Even though our kids learned to sleep when younger, they get to a certain age where it seemed they forgot. Regularly this happens around two years when they start being toddlers and want to test out limits (and our patience). They experience fears, nightmares, separation anxiety, transitioning to the big kid bed, or transitioning to no nap.
Soon I'll have a "Toddler Sleep Guide" to help you with these sleep challenges among others. Keep reading to find some useful information to help you and your toddler get better sleep.
Night terrors and Nightmares
These appear around two years of age, and we need to understand what they are and why they happen to help your kid during this time. Read this complete article about it.
Visualizations help when toddlers are scared about having nightmares; sometimes they get very anxious just with the idea of MAYBE having one. You can use what I like to call "Dream Cards" to help them imagine something they like, download here.
Transitioning to the big kid bed
The recommended age to make this change is around three years, but some families decide to wait or make the change sooner. What is relevant is to do it when your kid is ready. Here is more information about when and how to do it.
Transitioning to dropping the nap
This was the most difficult transition for us, we are still working on it to be ready before my second baby arrives! This transition commonly happens between 3 and 4 years, again, we have to watch our kids and wait until they are ready. Your toddler might be ready to drop the nap if:
He is not tired by naptime.
If he does nap, he struggles to fall asleep at night.
He didn't have any sleep problems before and now he is waking up in the middle of the night or too early the next day.
He is sleeping 10 to 11 hrs at night (uninterrupted).
How to make a gradual transition?
Start by making his nap shorter, first 45 mins for a few days and then 30 minutes. (Some kids might nap for just 20 minutes for some days or weeks until they are ready).
Drop the nap every other day, for example, no nap every three days. (On no nap days, you will need to do an earlier bedtime). After that, increase to more "no nap days"; your toddler might still need a nap once or twice a week and that is ok.
Have LOTS of patience, it can take him up to 3 weeks to adjust, and he might be fussy and very tired in the beginning. He will eventually adapt. You might also start experiencing middle-of-the-night awakenings, but again, he will eventually adapt.
Remember the earlier bedtime, this is key the first days.
Excuses during bedtime
My favorite! At this age, toddlers create all kinds of fun excuses, most of them funny (not funny when it is the fifth time taking him potty in 3o minutes). Some excuses they use to postpone bedtime:
I need more water
Potty (4 times in 20 minutes)
I need a kiss or a hug
I need my pillow fixed
Can you turn on a light?
An extra tuck-in
What work in this kind of situations is to teach them how to do thing by themselves (if they can), then establish rules and limits and be consistent. For example, tell them they can grab water by themselves, fix their pillow, cover-up, go potty, etc. It might take a few days, but being consistent is key, once you start, just keep going. You´ll have to be very patient.
Here is an example of what I did with my 3-year-old daughter, she was calling me several times during the night to help her with her blanket, so I talk with her and showed her how it was done and told her that I was helping her just once and after that, she had to do it by herself. For a few days, every time she called me, I just stayed at the door without going in and gave her the instructions (like, "grab that corner and pull it up"), after a few days she just stop calling me.
You can use a sleep manners chart for when you are setting new rules for bedtime and give stickers to reinforce your child's good job. Read how to use it and print one here for free.
Let me know if you have any other sleep issues with your toddler, let´s find a solution together!