Toddler Sleep Problems: Toddlers in Transition

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  • September 07, 2012

Written by Christina Gantcher, Featured Gentle Sleep Coach, Good Night Sleep Coaching

A hallmark of the toddler years is the many transitions that occur during those several years after infancy. Moving from “babyhood” into “big kids”, learning self-care like feeding, toileting and getting dressed are all big changes and challenges (and even toddler sleep problems) for our children and for us as parents.

And sleep is no small part of the changes our toddlers face. Within the first year of life a baby will go through many different phases of sleep, including several naps that go down to two and then eventually one a day. We can spend a lot of time dealing with these transitions, too. We finally get into a rhythm and then things change!

There are three main toddler sleep transitions:

Most children are ready to change from two naps to one between the age of 15-18 months.

Some signs that your child is ready to move from two naps to one: taking longer to fall asleep for the morning nap, taking very short morning naps or taking such long ones that the afternoon nap doesn’t happen. Toddlers will often go on “nap strike” for several days, even weeks, so don’t rush into moving to one nap until you think your child is really ready (trust your gut feeling). And nap coaching can be tough so be realistic about when the time is to make the change. If you are ready to move from two to one gradually move the beginning of the nap later by increments, maybe 15 minutes, each day for about 7 to 10 days until you are near the mid-day hour (12:30 or 1:00 pm).

Next, the move from a crib to a bed can be daunting so I encourage parents to wait as long as possible. Children are able to understand “stay in your bed all night” at 2 1/2 years old, and I would argue most really understand it at 3 years old. It takes a lot of impulse control to stay in one place for so long! And when you are ready to make the move be sure your child’s room and home are safe for them to roam alone. When you are planning the transition talk to your child about it. Let them know about the change that’s going to happen. Even if your little one doesn’t have a lot of vocabulary yet they understand much more than you think. Giving them time to process the shift will help empower them for their new responsibility.

Lastly, when our toddler is already in a bed it’s time for what Kim West has aptly named sleep manners. Just like we teach our children to say “please” and “thank you” we can teach them sleep manners. Usually these manners consist of cooperating at bedtime, lying in bed quietly and staying in bed all night. All these can be discussed in a family meeting where your toddler can be part of the discussion. Sleep manners aren’t about being “good” or “bad” they are just a new skill to learn, like many of the skills your older toddler will learn in daily life. Your child can feel proud of his achievements each morning on a sticker chart, which serves to keep everyone in the house consistent about minding the new manners.

For more help with your toddler and upcoming transitions read “Good Night, Sleep Tight” or contact a local Gentle Sleep Coach. Wishing you a good night’s sleep!

~Christina Gantcher, Good Night Sleep Coaching

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Photography By Theodore Scott on Flickr

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