- In a new advice column for Insider, “baby whisperer” Dr. Harvey Karp is answering reader questions on parenting.
- Harvey Karp is a paediatrician and expert on sleep and child development. He created the Snoo smart bassinet, a responsive bed that monitors babies’ sleep.
- In this column, Karp explains the many reasons your young child might be having trouble sleeping at night, and what you can do to make it easier.
- Visit Insider’s homepage for more stories.
How do I get my infant to stop hating bedtime? We do the whole routine – bath, jammies, reading a book – and it’s fine up until she’s swaddled, but then she screams because she knows she’s about to be laid down. What can I do?
Harvey Karp: When things are going well, nighttime tuck-ins are a pure pleasure. But when they’re not, it’s natural to start to fear seeing the sun go down.
Running after your little wild child, wrestling her into PJs, shutting the bedroom door while she’s shrieking on the other side – urrgh!
Many of our little Energizer Bunny children resist bedtime. They hate leaving the thrill of running, climbing, and touching. When they’re around 18 months old, they start to go through a very independent phase where “No!” is their favourite word. And the tired-er they get, the more rigid, hyper, and irritable they become.
In fact, a National Sleep Foundation poll found that a third of toddlers – and half of preschoolers – regularly stall at bedtime. And many downright fight it.
There are plenty of reasons that could explain why your child is refusing to sleep through the night.
Besides normal childhood defiance, there are several common reasons why young children fight bedtime.
- They’re overexcited. They’re too wound up on TV, roughhousing or something he’s consuming (like sugary juice, sweet snacks, artificial colours and flavours, cold medicine or a dose of caffeine from colas, Dr Pepper, Mountain Dew, iced tea or chocolate).
- Something is bugging them. It could be bright lights, loud noises, or discomfort (they’re teething, too hot, too cold, they have a stuffy nose or itchy PJs, they ate dinner too late, etc.).
- They’re nosy and stubborn. Maybe your child doesn’t want to go to their room because they want to see what everyone else is doing.
- They’re hooked on your help. Perhaps they haven’t yet learned how to fall asleep without you rocking, feeding, and holding them.
- They’re going through a fearful stage. Many young children have difficulty being alone and are dealing with a smorgasbord of worries, from strangers to dogs to thunder.
- Your bedtime timing is off. It’s possible you’re putting your child to bed too early (they’re not tired) or too late (they’re overtired and wired).
But no matter what the reason, there are lots of ways to help your toddler get past these sleep speed bumps. And one of the best ways is to work on bedtime skills all day long.
Here’s how to get 2- and 3-year-old toddlers to sleep.
It’s natural for toddlers to refuse to sleep. If you’re trying to figure out how to get your toddler to sleep, then use the tips below.
- Stick to a routine. Make sure your toddler has the same wake-up and sleep times each day. Also, make sure that their naptime is not too late in the day to avoid any interference with their sleepy time.
- Create a calm environment. At least 30 minutes prior to sleep time, make sure to create a calm environment for your toddler. Try reading a book or having them take a bath as part of this routine, and avoid high-stimulation activities like TV or movies.
- Keep a dark and calm bedroom environment.Don’t allow your child to watch TV in their bedroom or have any screen time in their bed. You can have a dim nightlight and soft music, but avoid anything with a screen.
- Limit food and drink before bedtime. Do you remember the movie “Gremlins”? One of the rules was not to feed or give them water after a certain time. Practice this rule with your toddler to avoid having them go from cute and cuddly to full Gremlin.
- Tuck your child into bed. Make sure to tuck your child into bed while they’re in a sleepy state, but still awake. You want them to learn to put themselves to sleep.
- And have a plan for when they have nightmares.If your toddler has a nightmare and runs into your bed, then that’s perfectly OK. However, once your child has calmed down, then they should be placed back into their own bed. Try surrounding them with various items of comfort to make them feel safe and learn to fall asleep on their own.
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