Helping Your Toddler Go Back to Sleep
Anyone who aims to "sleep like a baby" has clearly never been a parent. After all, infants are up frequently throughout the night because they need to eat. You just hope by the time your child is a toddler, she -- and you -- will sleep solidly through the night. But not so fast.
"Toddlers don't wake up because they're hungry, they wake up because that's the way their sleep is structured," says Jodi Mindell, Ph.D., author of "Sleeping Through the Night: How Infants, Toddlers, and Their Parents Can Get a Good Night's Sleep." Some toddlers naturally awaken as many as six times a night, she says.
So what's a sleepy parent to do? If your child is a "self-soother," just pat yourself on the back for having set up good sleeping habits from the beginning. Self-soothers awaken and go back to sleep on their own. A "signaler," on the other hand, will either climb out of bed and go looking for you, or lie in her crib or bed and call out until Mom or Dad comes to her. Obviously, self-soothing is the goal.
To help your child learn to get back to sleep on her own, set up a bedtime routine that includes reading books, singing a song, or something similar. Then say good night and leave the room.
If your child insists that you stay with her until she falls asleep, tell her you'll sit on the floor near her bed. After a few nights, sit next to the door. After a few nights of that, say good night and leave. You may have to return your determined toddler to her bed several times before she gives up and stays there.
"But you must return her to her own bed, whether it's 8 p.m. or 2 a.m., every single time," says Mindell.
Another tip: get a timer and connect it to a night-light in your toddler's room. Set the timer for a time that is acceptable to you, say 6:30 a.m., and tell her that, until the "good morning" light goes on, she has to stay in her own bed. Be consistent and your little one may soon be sleeping like a champ.