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Ideas to help get your toddler to sleep

After a long day, all you want is to curl up and go to sleep but your toddler often has other ideas - and they don’t involve sleeping. Don’t panic, whether it’s napping or bedtime, we’ve got a few tips from parents who’ve been there to help them drift off to sleep.

Tips on cutting down naps:

Tip #1: It's normal for nap time to change as they get older

Photo of toddler in cot

Photo of toddler in cot

As your toddler gets older, their sleeping habits will start to change. Maybe that two-hour nap in the afternoon is stopping them from sleeping at night now? If that's the case, try bringing their afternoon nap forward or even reducing it to one hour? It might be trial and error until you find the right balance.

If they're getting grizzly, you can still get a bit of time to relax in during your day. Put on some soft music and slow the pace down a bit to signal rest time.

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Tip #2: Have some chill time instead of nap time

Age: 1 - 3 years

We know what a pain it can be when you don't get that time to yourself if they've dropped that long nap! Even if they don't sleep during the day, some quiet time after lunch should help to relax and recharge those batteries.

Your child’s development: Quiet activities like reading stories or singing songs can help them (and you) still get a bit of downtime and rest. Nursery songs are good as the repetition soothes them, and also helps them learn words.

Tips for babies: Sing close to your baby's face and do the actions - it helps them learn the words.
Tips for toddlers: Sing slowly so they can sing along with you.
Tips for 3 - 4 year olds: Put a teddy on a blanket and rock them slowly to sleep while you sing it together.
 

Here's are more free songs your toddlers will love from the Scottish Book Trust.

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Tip #3: Get help around the house

If your toddler's dropped all their naps and you used to use the time to get your chores done, your toddler may be able to help you with a few of them, like matching socks. It may take a bit longer, but by making it into a game, you can get things done and still spend time with your wee one. Here are some ideas for games to play to get them to help.

Your child’s development: Giving your child chores as they grow up, even little things like helping you match socks, teaches them things like responsibility and how to stick at things.

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Tip #4: How long to nap

photo of toddler in bed

photo of toddler in bed

Toddlers generally need a daytime nap or two. It's not an exact science, but:

  • A one-year-old needs about an hour in the morning and the afternoon
  • A 2-year-old usually needs an hour or so in the afternoon
  • By the age of 3, most children are fine with a short nap in the afternoon or none at all.
  • Some children drop all naps quite a bit before they're 3. Try playing a soothing song to signal the start of nap time - so they know what comes next.

As much as toddlers love

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Soothing baby and toddlers to sleep:

Tip #1: Swap screentime for storytime

getting to watch TV or play on a tablet, try to put them all away at least an hour before their bedtime. Books are much better for easing into the sleeping routine. Even if they can't read yet, try showing them books with pictures on that they can describe. And books with different textures (and noises) are great for getting them interested in stories in the first place.

 

Your child’s development: Reading stories with your little one is one of the best things you can do to help them learn to talk and read. Even small babies are paying close attention to what you're talking about as you show them pictures and read to them. Watch for them start to bang on the pages as they try to get to their favourite part!

Some studies that show screentime can make young children's behaviour worse – especially for babies and toddlers. It's best to keep it to as little as possible.  

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Tip #2: Staying calm

If you're feeling anxious or stressed because your little one won't settle, remember that babies' bodies work in step with yours. It's not always easy but do try to relax - reading them a book or singing a gentle song might help you both chill. When you feel calm or happy your heart beats slower, your muscles relax and, guess what, so do theirs.

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Tip #3: Lullaby remix

As you get your child ready for bed, think of a classic childhood song like Twinkle Twinkle Little Star, or a slow one you love and sing it softly. When they respond, then you do the same, adding their sounds to your song. Keep adding their little noises to your remixed version until they become drowsy.

Your child’s development: This back and forth remix is good for both of you - and they learn best when they feel safe and loved.

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Tip #4: Build a nest

If you’re trying to settle down for some reading, tire them out by getting them to build a nest to read in. This will be their own special wee space that they’ll want to spend time in. Maybe reading a book about castles or caves would go perfectly with this new hidey space?

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Tips on getting them to go to bed:

Tip #1: Sleep takes practice

If you do the same things before bedtime, it helps your little one to settle to sleep a bit better. So follow bathtime with quiet play with their soft toys, a story, and then a big cuddle. Your wee one will soon learn that beddy-byes comes next.

Your child’s development: Young children need to practise going to sleep. A routine helps their body "learn" it's time to fall asleep now. Reading stories and cuddling makes them feel safe and secure, which helps them to drift off.

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Tip #2: Make their bed the best place

Have you thought about taking your toddler out to get their own bedding for their 'big boy or girl bed'? Just getting them involved in choosing can make a bed more special, and bedtime a little easier. Oh, and if the bedding has characters on it, you can both wish them all goodnight before going to sleep. Night Night bumble bee…

Your child’s development: Some toddlers have a bit of trouble "graduating" to their 'big bed'. It might be because they don't like the change. It could also be because they're going through the normal part of growing up where their imagination is getting better – which means nightmares are starting. Here are some tips for help with little ones who might be afraid of the dark.

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Tip #3: Active outdoor play

Photo of a toddler with a bubble

Photo of a toddler with a bubble

Getting out and about during the day can help your little one sleep at night. It could even be just a walk to get some fresh air – which is good for both of you. When you're outside, talk about what you see. Can you see the trees? What colour is the bus?

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Tip #4: Scared of the dark?

If your little one doesn’t like the dark, a night-light can really help them feel secure. The light will also prevent you from tripping over toys as you tiptoe from their room!

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Sleep Support Line

Sleep Scotland's free Sleep Support Line offers advice and support to parents and carers, or to young people themselves, for any child aged 18 months to 18 years with a sleep problem. Call 0800 138 6565 or email sleepsupport@sleepscotland.org to get in touch. BSL users can contact the service using contactSCOTLAND-BSL.

Their Sleep Advisors and Sleep Counsellors will complete an initial sleep history, asking questions on current routines, diet, exercise, and the sleep problem. They will then create a sleep plan based on the responses. For those parents who require it, follow up calls are also available. Visit the Sleep Scotland website for more information and advice.

Last updated: 21 Aug, 2020