Nighttime battles with toddlers can seem like the worst. Before you give up on trying to send your little one off to sleep in their own room, know that it’s normal, and there are methods and tricks you can use to try to break the cycle.
It’s inevitable that children of this age are going to have nighttime fears. Dr. Julia Gaines, MD, FAAP encourages a comfort item such as a stuffed animal or a blanket. She expresses that children should not have their parents as their comfort item.
Dr. Gaines’ idea is great, but what if you already tried that? Don’t fret: there are other tips you can try. But before tackling a solution, it’s important for every parent to know the reasons why toddlers should sleep in their own rooms.
Why It’s Best For Toddlers to Sleep In Their Own Room
1. Learning to be Independent
While toddlers are no doubt going to need to rely on their parents, there are some areas they need to learn independence. Laurie Hollman, Ph.D. says that children need to learn how to soothe themselves at night time.
“If they always have a parent to cling to, they restrict their learning about how to calm themselves on their own,” Hollman says.
Although it’s hard not to rush into your child’s room for every little worry and comfort them, it’s beneficial not to. You want to make sure your child feels safe but you also want them to learn how to calm themselves without your help.
2. Co-Sleeping Can Affect Behavior and Sleep Patterns
According to Parent’s Mom Connection, approximately 45% of mothers allow their children, between 8-12 years old, to sleep with them occasionally. About 13% of mothers admit they allow it every night.
While parents think they are taking away their child’s fears by allowing them to co-sleep, even if it’s on the floor, this decision is actually doing more harm than good. According to the Canadian Pediatric Society, there is a real medical term called behavioral insomnia.
This is a diagnosis that sums up 20-30 percent of children who have trouble staying asleep or falling asleep, and then ending up in their parent’s bedroom at night.
The harsh reality of co-sleeping is that it can lead to unhealthy sleep habits, fatigue, depression, low energy, memory loss, anxiety, obesity, and dependency.
How to Break the Cycle
1. Create a Routine
Although it may not seem like it, children flourish with routines. If you’re a household who doesn’t currently have a routine set, it may take a while for your child to get adjusted. Patience and persistence are key.
And the effects of irregular bedtimes can be far-reaching.
“If you change their bedtimes, say, 7 o’clock one night, 9 o’clock, the next, 8 o’clock the next, 10 o’clock the next, if we do too much of that switching, we end up inducing this kind of jet-lag effect, which makes it really, really difficult to regulate behavior,” says Dr. Yvonne Kelly, from London’s University College.
If you’re unsure of how to create a nighttime routine, an example would go something like this: cuddle time, bath time, brush teeth, climb into bed, read them a story, and tuck them in for the night.
You can change it up to fit your family’s needs or add or remove something. A consistent routine every night will get your toddler in the habit of knowing bedtime is coming and they will eventually give you less of a hard time.
2. Use Aromatherapy
While this may be a personal preference for different families, some scents of aromatherapy can help your toddler relax. According to Healthychildren.org, once you smell the aromas, it benefits the most primitive parts of the brain, which affect emotions and the nervous system.
This explains why it’s a great method for anxious toddlers who can’t fall asleep on their own due to fears. Always check with your pediatrician to make sure the type of aromatherapy you use is safe for children as all are not created equal.
The Complete Book of Essential Oils and Aromatherapy author Valerie Ann Worwood recommends scents like lavender, chamomile, mandarin and rosa palma for kids under five.
3. Fewer Naps During the Day
There’s no doubt your toddler is going to need naps during the day. According to KidsHealth, toddlers need at least 12-14 hours per sleep every 24 hours, including naps.
Some toddlers take 1-2 naps that total around 1-3 hours. If your child is having a hard time falling asleep at night, it’s critical to make sure they aren’t taking naps too close to bedtime.
If naps aren’t close to nighttime and they still have trouble falling asleep at night, try limiting them to one nap per day.
4. Be Patient and Take Them Back to Bed
You get your toddler to bed and all is quiet for a while.
You think to yourself, “this is finally the night!” but then you hear the little feet scramble across the floor to your bedroom. It may be tempting to have them jump in bed with you.
However, if you give in and let them sleep with you, you’re simply restarting the whole cycle over again. The best thing to do is to calmly get up and explain that he or she is a big kid and has their own room.
Walk them to their room. If you have to do this three or even 10 times per night, it’s worth it. Don’t worry: the repetitiveness will pay off in the end and you’ll be glad you didn’t give in.
5. Use Practical Rewards
Each parent has their own belief system on rewards, and each child responds to rewards differently. If you’re a parent who is all about the reward system, you could do this in different ways.
The first is a sticker chart. With a toddler, they will be so proud of their stickers and will want to build them up. Another idea is to bring them for ice cream or plan a special day for them if they sleep in their room for a whole week straight (or another time frame you choose).
“Rewarding children for doing the right thing, for good behavior, or for doing something positive can be a powerful strategy for parents,” says Advanced Pediatric Associates. They agree that some parents may feel as if they are bribing their children, which means it’s best to stick to reasonable rewards.