Toddlers and Sleep Boundaries. This is a subject that I love talking about because so many families suddenly find themselves with a toddler who is getting up at night or pushing boundaries and turning bedtime into a 2-hour process! You now suddenly find yourself having to lay with your kiddo to get them to sleep or getting up at night multiple times to tuck them back in.
Many moms and dads find themselves with no tools in their toolbox for how to fix this issue and months go by and the problem isn’t resolving itself. In fact, it’s getting worse….
What is a parent to do?
Let’s talk about a few reasons why toddlers suddenly stop sleeping all night or draw out the bedtime routine to such an extent that you’re ready to lose your mind!
They’ve been moved to a bed too early and mom and dad didn’t know that removing the crib’s physical boundary would create chaos in their kiddos’ sleep. Suddenly a child that was sleeping well in their crib is now coming out of their room a hundred times and is appearing at your bedside at 5 am ready to start the day!
Many toddlers simply don’t have the self-control to stay in bed, ESPECIALLY if they’re under 3 years old. Couple that with parents not having a plan, and you’ve got a recipe for disaster. You can read my blog post here to read about some resources that can help your toddler to learn sleep boundaries.
Boundaries, expectations, and follow-through are not clear. Many parents find themselves being afraid to draw a hard line in the sand around toddler sleep for a variety of reasons. Maybe they don’t want the meltdown at bedtime or they have a baby or sibling sleeping and don’t want to wake them. Because they don’t have clear sleep boundaries and follow through isn’t consistent (or it’s non-existent) the child controls the entire sleep situation in the home. This is a recipe for anger, frustration, and broken sleep for everyone.
But here’s the thing….It’s not their fault. They’re the kid. You’re the parent. It’s YOUR job to make the boundaries clear AND follow through when your child tests those boundaries. (because they definitely will!) It’s your job to ensure your kids get adequate sleep and those boundaries are held in place in a loving but FIRM way.
Sleep is a hill worth dying on in my opinion. It affects the well-being of the entire family and will eventually cause EVERYONE to start to unravel! Toddler sleep and sleep boundaries should be one of the non-negotiables in your home if you want your family to thrive. This doesn’t mean that you NEVER lay with your kids in bed or that they NEVER lay with you. There are times when laying or sleeping together in bed is good and healthy and really helps a child who may be struggling or in a difficult season of life. The issue becomes when you have lost control and your toddler is now calling the shots around sleep.
Your kiddo is lacking connection. I don’t say this to make you feel guilty. Parenting is HARD and whether you work outside the home or not it’s easy to get busy with tasks and get to the end of the day and realize you didn’t spend any time connecting with your kids. Toddlers NEED to have their emotional tanks full when going to bed otherwise they will most definitely be using all sorts of attention-seeking behaviors to get you to stay just a little bit longer. Spending one on one time connecting during the day and before bed can be a huge help in making sure your toddler feels secure and filled up emotionally.
If you work outside the home and time is limited before bed, use your weekends to meal prep so that all you need to do is heat dinner and not prepare an entire meal when you get home. This one thing can give you the extra time you need to connect with your kids at the end of the day so they go to bed feeling connected and secure. If your child has been away from you all day while you’re at work, their need for connection cannot be overstated!
Your child is going to bed too late. This is VERY common, but the good news is….It’s an EASY fix! This one change can turn a difficult bedtime into an easy bedtime! All kids should go to bed somewhere between 6-8 pm with the majority falling somewhere between 6:30- 7:45. Kids that still nap fall closer to the 8 pm bedtime and kids that have stopped the nap may need to be in bed by 6:00-6:15, especially if the nap drop has been recent. I know this seems early but I promise, your child needs the sleep! If you haven’t experienced the magic of an early bedtime, try it and see for yourself!
But Shouldn’t a later bedtime make for an easier bedtime??
No! Actually, the exact opposite is true. Here’s why….
Your toddler has a sleep window just like he did when he was a baby. It may be longer now but he still has it. This means that once he starts to feel sleepy he needs to be put to bed. Keeping him up only results in overtiredness and overtiredness results in difficulty going to sleep and staying asleep. So if he gets sleepy at 6:30 or 7:00 and he’s not being put to bed until 7:30 or 8:00. Guess what’s going to happen?
He’s going to go from sleepy (if you put him down at this point sleep would come easily) to HYPER!! (sleep is not happening anytime soon)
The reason he goes from sleepy to hyper is that his adrenal glands have to release cortisol to keep him awake since he’s not being put to bed. He gets a second wind and that’s when he gets hyper, silly, doesn’t listen and the bedtime routine starts to become unmanageable. Even once he’s in bed he CAN’T fall asleep.
Does this sound familiar?
If so, the KEY to solving this is to simply move bedtime earlier. Here’s how to know when bedtime should be…
Back up bedtime by a half hour BEFORE the time when you notice that he starts to get hyper or silly. For example, If every night at 6:45 he begins to get super excited and start bouncing off the walls, then shoot for a 6:15 bedtime instead. This would not be an uncommon bedtime for a young toddler who is no longer napping and starts his day at 7 am. It should take no more than about 20 min for kids to fall asleep if they’re going to bed at the correct time. This can help you gauge if you’re getting it right. Kids that go to bed at the right time also sleep until at least 6:00 am and typically closer to 7:00. Early morning wake-ups (4:30-5:30 am) are generally a sign that your toddler went to bed too late.
If bedtime has become complicated with your toddler and boundaries have become non-existent, don’t hesitate to reach out to me for some practical tools. I will help you bring back the sleep boundaries that your toddler needs, so bedtime can become peaceful again and you can have your evenings back!