8 steps to end toddler bedtime battles

If your bedtime war stories can fill a novel, you’ll want to try these handy toddler sleep tips!

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Bedtime is a special time for most families ― the evening lights are dim and cosy, junior enjoys a warm bath before settling down to a calming bedtime story…or not!

Sleep struggles, especially when it comes to your terrible tots, are common. “At this age, they are more playful and curious, and of course, would rather play than sleep, if their parents have not prioritised sleep in their lives,” explains sleep expert and parenting coach Zoe Chu of SG Supernanny.

Chu adds that toddlers want power and attention, so if “parents do not set the rules right from the start, they will start exerting their power and kick up a fuss when it comes to bedtime”. Bedtime is also when they can get all your attention ― it is still attention even though it might be negative.

Toddlers who go to bed late will miss out on the growth hormones that are released at between 10pm and 2am when they should be in deep sleep.

Louisa Yap, mum to Glenn, 2, and Adam, 3, spends almost two hours from 8pm in her sons’ bedroom every evening trying to get them to sleep.

“We will start with a story, and then more stories, then chit chat for a while, but they never seem to be tired. They will ask for water, some toys and even the TV sometimes,” Yap says. “They used to be able to sleep by 8pm, but as they get older, their bedtime has become later. They end up only falling asleep when they are fully exhausted,” she laments.

Yap adds that she is happy to spend time with her boys in the evening, but it eats into the time she gets to spend with her husband if it’s drawn out. “We miss the days when we could wind down with a glass of wine in front of the TV after the boys have gone to bed. These days, we are so tired after they sleep that we just fall asleep, too!”

Besides frustrating parents, a prolonged bedtime routine can also mean insufficient sleep for junior, which can have a negative impact on your child’s growth. Chu notes that toddlers who turn in late will miss out on the growth hormones that are released at between 10pm and 2am when they should be in deep sleep.

Chu points out, “It will affect their healthy brain development, as well as physical and emotional development.” In addition, an overtired child is often cranky, irritable, clingy and may “show symptoms of ADHD, as sleep deprivation can cause the child to be hyperactive and act wired”.

Insufficient sleep has also been linked to a higher risk of obesity, according to a study by the Harvard T H Chan School of Public Health.

Achieve hassle-free bedtime daily with these tips:

1. Be present
Your sweetie may be stalling at bedtime simply because he misses you as he hasn’t seen you the entire day. Whether it’s cuddles, a chat, or bonding over a story, give your child your undivided attention as bedtime is the best time to focus on your child (or children if you have more than one). Don’t bring your phone into the room, or think about the chores you’ll need to finish once he’s asleep. Just enjoy the time together, and both of you will feel more relaxed.

2. Have a routine
A regular and consistent bedtime routine allows your child to understand and expect bedtime. Let junior have a warm drink, brush his teeth or take a warm bath, then snuggle up for a story. “Once the bedtime routine is done, it’s lights off, and nothing they do will get them out of bed and into the living room. Parents need to be firm about this. Always make bedtime non-negotiable,” Chu advises.

More strategies ― hint, watch what he eats ― to win that bedtime war with your little one…next!

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3. Check his diet
What your child eats can affect his quality of sleep at night. Consuming caffeine can keep your child up ― so, steer clear of desserts that contain caffeine, like that chocolate ice cream, or Earl Grey tea cake. Besides, the sugar content in these desserts are likely to keep your child wired, active and wide awake!

It is also a good idea to keep your child’s dinner light and nutritious ― any greasy, overly salty meals that are heavy on red meat are difficult to digest, and they’ll continue to work his digestive system even when he’s trying to sleep.

Foods that promote sleep contain an α-amino acid called “tryptophan” and is found in foods like bananas, milk, honey and nuts.

4. Create a story
One way to get your child familiar with the bedtime routine is to go through the steps before bedtime. Chu suggests making a simple bedtime story book together with your child ― for instance, “Aidan is taking his bath; Aidan is changing into his pyjamas; Aidan is reading a book with Mummy; Mummy kisses Aidan goodnight; Aidan falls asleep in his bed; Aidan wakes up happy in the morning.”

Consuming caffeine can keep your child up ― so, steer clear of desserts that contain caffeine, like that chocolate ice cream, or Earl Grey tea cake.

5. Offer choices
Toddlers like to feel like that have a sense of control. Allow your mini-me to be assertive in a way that’s acceptable to you ― ask him, “Would you like a sip of water before bed?” or “Do you want to wear the red pyjamas or the blue pyjamas?”. But remember to limit the choices, or your tot might start to use this as a stalling tactic so that he’ll go to bed later, Chu explains.

6. Maintain an active lifestyle
Spend some time outdoors during the day, and you may find that your little one sleeps better. Even if you don’t have time for football classes or a trip to the trampoline park, a quiet walk at the nearby park after dinner can do wonders. It helps your tot to disperse some of that energy, and calms him down as he preps for bedtime.

7. Remove sleep associations
Many parents find that their toddlers can’t fall asleep unless they are lying right next to them. This isn’t a problem ― the issue is that the child may wake up crying if he finds that you are not lying next to him in the middle of the night. One way to do this gently is to “do a gradual withdrawal and slowly make your way out of the room before he falls asleep,” Chu explains.

8. Start early
One of the major reasons why tots struggle with bedtime is because they are overtired. When overtiredness kicks in, a stress hormone called cortisol is released, which makes it difficult for your child to settle. You may also find him waking up in the middle of the night, or rising too early the next morning.

Unlike infants, it is harder to spot telltale signs that your toddler is tired. So, instead of scrutinising your tot, waiting for him to yawn or rub his eyes, head to his bedroom earlier to start the relaxing bedtime routine together. “Get them to bed early like 7pm or 8pm and you might find that half the battle is sorted,” says Chu.

Photos: iStock

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