Toddler Sleep Training: 3 Common Mistakes
If you’re trying to get your 3, 4, or 5-year-old to fall asleep alone and stay in their own bed all night…
But your kid keeps popping out of bed after lights out asking for a million unnecessary things or trying to crawl in your bed at 2 a.m…
You’re probably making one of these 3 very common mistakes.
>>Watch this blog on my Awesome Little Sleepers YouTube channel! 👇
The 3 common mistakes in sleep training for bigger kids
1. You’re giving your child WAY too much attention for bad bedtime behaviors.
Many families find themselves in an awful but familiar dance at bedtime where the child is spiraling through a series of bad behaviors - like refusing to brush their teeth or put on PJs, or asking for a million books to be read to them, or running out of the room after lights out to ask for more water or trips to the potty.
Parents then respond with either giving in to try and make bedtime move faster, or saying "no" to hold a boundary… then giving in when saying "no" just doesn’t seem to work.
And maybe both parents get involved and one resorts to yelling, making it an overall chaotic time of day.
Whether you’re the 'giving in' parent or the 'yelling' parent or somewhere in between, I guarantee that one BIG problem is that you’re giving bad behavior too much attention.
Engaging in dialogue - giving in, negotiating - these are all encouraging the behaviors you want to stop!
If your toddler asks for a fourth book, then begs, then cries, which results in you reading a fourth book, you’re almost guaranteed to see her crying again the next night for a 4th book. Why? Because it worked!
Negative attention is also attention. So, that means that yelling and threatening unfortunately also work to encourage the behavior.
If he keeps running out of his bedroom asking for water after lights out and you’re saying “No, it’s time for bed,” and taking him back to his room, but he keeps running out and you’re escalating to sternly say “No more water, this is crazy, you’ve had enough water, it’s time for bed. You keep doing this every single night and I always say no. Why do you keep running out of your room?”
This also encourages the behavior.
You’re likely to keep seeing the same thing each night and it may even get worse. Why? Because it’s working! He may not get water (or you may eventually give in!) but he’s getting your undivided attention. He’s in charge of this little game you’re playing. And it’s working to delay bedtime.
Our attention is like GOLD to our kids. Whatever they do to get our undivided attention, we’re almost guaranteed to see more of it.
So, what do you do instead?
First, recognize the very key part that you’re playing in the situation. You are not an innocent bystander in the situation. You are an active participant holding the most important key - your attention. So, use it wisely! Plan out how you want bedtime to go and praise your child for the things they do WELL and try ignoring the things that get off track. Keep your positive attention focused on keeping them on track. And try to make it fun - act silly, use timers, race them through boring bedtime tasks like putting on PJs.
2. You’re putting your kid to bed too late.
Maybe we think once kids are out of the crib or they hit 3 years old, they’re old enough to start staying up later. But I see so many 3, 4 and 5 year olds with 8:30 and 9 p.m. bedtimes. This is way too late!
Kids under 6 years old should be asleep before 8 p.m. in most cases.
Around 3 or 4 years old is when many kids drop their daytime naps. Couple that with a late bedtime, and kids can get cranky and overtired very easily. Overtired kids have trouble falling asleep and often wake up overnight and then are up for the day in the 5 a.m. hour.
If you’re seeing signs of this with your child and you think you’re making this common mistake, move bedtime earlier. For 3 year olds, bedtime should be between 7:00 and 7:30 p.m. For 4 and 5 year olds it could be as late as 7:45 p.m.
3. You’re sleeping in bed with your child overnight.
Overnight wake ups are so frustrating. They’re probably the most frustrating sleep problem because what the heck are you supposed to do at 1 a.m.? You just want everyone back to sleep as soon as humanly possible.
But this is kind of the problem. The immediate desire to get back to sleep causes you to do things that shoot your future self in the foot - like deciding to let your kid in your bed or sleeping with them in theirs.
Once your child knows that sleeping with you is an option, it can quickly become their new expectation for sleep.
The longer it goes on, the stronger that sleep habit becomes. It will get to the point where your child really doesn’t want to sleep alone (ever) because they know you’ll be sleeping together in a few short hours. And if you’re letting them in your bed, you may see them resist their own room because they come to think of your bedroom as their bedroom!
So, what are you supposed to do about these overnight wake ups?
First, you have to decide that you're done with co-sleeping.
Some parents have mixed feelings on this because there may be some cute, snuggly benefits. But if you really want to make a change, you have to commit to not doing it anymore. Trust me, you’ll make your life much more difficult if you waffle and flip-flop every few nights.
Then, you have to allow your child to learn that co-sleeping isn’t happening anymore. The best way they learn that is through experience. You can (and should) explain to them that you’re not going to be sleeping together anymore.
But your actions will need to match your words. Your child will need to consistently see that you are no longer sleeping together in order to understand.
More help with toddler sleep training coming your way
If these problems have been going on for a while, it may take time for your toddler to really understand. That’s why your consistency is key. If they sense you waffling or see you occasionally letting them get their way at bedtime, you’ll be starting back at square one.
If you want to learn more about my step-by-step REST Method to get your child to be an independent sleeper all night long, join my next FREE Toddler Sleep Masterclass. It's free but you do have to register to save a spot, click here.