The sleep of a toddler can be disturbed by learning, by the desire for autonomy, or by daily worries that can result in nightmares or night terrors. In any case, a reassuring ritual, repeating itself night after night, will favor the maintenance or the return of good habits.
Walking, talking … and sleeping
While most toddlers wake up less at night during their 2 e or 3 e year of life, their sleep may still be disturbed by their “great learning”: that of walking, language, cleanliness, etc. In a very short time, the child achieves real feats, and the effort it entails has consequences for his sleep. Some children may then have temporary difficulties sleeping.
The child is also in the middle of a period of discovery and affirmation of his personality. He has much more interesting things to do than sleep, like playing, jumping or watching his books. He does not always go to bed. If he is already in a “big bed”, it is even easier for him to get up. It is therefore important to set clear limits.
Finally, many important events in her life can affect her sleep. This may be the case at the time of entry to the daycare or the arrival of a younger brother or sister.
After a day full of discoveries, your child needs to find his bearings. A good routine adapted to his age as well as a calm atmosphere will encourage falling asleep and a good night’s sleep.
- Set up a bedtime ritual consisting of 3 or 4 steps that you will repeat each evening. For example, give your child a bath, brush his teeth, read a story, give him a hug, and then sleep. Of course, he can go to bed with his favorite object (blanket, plush, etc.).
- At this age, pups often become afraid of darkness, and their imagination develops rapidly. Once the lights go out, they see monsters and witches. To reassure them, you can light a night light or put soft music. However, avoid too strong lights, blue lights or those directed towards the face of the child. It could interfere with his sleep. You can also leave the door of his room ajar if he will not be disturbed by the noises of the house.
- Avoid games and TV shows that may stimulate it before bedtime. The blue light of the screens harms sleep by modifying the secretion of melatonin, the sleep hormone.
- Your child’s bed or room should not be used as a place of punishment, especially during this period of assertiveness. The bed must remain a nice place.
The bedtime challenge
It may happen that when you go to bed, your child insists on continuing an activity or for you to continue reading a book. He may be trying to restrain you by telling you, for example, “Another kiss, then I sleep!” Or “Another story! Or “A little hug, the last one! “…
Then tell your child, “Now you have to sleep. Good night! You can make an exception occasionally by reading one more story for example. It should be made clear to your child that this is a reward for sleeping well or not getting up.
If he refuses to lie down and continually leaves his bed, here are 2 methods that can be effective according to sleep specialists:
The open door method
- Tell him, “If you get up, I close the door. If you stay in your bed, I want to leave it open. If he gets up, close the door and ask him to go to bed. After 1 minute, if he has not done so, go in and encourage him to return to his bed on his own without giving him too much attention. Then leave, leaving the door open. Keeping the door open then becomes the reward over which he has control. Repeat the scenario if it is necessary.
- The goal is to “give control” of opening the door to your child to reward him when he stays in bed. He must feel that he has the power to change things and that the door will remain open if he stays in bed. For this tactic to work, it is essential that you show consistency, firmness, and patience.
At around age 3, you can also reward your child when he is lying in bed without getting up. However, if you offer the reward only in the morning, your child may not remember the original goal. Indeed, when he wakes up in the morning, a child often forgets that he got up a few times the day before. You can give him a small object or tights before going to bed, telling him that he can only keep it if he does not get up.
If your toddler is going to see you in the middle of the night, drive him gently to his bed.
A nap too long, a difficult bedtime?
According to pediatricians, a nap in the early afternoon is necessary until the age of 4 or 5 years. It can be kept as long as your child needs it. Napping has several advantages. It allows the child to free himself from the tensions accumulated in the morning and to transfer new knowledge to the area of his brain responsible for long-term memory.
Around the age of 4, some children fall asleep only occasionally, and napping can upset the bedtime routine. It must be ensured that the nap lasts no longer than 2 hours and is completed before 3 pm If your child does not seem to want to fall asleep at nap time, you can give him a book and ask him to stay calm without forcing him to sleep.
Also, make sure your child does not really need a nap anymore. Indeed, a child who is very energetic may suggest that he no longer needs to sleep in the afternoon. However, if he has difficulty returning to calm, the nap is probably still necessary.
For more details, check out our nap sheet.
Night terrors or nightmares?
The nocturnal terrors last from 1 to 20 minutes and are manifested in the first part of the night during the phase of deep sleep. They usually occur 60 to 90 minutes after the child has fallen asleep. The child is agitated, confused and sweaty. He cries, screams and can struggle. If he is old enough to speak, his words are incoherent. His eyes are open. Everything suggests that he is awake, but he is not really. He is like a sleepwalker who walks while he sleeps.
Night terrors and nightmares are more common in some families.
Night terrors are often impressive, but they are safe. Most often, the child quickly regains his composure. He plunges into a peaceful sleep without even noticing your presence. The next morning, he does not usually remember what happened.
As for the nightmare, it’s a bad dream that occurs in the second half of the night. The child cries and lives a great fright, even after waking up. He can tell his dream and he remembers it the next day. He needs to be reassured by his parents. His return to sleep is often difficult because his fear persists.
Night terrors and nightmares are common and normal when the child is young. They express some of the child’s anxieties and some of his fears. They can correspond to important phases of her life, such as entering the daycare, the birth of a brother or sister, a change of educator, the removal of a parent, etc. The child exteriorizes his anxieties at night.
In addition, toddlers often confuse the real and the imaginary at this age. That’s why they have more nightmares.Over time, they will end up to understand that “bad dreams” are just dreams.
A problem arises when night terrors and nightmares are very common, they occur almost every night for several weeks. If so, consult a doctor. In addition, some children move while they sleep, cringe, talk or snore. Again, if it repeats too often, do not hesitate to consult.
Mom, dad, I’m scared …
Is your child afraid to go to bed at night? Is he having nightmares? Did someone tell him a scary story? Know that toddlers are very sensitive to what they see and hear. So, how to react?
- Avoid scary stories and do not show scary books, scary movies, shocking images or scary topics (accidents, death, kidnapping, monsters). Since some children are more fearful than others, it is best to adjust the choice of stories to your child’s sensitivity.
- Have him sleep in his own bed, as usual. If you bring him to your bed, you send him the message that he is right to be afraid.
- Your toddler only needs to be heard and understood. You have to take your fear seriously and avoid making fun of your fears. Also, try to understand what’s going on and get him to get by on his own. Repeat him that he will not risk anything and that you will always be there, near him. You can also use humor to play down the situation. For example, suggest that he use a stunning spray or blue paint on his face to defeat the monster from his nightmare.
- Help your child see the positive side of what scares him. For example, ask him to draw a nice dog rather than one that scares him. Tell a story by changing the ending. Turn fear into something nice. If the child is afraid of a witch, tell her the story of the poor witch who falls from her broom and is helped by children.
- Do not discuss his anxieties or worries just before bedtime. Give him plenty of time to talk about what’s bothering him during the day.