Examining your toddler's sleep habits

Learn about your child's changing and developing sleep patterns.

By Christine Langlois

Sleep-time

Sometime between her first and second birthday, your child will gradually reduce her daily sleep time to a total of twelve or thirteen hours. The afternoon nap, the last remnant of daytime sleep, may disappear at about two years of age. That's the usual age at which one out of four kids no longer requires an afternoon nap. But most children still need a daytime nap until they reach age four or five. Each child's sleep pattern is unique -- there isn't any average sleep behaviour.

Getting to sleep
For many toddlers, the main sleep difficulty isn't waking during the night but settling down in the first place. At this stage, a child's brain is developing very, very quickly. All day he has been absorbing new knowledge and experiences through all his senses, and information is whirring about in his head. It's difficult for him to slow down to a relaxed state for sleep.

Somewhere between the ages of one and four, about 25 per cent of kids are awake for more than half an hour from when they're put to bed before they drop off to sleep. Don't put your child into bed until you're reasonably sure he will go to sleep in less than half an hour. Many parents find that a long session of comforting and cajoling a toddler into bed is a real source of end-of-day frustration.

Develop very predictable bedtime activities. Roll out a nightly ritual of baths and bear hugs and bedtime stories, always in the same progressive order. Give yourself and your baby a half hour each night to go through all the steps. Start at 7:30 p.m. and aim for an 8 p.m. bedtime. By the time your child is about one year old, he should be making it to about 8 o'clock before the long nighttime sleep. The only acceptable bedtime beverage, other than water, is milk. Avoid cocoa, juice, and any soft drinks before bed.

Help your child to comfort himself while getting to sleep or when he wakens in the night by encouraging him to have a transition object, which might be a teddy bear or a favourite blanket. The attraction for a transition object happens around one year of age and that object can be tremendously comforting for a toddler. A small, dim night-light in the room, and perhaps a low-level sound -- like a fan or air conditioner -- can help.

Once you've established your bedtime routine, don't give in to whining and whimpering. Experts advise that your routine is more important than ever during this stage. If you capitulate to your fussing child and pull him out of bed to watch a television show together, you'll make bedtime even tougher for both of you the next night. He needs his sleep.

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