Wondering how to accomplish sleep training with your toddler? Keep reading for our step-by-step guide.
I never had to sleep train my daughter as a baby. We started good sleep associations early on and she was a perfect sleeper for the first 2 years of life.
Then we made the transition to a toddler bed and her new found freedom and independence kicked in.
Each time these toddler sleep regressions hit, we had to buckle down, establish new boundaries, and sleep train our toddler to get our sleep back on track.
Keep reading to get tips on toddler sleep training and how you can implement sleep training with your toddler.
Is It too Late to Sleep Train A Toddler?
Parents of toddlers with sleep struggles often wonder if it is too late to sleep train. The answer is no!
In fact, it’s never too late to sleep train. Sleep training looks a little different with an infant than it does with a toddler, but sleep training is possible at any age.
Sleep training is simply ending one habit and trading it for a new habit. You’re changing the way your baby or toddler falls asleep and you can do that at any age.
If you’re exhausted and feel like your toddler will never sleep on their own, hang in there. You didn’t mess up by not sleep training earlier. You haven’t ruined their sleep forever and it is still possible for your family to get good sleep.
How to Teach a Toddler to Sleep On Their Own
Follow these steps to sleep train your toddler. Each step is critical to ensuring you get your toddler’s sleep back on track.
1. Define Your Problem & Goals
First, you have to figure out the primary problem and your main goal with sleep training.
- Is your toddler falling asleep on their own at bedtime but waking during the night?
- Do you co-sleep with your toddler and you are ready to move them to their own bed?
- Was sleep going well until recently and then it all fell apart?
- Is your trouble bedtime tantrums but once your toddler falls asleep the rest of the night is great?
Once you know your primary problem and your main goal, you can make a plan!
It can be really helpful to quantify your goals and write them down with your partner. That way, you can look back and measure progress.
2. Check their Sleep Schedule
Before you start toddler sleep training, double check that your toddler’s sleep schedule is on track.
Often, sleep problems will pop up when there is either not enough time between nap and bedtime, or when a toddler is ready to drop their nap.
With the right sleep schedule, you may not need to sleep train at all! Check out these sample schedules to make sure your toddler isn’t getting too much daytime sleep:
Your toddler may need 4 to 5 hours between waking up from their nap and the time their body is ready to sleep at night.
Sometimes, sleep training a toddler and figuring out how to keep toddler in bed is simply a matter of either shortening their nap or dropping it altogether.
Wondering when kids stop napping?
Don’t be too quick to drop the nap though: some children are ready to drop it as early as age 2, while others are not ready to drop it until age 4 or even 5. This can be especially true if they wake up early for school or daycare.
Sometimes, a nap that goes too long will result in a toddler who wakes up in the night and has trouble returning to sleep because they’ve gotten all the sleep their body needs and they just aren’t sleepy anymore.
If your toddler is waking early in the morning and is wide awake, ready to go; consider if they are perhaps ready to drop the nap.
3. Optimize their Room for Sleep
Let’s double check your toddler’s sleep environment. I once worked with a family of a 2-year-old who was waking up too early and all he needed to sleep in longer was blackout curtains. Make sure your toddler’s room is pitch black so they aren’t motivated to rise with the sun.
4. Set the New Expectations
You’ll want to start sleep training at a time that is free from any major changes like starting preschool or having a relative come visit.
Communicate the new expectations to your toddler and get them involved in the plan.
Let them know that you will be teaching them a new way to fall asleep each night.
Toddlers love to have some control in their life, so get them involved in the process. You can let them pick out a new stuffed animal or pillow so they feel like they have some control over these new expectations.
5. Role Play
Before you start sleep training, you can do some role play with your toddler and let them put you to bed. They love this!
You can also create a bedtime social story and talk them through what will happen at bedtime. Reading books about different kids or animals staying in their bed at night can also help. Here are some great toddler book options.
6. Choose A Sleep Training Method
If your goal involves teaching your toddler how to fall to sleep (or back asleep) on their own, it is time to choose a sleep training method.
If you’ve ever tried the cry it out method with a toddler, you know they have some serious stamina and that method is usually not a good fit for this age.
Fortunately, there are other methods that are usually a much better fit for this age group!
One of the most popular methods for sleep training toddlers is the Sleep Lady Shuffle. It’s a great fit for toddlers because mom or dad stays in the room until the child falls asleep.
Over the course of several days, you gradually fade your presence out of the room.
I cover this method as well as others in my toddler sleep course.
7. Stay Consistent
No matter which method you choose, the underlying principle is the same: consistency is key with toddlers. Toddlers are developmentally wired to test boundaries and as parents, our job is to enforce healthy boundaries.
If you start sleep training, make sure you and your partner are on the same page and that you’re committed to seeing it through. It’s really important for toddlers that we mean what we say and say what we mean.
How long sleep training takes with your toddler will vary based on their personality as well as your consistency.
Get Help with Toddler Sleep Training
If you want more detailed information on sleep training your toddler, I can help! The Toddler Sleep Training Guide goes into step-by-step details of how to set up the new expectations, role play, sleep training methods, and more so you can get your toddler back in their own bed and out of yours. Learn more here.
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