Last updated on May 31st, 2024

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Kim West, MSW, Mom of 2, creator of The Sleep Lady Shuffle

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Toddler Sleep: How to Navigate the Toddler Sleep Transitions

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!

Three Main Transitions

  • The change from two naps to one
  • The move from a crib to a bed
  • Learning how to stay in bed all night

When Do I Move From Two Naps to One?

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.
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. Try 15 minutes each day for about 7 to 10 days until you are near the mid-day hour (12:30 or 1:00 pm).
RELATED: Baby and Toddler Naps — Everything You Need to Know

How Do I Move From the Crib to the Bed?

Next, the move from a crib to a bed can be daunting.  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!
When you are ready to make the move be sure your child’s room and home are safe for them to roam alone.
RELATED: From Crib to Bed — How to Transition Smoothly to a Toddler Bed
As 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.

toddler sleep
Moving from “babyhood” into “big kids”, learning self-care like feeding, toileting and getting dressed are all big changes and challenges for children.

How Do I Keep my Toddler In Bed?

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.
RELATED: Getting Your Toddler to Stay in Bed at Bedtime and All Night Long
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.

Author: Kim West, MSW, Mom of 2, creator of The Sleep Lady Shuffle

My name is Kim West, and I’m the mother of two beautiful girls, a Licensed Clinical Social Worker who has been a practicing child and family therapist for more than 21 years, and the creator of the original gentle, proven method to get a good night’s sleep for you and your child. My sleep journey began when I started experimenting with gently shaping my daughter’s sleep by not following the conventional wisdom at the time. After having success (and then more success with my second daughter!), I began helping family and friends and my step-by-step method spread like wildfire, exactly like an excellent night of sleep for a tired parent should!