The Secret To Sleep Training Your Toddler


For many parents, their toddlers bedtime is the most challenging part of the day.

This is more likely to be harder if she has older brother and sisters who stay up later. The younger one at this point, feels left out and has a F.O.M.O if the rest of the family is awake while she has to go to sleep. These feelings are understandable but she is still a baby and still needs 10 to 12 hours of sleep a night.

Sleep training a toddler means to gently and gradually change the sleeping behavior of your toddler, without using any medication, and without having to struggle every night to put your little one to bed. It is a process that will have to be gentle and will take patience and time.

But, if you will make the required changes, as well as staying consistent then nighttime will become a more peaceful and easy going time for the entire family.

What Is Sleep Training For Toddlers

At this time your toddler probably is taking only one nap a day. She is also likely to sleep as much as 12 hours a night without needing a middle-of-the-night-feeding.

You may have attempted to sleep train your little one in the past with either success or failure, but at this stage a toddler still has separation anxiety which means she will resist going to bed and she may wake up more often looking for you.

During this difficult period, you might need to experiment with different strategies to find the right techniques that help your toddler sleep better.

For example, some children go to sleep more easily when the door is wide open ( so they are able to hear you ); others develop self consoling habits, such as sucking their thumbs or rocking.

Your toddler might also have a special lovey, blankly or stuffed animal as a transitional object, which comforts her when you are not nearby. Anything that is soft, huggable and makes them feel safe.

My son likes to chew the nose of his teddy bear / blankly ( half teddy bear, half blanket – quite remarkable ) You can encourage your child to use a transitional object by providing her with a soft toy or blankly.

Sometimes it is tempting just to give up and let your toddler fall asleep in their tracks when they are overcome by exhaustion. But by doing so will only make it more difficult and challenging getting on a routine sleep schedule, and this is important for both daytime and nighttime sleeping.

Instead, watch the clock to see when she shows signs of sleepiness ( around 6 to 8 o’ clock ), then make that her regular bedtime.

Establish a bedtime ritual and if your toddler is able to understand, discuss this new rule with them. Whether you include a bath, story, or song, the routine needs to end with her quite, but awake, in her crib, ready for your good-night kiss before you leave the room.

What if my toddler is crying when it’s time for bed?

What first of all, do not do anything that will reward your baby for calling you in the middle of the night. Go check on her first and see if she is alright, tell her that you are close by if she really needs you; but do not turn on the light, rock her or walk with her.

You can offer her a drink of water but do not nurse or feed her and most certainly do not take her to bed with you. If she is going through separation anxiety, by taking her to bed with you will only make it more difficult to return to her own bed. Trust me.

When you do check on her, just try to make her as comfortable as possible. Also, makes sure she doesn’t have a temperature or is sick in any way.

Some problems, like ear infections can come on suddenly in the middle of the night.

Once you have made sure that there are no signs that she is ill, then go ahead and check her diaper, changing her only if she’s had a bowel movement or if her diaper is uncomfortably wet.

Make sure not to turn on the lights, and change her as quick as possible. Then quietly place her back in bed. Before leaving the room, whisper goodnight or a few comforting words about now how its time to go to sleep. If she continues to cry, just wait a few minutes before going in and comforting her for a short time only.

This is a very difficult time for both parents. I understand how it’s emotionally and physically exhausting to listen to your child cry, and you will probably respond with a variety of mixed emotions.

Remember that she is not deliberately being this way but only reacting to anxieties and stresses that are very natural at her age.

If you merely stay calm, and consistent from one night to the next she will soon be putting herself to sleep. Keep this objective in sight as you struggle through the “training” nights. Doing so ultimately will make life much easier for both of you.

Unfortunately, resistance during bedtime isn’t the only sleep struggle you might have with your toddler. Remember the very first time she slept through the night as a baby and you thought your sleep problems were over?

As the parent of a toddler, you now know the truth: she might go a few days, weeks or even months of sleeping through the night with no disruptions, then begin waking up almost as frequently as when they were a newborn.

A change in routine is the usual cause of nighttime awakening. Changing rooms or beds, losing a favorite blankly or stuffed animal, taking a trip away from home or an illness might all disrupt his normal sleeping behaviors.

While these are all valid reasons for her to wake up – it doesn’t mean for you to pick her up and take her to your room or into bed with you. She needs to put herself back to sleep, even if it means crying a bit first.

What if your toddler is used to getting lots of attention at night? In this case you will need to slowly retrain her.

Let’s say that you have been giving her milk whenever she wakes up in the middle of the night. It is time to change first to water and soon after stop it entirely.

If you have been picking her up, restrict yourself to calming her with only your voice from a distance. Above all, do not get irritated or angry with her if she continues to protest.

Show her kindness, even as you remain firm. It is not easy but in the long run it will improve your sleep as well as hers.

What to do if a toddler is climbing out of bed?

Toddlers are full of energy and curious and may soon discover that, with a bit of effort, they can climb out of their bed and have some fun around the room at night.

When will a toddler attempt to perform such maneuvers? In most cases, parents won’t have such issues until the age of 2 years old.

The motor skills of the baby have to be well-developed in order for them to be able getting their own weight over the bars of the bed.

So, if you have a toddler, you should watch out for such attempts between the age 2 and 3. What to do if your toddler is indeed trying getting out of the bed?

First, you need to take some precaution methods.

You will need to place a soft mat or rug next to the child’s crib so that it will reach something soft in case the young one does manage getting out.

Specialists suggest using a sleeping sack for your toddler, in the appropriate size. This will make getting out of the bed more difficult.

Transitioning to a bed

You should begin to use a bed instead of a crib by the time your child is 35 inches tall.

Transitioning to a regular or “big kid” bed can be hard for two different reasons; first of all, she is used to having the sides of her crib to keep her on her mattress.

Initially transitioning to a smaller mattress ( like the one from her crib or a twin mattress) on the floor makes more sense because she is probably going to roll out of her new bed anyway; better that it’s already on the floor right?

Over time the crib mattress can be replaced with a larger mattress if you choose, and then later on if you want, you can raise it up onto a frame.

The bed can be a toddler sized bed, or if she is comfortable in a larger bed, it is fine to move to her to a regular size bed.

The second difficulty with transitioning to a bigger bed involves getting her to stay on the bed. Consider using a guardrail to help keep her safe and secure while in bed.

At the very least, her room needs to be childproofed; a gate might be required at the door to prevent her from wandering around the house at night.

What if you co-sleep with your toddler?

In many cases, toddlers prefer the beds of their parents instead of accepting to sleep in their own bed. In this case, you should start getting them used to sleep in their own bed.

You will need to be patient and consistent during this process if you want to reach success.

You need to know that you have to make the toddler feel good in his own room, which also means to play games and do fun things in his or her room, even in the proximity of the crib.

This way, your child will associate the bed with something nice and fun.

After playing for a few days this way, select a night when you will put the toddler in his or her own bed and explain gently that he or she will be sleeping there.

There are high chances that your child will come to your room, several times during a night and for a good number of days.

Each time the toddler ends up in your room, patiently take him or her bad to the crib. Eventually, the toddler will get used to his own bed, just be calm and patient until this happens.

There are quite a few methods to sleep train a toddler, so we are going to mention a few here, among the most popular:

  1. The withdrawal method
  2. Camping in the toddler’s room
  3. Positive reinforcement

This is suitable for toddlers that like having one of the parents around before going to sleep.

If you are used to sitting with your toddler until he or she falls asleep, you will continue doing so for a few nights, until you will gradually increase the distance between you and the child at bedtime.

So, you will gradually move to the end of the bed or on a nearby chair. The distance will be increased gently and in time.

This means to sleep in your toddler’s room on a mattress, for example, so that the child has the security and comfort of having you around.

This will allow him or her getting used to the bed faster. Just makes sure to explain to them that camping will only happen for a few days.

A child should always be rewarded for an appropriate behavior, including sleeping in his own room and bed.

Of course, the best moment to offer your toddler a reward is in the morning, not before going to bed. Just pick the right rewards for your toddler’s age without spending too much money on each reward.

You should not allow your child to watch TV or use any kind of electronics before bedtime.

Also, rough playing between dinner and bedtime is not recommended either.

Instead, try coming up with a good bedtime routine, which means that your toddler will have a bath, get cuddles, and enjoy a story before going to bed.

Let’s say that your toddler is happy sleeping in their own “big kid” bed, but the issue is that they get too much anxiety being alone in their room all by themselves, or if you have caught them a few times out of bed playing with their toys in the middle of the night, then you can make the choice to sleep with your toddler in the same room as you, ( not in the same bed.)

This means that you can put the child’s new bed into your room so that they won’t be so far away from you and you can makes sure they don’t get out of bed to play.

Eventually you can transition your toddler back to their own room once you feel that they are ready to.

When it comes to your toddler’s sleep just do the best you can, but do not feel bad if things do not always go as planned.

Yes, make an honest effort getting your little one to bed on time for naps and at nighttime. But as a parent you also need to set side any blame or worry you might feel if you are not doing everything perfectly.

There will be days and nights when your child does not sleep well, maybe because you have been too lax in keeping her in sync with her internal rhythms.

Or if your toddler spends time at child care or with a nanny, and you are simply not present to put her to sleep at nap time, forgive yourself and just makes sure that her caretakers understand and are trying to comply with your own preferences about how you want your child’s sleep schedule to be.

At home do not beat yourself up if your toddler goes to bed a little late for a night or two. Just get back on track as soon as possible and help her return to a normal sleeping routine.

Dealing effectively with your toddler’s sleeping problems is important, not only for your child but also because her sleep difficulties can interfere with our own need to rest.

Meeting your own sleep needs is important to effectively care for your toddler and the rest of your family. Chronically overtired parents also have a greater risk of becoming depressed.

Keep in mind that helping your toddler sleep can be one of parenting’s biggest challenges. But it can have an enormous payoff in terms of your child’s health in the future.

I hope this guide will help you as a parent and give you the chance getting a restful sleep at night by helping your toddler develop healthy sleeping habits.

Just do remember to be patient and don’t expect miraculous changes overnight. Sleep training and generating healthy habits take time while gentleness is one of the most important parts that will lead to success.

Remember that your pediatrician can be a great ongoing source of support, reassurance and advice. Additionally, many pediatric medical centers have individuals who are specialists in helping babies & children sleep better.

Thank you for sharing with us this helpful post especially for us parents.Most of the time it becomes difficult for parents to make their kids sleep and some training would be helpful.Many of toddles cry during the night and it asks mother or father to go and check on them and this is the most difficult time for parents.

When my son was toddler he used to cry during the night and his father told me please go and stop him .Hahahahaha most of fathers don’t like this as they are tired from work and prefer the total silence at night.

But we love our kids that’s why we have to deal with it and try to look for solutions.

Hi Sophia,

This information is very timely for my family. 

My daughter is struggling to train my granddaughter to go to bed at night.  There are no other children in the house to distract her.  She gets her bath at bedtime and that calms her down.  

The biggest issue is she wants to nurse to go to sleep.  She is two years old and weening increasingly during the day but still wants to nurse at night.   So of course she cries until her mommy gives in to get her settled down.  

I’ll share this article with her, maybe some of your suggestions might help. 

I wish you much success.

PLEASE REMEMBER TO ENCOURAGE SOMEONE TODAY!

Vanna Pearl

Hello there I am  father of a 3 years old boy and I having some problems with him, he is already sleeping in his own bed but He awake in the middle of the night and go to my bed and stay there with us I tried to sleep with him for a little while but he always woke up and go to my bed I feel He is winnig the batle and I dont know what else to do all the ways you wrote about in the post,  I had tried it but simply doesnt work please advice me what Can I do?

Hi Felix I am really sorry that your son keeps you up at night. My son is almost two years old and wakes up sometimes at night as well wanting to sleep next to me.

My advice is if he has his own bedroom you might want to shut and lock the door. Of course before you do this, when you put him to bed you tell him that its bedtime, it’s time to go to sleep, that you love him very much and will be down the hall but that he needs to rest his body here in his room like a big boy. When he is settled in, give him a kiss and tell him you love him then shut and lock the door from the outside. 

I also suggest that you invest in a baby monitor that comes with a camera. It will automatically come with night vision so you can see everything that goes on in your toddlers room even if the light is off. Put the camera is a place where he can’t reach it, but you can see him clearly. When you lock the door, you will hear him get out of bed and attempt to open the door. He might yell, scream and kick the door. He might even throw things in his room. That is why you need to make sure to secure the room before hand and not leave anything dangerous that he can throw and hurt himself or break something. You will be able to *view* your toddler from the baby monitor and see for yourself that he is perfectly fine, safe and unharmed but simply having a fit…. this is the best thing to do because after the second night he will have gotten the picture that night time is for sleeping in his own room.

You can even tell your toddler that you are able to *see* him from your room. You do not want to show him the camera though or let him know where it is just simply tell him that you can see him and you will know if he really needs you or not. Let him know that you will also be able to see if he is being naughty ( Ie: throwing his toys around or being loud ) so tell him that he should be a good boy and rest his body in his own bed.

Make sure you don’t cave in and go to him at all in the night UNLESS you can see that he needs you, that he hurt himself, that he is sick or about to hurt himself, or in any other emergency, but other than that DO NOT go to him because he is crying or calling for you. You will simply perpetuate the behavior and he will not learn how to sleep in his own bed. So make sure that you just keep a firm stance on what the rules at bedtime are. Toddlers get the point in a day or two. So don’t worry! 

Hi Sophia, What wonderful suggestions for Sleep Training for Toddlers. There are so many views on co-sleeping, own rooms from early babyhood etc. You have so many good ideas and I am sure that there are many parents who will benefit by reading this lovely post.

I had to (big boy sit, his words, not mine) my grandson on Saturday night. All went extremely well, we had story time but just as I was ending the story he realized that his favorite penguin that he always sleeps with, was missing. The hunt was on. I eventually had to ask for his help to come downstairs as the teddy I had found was just going to do the trick, I had the good fortune of looking on the windowsill behind the curtain and finding penguin and I had to sleep with teddy and he went to sleep with penguin. All was well that ended well. Just a bit later bedtime than usual. We both slept very soundly after that.

Oh no the missing lovey!!! I very much sympathize with you on that one. My son has misplaced his teddy bear blankey many times and it was the make or break of whether or not he would go to sleep or not !!! So when you say the hunt is on, you are not kidding! So glad you finally found your penguin and your “big boy” was able to sleep peacefully.

Great Post! This reminds me of being young. My internal clock  was like a Swiss time piece! At 8 o clock on the dot, guess who was out like a light?  Like you say my older sister got to stay up later and I wanted to be one of the cool kids but I physically couldn’t do it.

I think training your baby is very important because in the long run I think this will contribute to their sense of self discipline and self reliance. If they realize they can do something because you encourage them it will set you up to create stronger children who can take care of themselves which is what parenting is about right?

I have 4 children, all boys, and not one of them have ever gone to bed and fell asleep straight away. My youngest is 4 now and he still comes downstairs or gets out of his bedroom at least 5 times every night, it’s really tiring for my wife and me.

We have recently started watching a TV show called ‘Supernanny’ have you heard of it? Anyways we have picked up some great tips from the show that seems to be working and everything the show teaches us you have covered in this great post so I have bookmarked it so I don’t have to keep watching the show to see how to get my bit to sleep better.

Thanks so much for this and I will keep you posted about if it’s working or not 🙂

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