Sleep Solutions for Toddlers and Young Children

Sleep solutions for toddlers

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At the end of the day you are certainly tired so it would stand to reason that your little one should be as well. Should, of course, is the operative word. Because even though your preschooler had a busy day at school and with friends and running errands with you, when night falls, she's not ready to go to sleep. And when she finally makes it into bed, there is no guarantee she will stay there. So what is a (tired) parent to do?

Sleep Solutions

Check out these eight parent-tested sleep solutions for toddlers, and soon everyone in your house will have a restful night of sleep.

On average, preschoolers need between 11 and 13 hours of sleep each night to keep them happy and healthy.

Calm Them Down

In the hours before bedtime, what is your child doing? Is he wrestling with dad? Eating cookies and cake? Watching television? All of these activities, while fun, aren't conducive to a child settling down for bed quickly and easily. After dinner, if possible, keep any action on the quiet side—reading a book, a nice stroll around the block maybe even a board game or two. Follow it up with a bath and a healthy, sugar-free snack and your little one will be good to go—to bed.

Establish a Bedtime Routine

Preschoolers thrive on routine. Together, make a list of things that need to be done before she turns in for the night—read a favorite book, take a bath or a shower, have a snack—whatever your preschooler wants (within reason).

Be sure to include must do's like brushing teeth and changing into pajamas. Keep in mind though, the activities themselves aren't important—the purpose of the routine is to get your preschooler's body into a rhythm so they get tired at the same time every night.

Evaluate Their Sleeping Arrangement

Think about where your child is sleeping. If she's still in the crib, now might be a good time to make the transition from crib to bed. When to switch a child all depends on the situation. You may have a 2-year-old who is more than ready to move to a bed because he keeps climbing out of the crib while there are some 4-year-olds who are content to stay where they are.

Maybe you need to make the switch because there is a new sibling on the way. In any case, involve your child in the decision-making process—maybe he can choose the sheets and blankets.

Pick Soothing Books

Consider your reading material. Your child's favorite book might be a laugh-a-minute, edge-of-your-seat, rile-'em-up pop-up book. And that's great. In the middle of the afternoon. Before bed, you might want to try something quiet and soothing—a bedtime book that sets a subdued tone for the rest of the evening.

Talk Up Good Sleep

Enlist the help of (furry) friends. Even at this tender age, kids don't necessarily do what their parents want them to. They may, however, listen to some of their friends—fictional or otherwise.

If there is an older sibling, relative, babysitter, or another child who your child looks up to, see if they would be willing to talk to your preschooler about the importance of settling in for a good night's sleep. If not, there are a number of DVDs available where beloved characters talk about the fun in going to bed.

Address Fears

Know that sometimes, a child who doesn't want to go to bed might not be stalling, but truly afraid. If your child suffers from nightmares or night terrors intervention on your part will be required. Unfortunately, preschoolers are at a prime age for nightmares, but there are things you can do to help.

Above all else, a comforting presence is what your child needs. Use gentle cues to soothe like rubbing her back or stroking her hair. If your child is upset, pick her up, walk out of the room and get her a drink like a glass of water or warm milk. Try not to bring her back into your own bed as tempting as it may be.

Encourage Them to Stay Put

Got a frequent nocturnal visitor? While a family bed and co-sleeping are accepted in some households, they aren't practices that every parent is thrilled about. To help your little one stay in his own bed, you'll need to be firm. Bring him back to his room, snuggle for a minute or two and then head back to bed. Repeat as needed.

If your child refuses to stay in his room at night, you might want to invest in a gate for the doorway. Set up a reward system with a chart and stickers or marbles in a jar for every night your child sleeps in his own bed. After he earns a certain number, give him a small treat.

Help Your Child Stay Dry

Bedwetting is very common in the preschool years. Whether caused by stress or just that your preschooler hasn't quite figured out how to stay dry at night yet, it's a behavior they should grow out of. In the meantime, limit your child to one drink an hour before bedtime and make sure she goes to the bathroom before bed.

If she falls asleep easily enough, wake her to go again before you go to bed. Most importantly, make sure she knows that not staying dry at night is not her fault and something she will master as she gets older.


While all kids are different, getting toddlers to bed is often a challenge. This tips can help:

  • Be patient, but firm: As with other preschool behaviors, this too will pass. The key is to stand your ground while getting to the root of the issue.
  • Consider their stress level: Think about what is going on in your child's life that would cause her to not want to go to bed. Did she just start preschool? Is there anything else that could be causing her stress? Instead of looking at it as a sleep problem, consider that there may be some underlying issue at play—especially if your child was a good sleeper before.
  • Make the room they sleep in conducive to sleep: Make sure it is dark (or light) enough. Is it quiet? Maybe she likes music. Figure out what the best sleeping environment is for your child and then give it to them.
  • Make sure your child has everything they could possibly need: before doing your "final" tuck-in, in order to have a good night—a favorite stuffed animal, enough blankets, a drink of water and her fair share of hugs and kisses.
  • Try logic: Preschoolers are very smart and crave new information. Talk to your little one. Ask him why he doesn't want to go to bed and maybe share a story of a time you were reluctant to hit the sheets yourself. Explain why sleep is so important—"I need you to get enough rest so tomorrow you will have enough energy for all the fun we have planned."

By Amanda Rock
Amanda Rock, mom of three, has spent more than a decade of her professional career writing and editing for parents and children.