Why you and your toddler need sleep

Two years is a long time to go without getting a good night’s sleep. It is important for both you and your toddler to sleep soundly. So, that you are both functioning at your best during the day. If you are going to stop them waking in the night you need to really believe this!

Why does your toddler wake up?

So what can you do if your toddler still wakes every night? Well, it depends on why they are still waking. There can be a number of reasons and it is important to work out why they are still waking to tackle the problem

1. Needing their dummy

If your two year old still uses a dummy, it may be best to stop the use of the dummy. As toddlers often wake in the night needing the dummy and wake themselves up looking for it. It can take up to a week for your toddler to learn to settle themselves to sleep without their dummy. But it is well worth it.

2. Secret ‘benefits’ of waking

The next thing you need to do is make sure that there is no benefit to your child from waking. There should be no opportunity to go to your bed, have a milk drink, play or have your attention.

3. Not tired out

Make sure that your child is ready for sleep when you put them to bed. Give them plenty of fresh air and exercise during the day. And stick to a regular bedtime and evening routine to help them feel secure.

How to get your 2 year old to sleep

1. Choose a good time

If your toddler continues to wake each night, choose a good time when you are mentally able to cope with a few nights of broken sleep. Set a date and set up a new rule. For instance – that from Friday your child will stay in bed from when you put him or her into bed until you go into them in the morning. This gives your child advance notice and allows them to adapt to the idea.

2. ‘Sell’ the changes to your toddler

Talk to your child about the new rule. Explain what will happen if they wake in the night: That they will be returned to their bed and that you won’t talk to them. Offer a reward for them sleeping through the night – a favourite cereal or pancakes for breakfast.

3. Ask lots of questions about the new routine

Five times a day in the days leading up to Friday, Have a chat-through with your child along the following lines:

  • Jamie, starting on Friday, what is the new rule going to be about sleeping? (I sleep in my bed all night)
  • What will you need to do? (Stay in my bed if I wake up)
  • How will you feel if you wake up and it’s still dark? (I’ll want Mummy)
  • How will you handle that? (Cuddle my Bear)
  • And what will happen if you stay in bed ALL NIGHT? (Pancakes for breakfast!)
  • How will you know it is time to wake up? (Mummy will come in or my magic light will come on, or the bunny on my clock will open his eyes)
  • What would help them if you wake in the night.
  • Do you want a soft blanket nearby? A favourite soft toy? A beaker of water near your bed? A night light? What would help?

One lovely idea I heard from The Parent Practice is the idea that the soft toys store up sleep all day. So, the child can cuddle the toy at night, and the toy passes on their sleep.

4. Practice what happens if they wake up

When they are in bed, practice a pretend ‘waking up in the night’ and get them to show you what they will do when they wake up. Put a few quiet toys and books right next to their bed. So that if they wake early they can play with them.

5. Prepare for the first night

When Friday comes, have chat-throughs frequently throughout the day, and especially just before they go to sleep. Remind them of what they need to do if they wake up in the night and how they will know that it is time to wake up. Make a big deal of the special breakfast they are going to get if they sleep through. This process allows the child to form a mental picture of themselves in bed all night and helps them feel confident that they know how to settle themselves if they wake up.

If you think your child is waking to go to the toilet, help them go to the toilet as you go to bed.

Celebrate their success

If your child sleeps through, make a big fuss of them and give them their special breakfast or reward in the morning. A few subsequent nights’ sleep should deserve a special reward and lots of positive attention for them! Keep telling them (and everyone you meet!) how pleased you are that they are sleeping through the night until it becomes a habit.

What to do if your child wakes in the night

There is a good chance that this technique will work on its own if your child is well prepared. However, you need a contingency plan for if they do wake.

Rapid return technique

One technique is the ‘rapid return’ technique, when every time your child comes to your room, you get up and without talking return them to their bed.

Stair gate

A second technique is to set up a stair gate on their bedroom door so that they will no longer be able to come to your bedroom.

  • If they wake the first night, go to the stair-gate, to let them know you are there and ask them to go back to bed themselves (as they came by themselves).
  • If they refuse, tell them that you are going to go back to your bed –and do so.
  • Let them cry or shout for ten minutes and then go back to them.
  • Ask them again to get back into bed.
  • Once again wait for 10 minutes then go to them again & ask them to go back to their bed.
  • After the third time, tell them that you will not be coming back. If they continue to cry reassure them from your bedroom every 10 minutes, and ask them to go back to bed.

After two nights of doing this, you can then stop coming to the gate and reassure them from your bedroom and ask them to go to their bed.

These techniques, consistently applied, will normally have your toddler sleeping through the night within two weeks.

child behavioural expert
The author:

Elizabeth O’Shea is a parenting specialist child behaviour expert and one of the leading parenting experts in the UK.

Need help now? Ready to explore whether investing in some tailor-made parenting sessions would be right for you and your family? Book your FREE 20-minute call with Elizabeth here