Toddlerhood is a time of dramatic change and numerous challenges for both your toddler and you.
When your toddler becomes tired or overtired, the most important sign to look for is drowsiness plus one or more of the following non-verbal cues.
Toddler tired signs
- heavy eyelids and glazed, dull eyes
- still, quiet, not very alert
- irritable, restless
- grizzling, fussy
- sucking her thumb or a dummy, if she uses one
- searching for her special blanket, toy or comforter
Respond to her tired signs by reducing stimulation and adopting a calm and soothing presence. She needs you to tell her she’s tired so that she can begin to understand what it feels like to be tired, and that this feeling means she needs to go to bed and have a sleep.
Once you have noticed she’s tired and ready for a sleep, prepare your toddler for going to bed. The bedtime routine you use will depend on the time of day and her age. For example, if it’s a daytime nap you might simply put the toys away, talk to her quietly, pick her up and give her a cuddle, then move on to a short, quiet, calming and predictable bedtime routine to help her wind down and get ready to lie down in her cot or bed, depending on her age. If it’s night time, close the curtains in her room and turn off the lights.
For her first 12 months, you may have had a familiar, predictable bedtime routine for your baby. Now that your toddler’s day fits more closely to the family’s routines, she will definitely need a comforting routine each evening that signals that it’s the end of the day and time for her long night-time sleep. This will give her time to wind down, relax with you and get ready for bed and sleep. The same, familiar, calming bedtime routine will usually result in her falling asleep more quickly and may also reduce any anxiety or disruptive behaviours at this time.
Night-time routines usually include a bath. Even though baths are fun, they are always warm and relaxing; you know yourself how a bath feels. Routines include a nappy change, teeth cleaning, cuddles and a quiet story together, and tucking in or placing her in a sleeping bag, depending on her age. Some parents and toddlers have a favourite quiet song they like to sing at bedtime. These quiet wind-down routines are always followed by moving your toddler into her cot or bed and an affectionate kiss goodnight. Your toddler thrives on your affection. Her brain grows stronger and healthy neural connections are made every time you touch her, gently kiss her and tell her you love her.
If your toddler has chosen a special blanket, toy or comforter, she will need this as part of her bedtime routine. At around or after the stage when your baby experiences separation anxiety, she will choose the blanket or toy that will become her special comforter. It’s thought that the special object your baby chooses provides her with comfort and security in your absence. That’s why this object is so important to her when she separates from you to go to bed and to help her calm down when she gets upset. No one can choose this object for her, this is something she has to choose for herself.
Once you have finished your routine and your toddler is drowsy and ready for sleep, put her into her cot or bed awake, kiss her goodnight and leave her to fall asleep.
Always ensure that the cot sides are up and securely in place.
Here are some Tresillian settling strategies to try if your toddler still has difficulties going to sleep on her own and wakes through the night.
Toddler settling strategies
- If you have tried putting your toddler to bed and she continues to be distressed or she’s crying, pick her up and cuddle her until she’s calm. And check her nappy. You can then attempt to resettle her.
- Speak gently and quietly to reassure her, such as telling her, ‘It’s time for sleep’. You want to encourage a state of calm.
- Once she’s calm again, position her comfortably on her back in her cot or bed while she’s still awake.
- If she still doesn’t respond and she cries, pick her up again and cuddle her until she’s calm.
- You could try giving her a drink of water but nothing else.
- If she’s very upset, then try staying in the room until she falls asleep. You could sit on a chair quietly. The length of time it takes to calm your toddler will decrease as she begins to calm herself and self-settles to sleep.
- If you find your toddler needs you to stay in the room while she falls asleep, try sitting on a chair beside her cot or her bed, and then, over time, gradually move your chair a little further away as she gains more confidence in her ability to fall asleep without you being quite so close. Eventually, move your chair until you are sitting near or just outside the door, responding to her with your gentle voice if she checks that you’re still there. You might like to try the parental presence settling technique if your toddler is anxious about separating from you at sleep time.