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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.

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Tips on cutting down naps

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

photo of a toddler being read to

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

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 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 asleep 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.
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Soothing baby and toddlers to sleep

Tip #1: Swap screen time for storytime

Little girl with Down's syndrome reading with her dad

Toddlers love getting to watch TV or play on a tablet, but 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 starting 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 toddler with 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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Tip #5: Don’t worry about going backwards

It might seem daft when you are just a room or two away, but bedtime can be a time of worry for children as you say goodbye for the night. Going back to more babyish behaviours is quite normal at times of stress so please don’t worry if they regress a little. A soothing bedtime routine always helps, like a milky drink, a bath and a bedtime story.

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Tip #6: Sleep tracking

If you’re worried about your child’s sleep, keep a diary to get an accurate picture of their sleep patterns. This will help you find possible reasons why they are having difficulties. If you have any concerns you can chat with your health visitor, who is there to help.

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Advice and support from Sleep Action

Sleep Action offer 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. Visit the Sleep Action website to find out more and get in touch.

You may also find this leaflet from Sleep Scotland about toddler sleep helpful.

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