Bedtime

Your toddler needs between 11 and 14 hours of sleep – and you could probably benefit from a few hours too! You’ll find a routine that suits you, with a bit of trial and error – here are a few ways to manage the most common bedtime challenges you might have.

Your questions answered

What routine and time is best to put my tot to bed?

You know when your baby’s tired – like you, he or she will have days that take a lot of energy. Establish a routine that you both find relaxing and vary the number of hours they sleep by using naps and overnight sleeping.

  • Children need to learn to go to sleep and will benefit from a bedtime routine. Give them a bath, a story, colouring – in or perhaps a jigsaw, and have them cuddled in bed within 20-30 minutes. Any longer and they’ll have forgotten why they put their PJs on! Margaret Duncan, Sure Start health visitor, Dundee.
  • Try to give each child some time alone with you at the end of the day by staggering their bedtimes.
  • Be prepared for your little one to need progressively less sleep as they get older and adjust their bedtime accordingly.

My tot keeps climbing out of her cot – how do we get her into her first bed?

"My two-year old daughter, Maya, keeps climbing out of her cot. Do you think it’s time to move her to a bed? And how should I go about it?" Julie, Strathclyde.

Most toddlers are ready to move to a bed somewhere between the age of about two and three, Julie, and Maya is showing you in no uncertain terms that’ she has reached that stage.

  • You can help prepare her by getting her involved in helping to choose her ‘big-girl’ bedding.
  • On the day of the move, she can help you make up her new bed and put her favourite toys around it.
  • Follow her usual bedtime routine. Say ‘Goodnight’ firmly and leave in a confident way. If she gets out of bed take her back straightaway. Tell her that you’ll come back to check on her and make sure you follow through.
  • You might want to use guardrails at first. Debbie Lewis is a parenting coach and mum

My toddler has started waking at night now he has a younger sister

"Since my daughter Amie was born, my son Liam has been so clingy. He wants to suck from her bottle and has started waking at night." Julie, 27.

It’s common for toddlers to be babyish after a new sibling is born. They may want to suck from a bottle or the breast, start wetting themselves again, start waking at night or have more tantrums. As always, to try to ignore bad behaviour and give attention for good. Take every opportunity to praise them for being a ‘big’ brother or sister.

  • If your toddler wakes in the night, leave them alone for a short while to see if they can settle themselves.
  • If they don’t, go in and settle them down gently, then say ‘goodnight’ firmly and leave the room. You may need to repeat this several times. Each time they cry, leave it a bit longer before you go in and calm them down.
  • Don’t give in and whatever you do don’t reward them for waking up by taking them out of their room.

She always wakes up before us

"Naomi always wakes up earlier than us in the morning. I put a few toys at the end of her cot before I go to bed for her to play with when she wakes up." Hayley, 22, Mum to Naomi, two.

My tot won’t go to bed

"Tom used to sleep for two hours in the afternoon but then wouldn’t go to bed at night. I decided to put him down for his afternoon nap at 2 o’clock instead of 3 and put him to a bed a bit earlier. It worked!" Lucy, 29, Mum to Tom, 18 months.

Bedtime strike is common at this age. Developmental changes can affect sleep patterns. And the sheer excitement of all the new things your tot is learning to do can make it hard to let go at the end of the day.

  • Make sure your child is getting enough exercise to tire them out in the day – but avoid over-simulation too close to bedtime.
  • Make sure that the space where they sleep is nice.
  • Once you’ve put them to bed, say goodnight and leave the room quickly.
  • Be consistent. If your tot keeps getting out of bed, gently help them back without fuss, chat or attention – however many attempts it takes.

He has his own bed but he comes into ours

"Cameron does come into our bed from time to time but I just get up and put him straight back again." Rachel, 38, mum to Cameron, 18 months and Chloe, three.

One way toddlers can exert their growing independence is by getting out of their bed and coming into yours. They will carry on unless you put a stop to it.

  • During the day say to your child, ‘everyone sleeps in their own bed at night.’ If they get up or come into your bed, take them back and settle them down gently but firmly. Then go back to bed.
  • Be prepared to repeat this and don’t give in. After a few nights they should get the idea. You might want to reward them for staying in bed by using a star chart.

My toddler is crying but not distressed

As long as your child is safe and not very distressed it won’t hurt them to cry for a few minutes or so if they wake at night, and encourages them to learn how to soothe themselves rather than relying on you.

He’s scared of the dark

At this age your little one is developing an active imagination.

  • Avoid scary TV programmes or stories.
  • Use a night-light.
  • If they awake from a nightmare, stay with them for a bit and explain that it was just a dream.
  • If your child is waking regularly with nightmares, ask them if they are upset or worried about anything. A stressful event, such as starting nursery or the arrival of a new baby, may be the cause. Talk to your doctor or health visitor if their nightmares persist.

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Last updated: 17 October 2012
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