Toddlers are increasingly aware of their surroundings, so distractions might disrupt them at bedtime. Their growing imaginations can start to interrupt sleep, too. Now more than ever, a simple and consistent bedtime routine is a parent's best bet for getting a sleepy toddler snugly into bed.
Toddlers and Sleep
You're the best judge of how much sleep your child needs. Most toddlers between the ages of 1 and 2 require about 10-13 hours of sleep a day. Whether all these hours are slept at night or split up between nighttime sleeping and daytime naps is up to you.
Some parents find that their kids need that sleep during the day. Others find that daytime napping interferes with a good night's sleep and that a rest period (quiet playing or reading) works better. If this occurs, you may want to combine two short naps into one or do away with naps altogether. That's OK— kids don't need to nap every single day.
It may take several weeks of experimenting until you find the right combination of sleep and naps. Just make sure your toddler is getting enough rest. It can mean the difference between a happy, sunny disposition and a cranky, hard-to-manage child. Try to get in tune with your little one's needs and personality.
Where and How Should a Toddler Sleep?
Most likely your 1- to 2-year-old will still be sleeping in a safe, secure crib. Remember not to put any extra-large soft toys or stuffed animals in the crib, and look out for items with ties or strings that could wind up around your toddler's neck. Also, be on constant lookout for nearby objects your child might be able to reach from a standing position in the crib: curtains, window blind pulls, pictures, or wall hangings are all possibilities.
Your curious toddler may be looking for ways to climb over the crib railing in an effort to "break out" of the crib. Don't leave a lot of toys to pile up and climb, and if you haven't taken down those bumper pads, do it now so that your child doesn't try to use them as a step.
If you have an active climber who is getting out of the crib and suddenly appearing in the living room, you might want to consider moving him or her to a bed. It will be difficult at first to keep your toddler in it, but at least you'll know your child won't be hurt climbing out of a crib.
Your toddler also may begin waking up at night, for several reasons. Sometimes it's discomfort, such as teething pain or illness. Sometimes it's mild separation anxiety: "Where's Mommy? Where's Daddy?" Dreams and nightmares can begin to affect toddlers, who have a difficult time distinguishing these from reality. Be mindful of any videos or books he or she sees just before bedtime, and keep the content mild.
Look around for an environmental cause for your toddler's nighttime awakenings. Toddlers are notorious for not staying covered at night, so in the colder months you might want to dress your child in heavy pajamas for warmth.
Is there too much noise coming from an adjoining room? Toddlers will learn to sleep with some noise, but a loud TV or too much conversation close by can be disrupting.
Check out your child's room from your perspective. Make it someplace you would sleep soundly and chances are you'll make it more comfortable for your toddler.
Helping Your Child Sleep
By now you've probably found the right combination — like a warm bath and a bedtime story — that helps relax your child. Stay with it and don't let it get overly long. The backrub that seems like a treat now may not be so appealing when it's demanded night after night for longer and longer periods. Decide how many drinks of water you'll allow and how many times you'll retrieve the toy that's thrown out of the crib in defiance of bedtime.
Get used to setting the rules and sticking to them. This not only helps your child get more sleep now, but also helps you later if other, more serious discipline problems arise.
If your toddler awakens in the middle of the night, just as when he or she was younger, you'll want to quietly and quickly provide reassurance that everything is OK and you are close by. But too much interaction can backfire, so keep your nighttime "visits" brief and boring for your toddler.
If you have an early riser, you can help keep sunlight from waking your toddler by keeping curtains or blinds closed. Also try putting a few safe toys in the crib — they may keep your child busy in the morning.
When to Call the Doctor
Sleep problems that seem severe to you, such as recurring nightmares, should be discussed with your doctor.