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How to Get a Toddler to Sleep

Mastering the art of getting your baby to sleep is indeed an achievement: deciphering the cries, following each clue and establishing a routine Mary Poppins would be proud of. Interpreting your child’s sleep needs is one thing when they can’t tell you what they want, but how about when they can?

Whether you had a good sleeping baby, and toddler-dom has bought them unstuck, or you’re still needing to help your child form good sleep habits, it’s never too late to lay the foundations for healthy sleep. Use some of the strategies below to give you ideas and inspiration for how to get toddler to sleep.


Strategies to get your toddler to sleep

Even the most adorable toddlers become slightly less adorable when they can’t, won’t or refuse to go to bed. And when it becomes habitual, it’s enough to drive even the most patient amongst us, spare. The good news is, there are some strategies you can use to help you and your toddler past the bedtime standoff.


Set up your toddler’s sleep foundations

If you haven’t used a bedtime routine before, it’s never too late to start. Routines set your child’s expectations for the evening, help to regulate their body clocks and get them into the rhythm and flow of bedtime. Consistency is King when creating a bedtime routine. Bear in mind that routines may take some time to establish for toddlers and older children. It’s important to stick to your routine once you’ve decided on one, and let your child know that this is the new way of doing things. Your routine may be simple and may go something like this:


5:30pm                        Bath

6:00pm                        Get into pyjamas

6:15pm                        Quiet play

6:30pm                        Get into sleeping bag and into bed

6:45pm                        Read bedtime stories

7:00pm                        Lights out


The timing and order of events for your routine are yours to choose, as to what works best for your family. As long as your routine is followed each night, your child will begin to understand it’s time for rest.


Pay attention to your child’s needs

If your toddler is having trouble with their emotions, or feeling unwell it may be harder for them to fall asleep. Ensure you check-in with your child to ensure there is nothing they need before going to bed. This could also include:

  • Water If your child gets thirsty during the evening, you could consider leaving a leak-proof sippy cup next to their bed with water in it to prevent them having to call out for water.
  • Warmth Ensure your child is dressed in temperature-appropriate clothing and that won’t become too cold or too hot overnight. Sleeping bags for toddlers are ideal as they stay in place overnight and can ensure no drastic changes in comfort temperature.
  • Cuddles Providing a feeling of security just before bed can go a long way. Or perhaps there’s a phrase you say to your child each night before lights out, to help provide emotional comfort'


Involve them with their bedtime routine

Getting your toddler involved in the bedtime routine can go a long way to making it a more positive experience. When your patience is running low, it can be hard to be a motivator, but flipping the dynamic to make bedtime something to be part of, can help with toddler cooperation.

You could involve your toddler with the story book selection or helping you to prepare the bath. If they still take a bottle of milk before bed, you could create a little fun by leaving it in the arms of their favourite toy for them to find each night.


Tire them out

Ensure your child has had enough stimulation and activity during the day to help them better rest at night. An afternoon outing to the park for some fresh air and a run around (weather permitting), or some engaging activities at home, will help ensure they are actually feeling tired when it comes to bedtime.


Use a bedtime routine chart

Using a bedtime routine chart with plenty of colourful pictures is a fantastic way of involving your toddler with their bedtime routine. Marking each step off as you go, not only engages your child’s attention, but helps provide them with a sense of involvement and accomplishment.


Reinforce good behavior

When you see your child getting on-board with the bedtime routine, or taking positive steps in the right direction, it’s important to acknowledge their good behavior. There’s no need to provide rewards every night, but you can use words of encouragement. Thank your child for being such a great helper.

Rewards can be a part of the process. When establishing a bedtime routine, you could introduce a reward chart, where there might be a small reward after a week or two of following the bedtime routine consistently each night.


Dealing with specific toddler sleep challenges

There are very real issues when it comes to toddler sleep challenges, that are a bit more involved. Some of the more common problems are covered below.


Bedtime tantrums

Bedtime tantrums occur for a number of reasons. They can be caused by:

  • Over-tiredness
  • Separation anxiety
  • Not wanting the day to end

Sticking to a bedtime routine and giving your child plenty of notice that bedtime is approaching may help ease bedtime tantrums. Don’t let your toddler push for extra time awake, as it may contribute to them becoming overtired and emotional.


Crying out for you

If your toddler is repeatedly calling out for you, first determine the cause. After ensuring your little one is not ill, in pain or uncomfortable, provide them with reassurance and consider setting a schedule for responding to their call outs. You could gradually increase the time gap between visits, so your child is still having their needs met, while allowing time for them to fall asleep.


Keeps getting out of bed

If your toddler keeps getting out of bed they are likely either not ready to go to sleep, experiencing separation anxiety, or exploring the new-found freedoms of getting themselves out of bed. Ensure your child’s bedtime routine is followed and that it includes enough contact time with you.

Research suggests that waiting until your child is around 3 years of age to transition them to a full-sized bed from a cot can help with this issue.



If your child is suffering from nightmares, you may need to allow for this and provide them with the necessary comfort and reassurance before putting them back to bed. We all know how unsettling it can be emotionally when you experience a nightmare. If this is a recurrent problem, talk to your GP or child health nurse for more advice.


Taking a long time to fall asleep

If your toddler is taking a long time to fall asleep, it may be that they’re not tired enough. Ensure they are experiencing plenty of activity and mental stimulation during their waking hours so that they can wind down more easily at night.

Late afternoon naps can also contribute to your toddler having trouble falling asleep at bedtime. If you think this might be the issue, consider moving the daytime nap to a slightly earlier time.

It may also be possible if your toddler is around 2.5 -3 years of age, they may be approaching the time where they are ready to drop their daytime nap. If you notice that your toddler is both resisting their daytime nap, and is wide awake at bedtime, it may be an indication they are ready to stop napping during the day.


Getting up too early in the morning

If your toddler is getting up too early, try to first determine the reason. If they are well rested, it may mean that you might need to shift their bedtime schedule to a slightly later time in the evening. Other factors that can contribute to early waking is the amount of light in the room. If this is the problem, consider darker curtains or blinds.

When your toddler wakes too early, explain that it’s not time to wake up yet and if safe and appropriate, send them back to bed so they can keep resting until it’s time to get up.


It’s never too late to lay the foundations for healthy sleep, but it may take a toddler a bit more time to get used a new way of doing things. Invest in your toddler’s bedtime routine. A solid routine can be one of the strongest tools for setting bedtime expectations and promoting positive sleep behaviours. If your child resists at first, stay consistent with your approach. It will be worth it!


At Love To Dream™, we know that every child is different, and we’re committed to helping you to find the right solution for your family. With you at every step, Love To Dream™ believes today’s little dreamers are the shapers of tomorrow. For further advice from our experts, visit our sleep library.