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How to Get Your Toddler to Sleep

By Dr. Tanya Byron BSc, MSc, PsychD

Develop a Bedtime Routine
An ideal bedtime routine might go:
  • Mealtime
  • Playtime
  • Bathtime
  • Into pajamas
  • Final drink
  • Teeth cleaning
  • Into bed
  • Bedtime story
  • End of story warning
  • Finish story
  • Kiss and a cuddle
  • Lights out (or leave a nightlight on if necessary)
Remain Firm
Do not give in to pleas for longer bathtime or more stories, or you will reinforce them as habits that mean settling your toddler takes longer. Simply put her to bed and leave the room quietly. Of course, this is often easier said than done. A child who has got into the habit of getting out of bed or waking in the night, will take time to adjust, but be patient. If your child is very anxious, you may need to take a more gentle approach, by using the gradual withdrawal technique.
Even in exceptional circumstances, it is a good idea to keep to the sleep routine if possible. Perhaps your child has been ill, or you have been staying away from home; you may be potty training or a nighttime disruption has meant your child has needed reassurance. Whatever the reason for your child requiring extra attention at night, bear in mind that learning to sleep through the night on her own is essential for her healthy development and well-being. Even if your child is suffering from night terrors or nightmares she is probably better off learning to settle in her own bed.
However, this is much more about personal choice, and you must do what works for you and your family.
How Much Sleep Is Enough?
The chart below shows the average amount of sleep that is recommended for children from one to four years of age. All children are different, so this is not a strict regime, but dropping significantly below these levels at night could cause problems—as could too much napping during the day.
12-18 months 11 ½ hours two naps (two and ¼ hours total) 13 ¾ hours 6-7 PM
18-24 months 11 ½ hours two naps (two hours total) 13 ½ hours 6-7 PM
24-36 months 11 hours one nap (two hours total) 13 hours 6-7 PM
36-48 months 11 hours one nap (one hour total) 12 hours 6-7:30 PM
Excerpted from Your Toddler Month by Month by Dr. Tanya Byron, reprinted with permission from DK Publishing.

About the Author
Dr. Tanya Byron is a British clinical psychologist, specializing in child and adolescent mental health. She has written a number of books, including Your Toddler Month by Month, Your Child ... Your Way: Create a Positive Parenting Pattern for Life, and House of Tiny Tearaways. Dr. Byron is also the mother of two, Lily and Jack.