Is your toddler having tantrums at bedtime?

Just when you thought the broken nights were over, your toddler suddenly won’t settle. Here’s how to deal with her bedtime behaviour

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  • She doesn’t want to sleep in her own bed

    If she’s gone into her own room after sharing yours up to this point, your little one could be a bit disturbed by suddenly having her own space – and you nowhere nearby. You’re probably a bit thrown by it, too. And when you’re half asleep late at night, it’s easy to give in when she’s stood by your bed asking to get in for a cuddle.

    What to do:

    Sleep therapist Juliet Newson from Millpond children’s sleep clinic (www.mill-pond.co.uk) says if your tot is used to being in your room, it’s her independence that you need to nurture now.

    “The key to this is consistency. Every time she gets up, take her back to her own bed with as little interaction as possible,” she says. Try a reward system, like Millpond’s ‘sleep fairy’.

    “That’s where parents tell their children that the sleep fairy visits in the night to see if they’re staying in bed. If they are, a treat is added to their treat jar. It’s a great motivator,” adds Juliet.

    “Jake’s in a pattern of getting up several times a night at the moment, wanting to sleep in our bed. As exhausting as it is, I always get up and put him back in his bed. Eventually he tires himself out and goes to sleep in his room. It would be so easy to give in, but I don’t want to set him up with bad sleeping habits,” said Vicky Owen, 33, mum to Jake, 3. 

  • She can’t get to sleep

    Children can become very impatient waiting to fall asleep, especially if they feel like they’re missing out on something that’s going on downstairs. Getting your toddler into a regular bedtime routine will help with this common sleep problem.

    What to do:

    “Set a time you begin the night routine and stick to it,” Juliet Newson from Millpond children’s sleep clinic (www.mill-pond.co.uk). “Prepare the bedroom with dim lighting and give her a bath before reading a few stories. Don’t let her watch any TV for an hour before bed, and make sure she doesn’t have too much sugar either.”

    If she keeps getting up once you’ve made it clear that it’s lights out, take her back to bed each time. Be firm, and as hard as it may be, don’t cuddle her or show her affection, because this makes it seem as if you’re rewarding her for getting up. Going from a game to sleeping won’t help. Read a few stories to your little one to help her settle.

    “My children go through phases of screaming at bedtime and not wanting to sleep. They’re just trying their luck I think.  I’ve found it’s a case of perseverance, like with most things and it passes once they realise they’re not getting their own way,” said Caroline Middleton, 29, from Scotland, mum to Moss, 3, Skye, 21 months, and Zack, 7 weeks.

  • He wants to stay in his cot

    As much as many toddlers look forward to the time when they will get their very own ‘big bed’ to sleep in at night, the reality often isn’t as exciting. It’s natural for your  little one to feel anxious at first, and it will take some time for him to adjust to this big change.

    What to do:

    If your toddler has an older sibling, you may find he’s much more comfortable sharing a room with his brother or sister initially, before making the move to a room on his own. Putting a stairgate across the door of his room can also help her to feel more secure. Or a pillow on the outside of the bed works well if he’s scared of falling out when he’s asleep.

    “We use worry dolls or worry cars, as this helps to relieve anxiety,” says Chireal Shallow, psychologist, sleep expert and founder of private baby sleep clinic Naturally Nurturing (www.naturallynurturing.co.uk). “Your child can tell all his worries and fears to it, and then once everything is offloaded, he should be able to relax in his new surroundings much more.” Keeping a sleep diary can help you realise when the problem times are in your tot’s sleep routine – so you can troubleshoot more easily.

    “Jake slept in a cot in our room until he was 18 months old and we decided he should move into his own bed. We kitted the room out with his favorite things, and the first night was great. It was downhill from then on though. He'd cry that he was scared and start shouting for mummy. We perservered by explaining that we were just next door and there was nothing to be scared of. A year later and he's not scared, but he does play up sometimes," said Sarah Williams, 28, from Droitwich,  mum to Jake, 2.

  • She’s scared of her new room

    Being in her own room can be daunting as new noises or shadows start to form. Don’t worry, being scared is a common sleep problem for tots aged between 2 and 3, and shouldn’t be a long-term one.

    What to do:

    Too much sugar can be a stimulant for nightmares and distressed sleep, so make sure your little one isn’t eating too many sweet treats before bed. It’s also a good idea to keep an eye on the TV programmes she watches and any stories you read to her, as little minds can be very imaginative.

    Chireal Shallow, psychologist, sleep expert and founder of private baby sleep clinic Naturally Nurturing (www.naturallynurturing.co.uk), says, “You should lay the foundations in the day to build up your child’s independence. This will make her less isolated and distressed at night. You can also put together a bedtime photo album full of pictures of people your child has a strong connection to, as she will then have these nice images in her head as she goes to sleep.”

    “We’ve been having problems with Matilda undressing herself in the night and waking up cold. We tried fleecy sleepsuits, which worked for a while, but she learned to take them off too. Now we put them on backwards and that works a treat!” said Jo Holland, 36, mum to Matilda, 21 months.

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  • She wets the bed

    There isn’t one toddler who won’t at some point have an accident at night. It can be a long process finding a conclusion, but reassure your little one that it’s ok and you are going to solve it.

    What to do:

    Firstly, if your child suddenly starts bed wetting out of the blue, it’s a good idea to take her to the doctor to check for any signs of an infection. It’s natural to assume that if your child persistently wets the bed, she should be drinking less. However, if you give her more water during the day, this should increase her bladder capacity.

    “Try not to give your tot a drink before bed and make sure she goes to the toilet just before going to sleep. Encourage her to try, even if she insists she doesn’t need to go,” Juliet Newson from Millpond children’s sleep clinic (www.mill-pond.co.uk).

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