Now that your kid is way past infancy, you’re totally getting eight uninterrupted hours of shuteye a night … right? If only. As it turns out, a child’s sleep habits — or, ahem, lack thereof — are constantly changing during toddlerhood and beyond. And the moment you think you’re finally out of the woods, odds are you’re in for yet another less-than-dreamy surprise. Here, certified child sleep consultant Deborah Pedrick, founder and president of the Family Sleep Institute, weighs in on three common scenarios and reveals how to reclaim those precious ZZZs.
PROBLEM: Your kid drags out bedtime—"Can I have some more water pleeeeease? I need to go to the potty again!"—with a zillion excuses.
SOLUTION: Stop giving in. Every time you acquiesce to a request, your child is being rewarded for getting up — and will be more prone to keep doing it. Instead, incorporate any of her potential needs, including drinking water and using the toilet, into a structured nightly routine — it should be written down so you can both follow along — then refuse any encores. (Obviously, if your tot is sick, different rules apply.) “You can’t give your kids a reason to come out of bed,” Pedrick explains to Us Weekly. “When they do, make the interaction as boring as possible — walk them right back in with very little talking or eye contact. It has to be the same every single time until they realize that there’s no point.”
PROBLEM: Your child crawls into your bed during the wee hours of the night and doesn’t want to leave.
SOLUTION: Yes, it’s cozy, and sure, you’re probably too delirious to care. But according to Pedrick, “This is a situation that needs to be dealt with immediately so that it doesn’t become a habit.” Since many parents aren’t even aware that they have company until it’s too late, Pedrick recommends installing a small bell on your bedroom door to alert you the moment the perimeter has been breached. Another tip: Develop a game plan with your spouse for what to do when it happens. “You need to decide as a team who will be taking Jack back to his room, so there’s no delay,” Pedrick tells Us. Repeat as often as necessary until your tyke recognizes that he won’t gain a foothold.
PROBLEM: After a long afternoon nap, your little one isn’t sleepy again when bedtime rolls around.
SOLUTION: Rein in that siesta. “If your child’s bedtime is getting later and later, then consider trimming the nap a bit —gradually — to see what the perfect length is that still allows for an appropriate bedtime,” says Pedrick. Just don’t do away with it completely — that’s Mother Nature’s job. (It’ll likely occur bit by bit rather than in one fell swoop.) “Most kids will naturally start dropping their naps around three to four years of age,” Pedrick tells Us. “But you don’t want to make that happen prematurely or you could create a sleep debt — which will lead to even more sleep issues.”
RECOMMENDED READING: “This book is a wonderful tool for teaching children about healthy sleep habits,” says Pedrick of Putting Bungee to Bed by psychologist Sasha Carr.