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Tips on Toddler Sleep Training

Aug 04, 2014

As an adult, you know the importance and benefits of a good night’s sleep. And as a parent, you understand how critical it is for your toddler to sleep through the night and nap well during the day. Pediatrician Lawrence Kagan suggests that toddlers should sleep approximately 11 to 13 hours at night and take one nap during the day. However, if your toddler refuses to go down without a fight, or you haven’t locked down a consistent sleep schedule, you may want to consider sleep training.

Sleep training gives your child the opportunity to learn the skill of soothing themselves to sleep. According to Sleep Expert Kim West, there are a few types of sleep training methods: Extinction, Gradual Extinction and Fading. The Extinction method consists of putting your baby down for the night while they are awake and you do not return to them at all during the night. The Gradual Extinction method is similar, except you check on them in 5, 10, and 15-minute increments.  Fading is a method that West mostly recommends, in which you stay with your child, offering physical and verbal reassurance to help them go to sleep, and then you slowly move away. According to West, parents who do nothing hope their child will naturally outgrow the problem. Usually, it doesn’t work that way but sometimes it can.

When parents determine they’re ready to sleep train their toddler, there are a few steps to take in order to achieve sleep training success. First, have your pediatrician rule out any underlying medical conditions that may be causing your child problems going to and staying asleep.  Next, parents should ideally dedicate three weeks to sleep training, when there aren’t any foreseen long nights, traveling or big events and holidays. And finally, parents should commit to a method that works for them. West explains the real key is that parents pick the sleep coaching method that is right for their child and their values.

If your toddler refuses to sleep and cries uncontrollably, West advises there may be certain factors contributing to their behavior. The older the child, the more likely they are to fight the new plan.  Also, if the parent has been inconsistent with sleep training, they will probably hear more crying. Finally, the third thing that affects crying is temperament. Children who know what they want, when they want it and are willing to hold out until they get it, are going to have a harder time going to sleep.

Once parents have established a bedtime routine and find a method that works, they can move on to conquering napping. Toddlers are full of energy and may refuse to nap because being awake is so much more fun to them. If you have a toddler who won’t nap, it’s up to the parent to make that decision for them.  Author Elizabeth Pantley, suggests establishing a routine that is very relaxing for the child, and perhaps calling it a “rest break” as opposed to a nap. Creating a cozy, dimly lit environment with soft music in the background will help your child ease into a restful state. And finally, if your child is old enough for an audio book, it may also help them relax and fall asleep.

If you aren’t sure about sleep training or you feel anxious and uncomfortable with your child crying it out, West advises that you have nothing to lose by starting gradually. Experts agree that with sleep training, you are putting toddlers on a good course by giving them a comforting bedtime routine, a solid environment and putting them down awake. Sleep expert Jill Spivack explains that while your child may be frustrated with the sleep training process, over time it will benefit both him and you.

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I didn't realize toddlers need about 11-13 hours of sleep each night. I definitely don't htink my kids got that much sleep!