regression doesn't only apply to newborn babies—it very well can be a challenge you face throughout the years of toddlerhood.

But listen, Mama, before you buy a bigger coffee machine, know that there are many tools and tricks that will help you conquer this new sleep stage.

Here are five toddler sleep habits to expect and how to handle them:

1. Your toddler won't stay in bed. Toddlers love to be on the go, and bedtime is no exception. If your child is constantly getting out of bed after being put down, there are a few things you can try.

  • Set the expectation for how often she is allowed to come out of the room. Some experts recommend giving your child a "pass" once or twice at bedtime, so she knows if she needs something that is the limit, and beyond that, she needs to stay in her room until morning.
  • Similarly, a red/green/yellow light clock brings some excitement and curiosity to bedtime. The clock will show red when it is time to stay in the room and green when she can get up for the day! (Insert link to clocks?)
  • You may need to consistently guide her back to bed. Even if it means you put her back in bed 35 times in a night, after enough consistency and communication, she will start to understand boundaries

2. Your child is becoming noticeably tired earlier than normal. This stage of life is often very transitional, and many toddlers are dropping from two naps to one, or dropping the daytime nap altogether. Daytime and nighttime sleep go hand-in-hand, so anytime there is a shift in one, there will be a shift in the other. The best thing you can do in this situation is to move up bedtime so she doesn't become overtired, and give plenty of wind-down time prior to when it's time to go to bed.

3. Your toddler's sleep habits are changing due to a shift in your family dynamic. Whether you are bringing home a new baby or moving into a new house, your toddler can likely feel the effects. Often this will cause a disruption in sleep and she might experience early morning wake-ups or trouble sleeping through the night suddenly. If this is happening, it is best to give her some extra comfort, and keep your routine as consistent as possible. Stability and some extra TLC will help her handle her emotions and still get the sleep she needs. Remember that in this case, any changes in her sleep habits more than likely will resolve once she feels more settled.

4. Nightmares are waking her up in the middle of the night. This is very common once children are at the age where their imaginations develop, they are starting to explore the world, and they are stimulated throughout the day. The best way to help your child through a stage of nightmares is to keep her feeling safe. Introducing or encouraging a lovey, or even a picture of you in her room to grab ahold of when she feels scared, is a great way to do that. You can try talking about it the next day to see if there is anything specific that is triggering nightmares, but if not, just remember to provide her with the comfort she needs and then help her back to sleep.

5. Bedtime becomes a constant struggle. Bedtime isn't always the happiest of times for you and your child. Children can experience a range of emotions including fear, separation and anger, often leading to a tantrum around going to sleep. It is so important in this case not to treat this as an opportunity for discipline, but rather to teach and enforce boundaries. The best way to do this is to communicate the bedtime routine as much as possible to your child. You can say something like, "We want to be fully rested tonight, so that we have a lot of time to play at the birthday party tomorrow," or, "Remember when I said we could go to the pool tomorrow? We won't be able to do that unless all of us get the rest we need tonight, so let's make sure that happens." Wind-down time is also very helpful in this case, as being overtired can contribute to exisitng feelings around sleep.

The more you can promote and encourage sleep, the better chance your child has to learn healthy sleep habits that will stick.

Rachel is a certified infant and Toddler Sleep Specialist and Motherly’s Sales Partnerships Manager. She is passionate about educating families on the importance of rest and providing the encouragement to overcome sleep challenges. She lives outside of Boston with her husband and children. Follow her on Instagram.


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