Toddler Sleep Training Methods Every Parent Should Know

Being a toddler’s parent, you would’ve already discovered new parenting tasks for yourself. Out of which, putting your toddler to sleep might be the most challenging of all time. This challenge might further build up when you are training your little one to fall asleep independently. But the good news is, there are some best toddler sleep training methods and solutions that can translate into easier bedtimes.

Read on to discover what toddler sleep training is, how to sleep train a toddler and the best sleep training method that would suit your little one.

What is Toddler Sleep Training?

Toddler sleep training is a process that slowly and steadily trains your little one to fall asleep on his own. As getting an adequate amount of sleep is quite essential for your toddler’s healthy development, sleep training helps in achieving the goal. It enables him to self-soothe and falls asleep without crying out for you and without getting out of bed to come, find you. This reduces your involvement during his bedtimes. Sleep training may also help your child learn to be able to fall back asleep by himself when he wakes in the night. Keep in mind that sleep training doesn’t follow the one-size-fits-all rule. This means a sleep training method might be best for one child but not for another. So, you need to keep experimenting with various methods while being patient. Read more to know toddler sleep training issues and routine disruptions

How to Sleep Train Your Toddler: Basic Guidelines

There are different toddler sleep training methods devised but all of them have few common principles which one must follow rigorously. So, here’s how to sleep train your toddler:

1. Create a Bedtime Routine

Having a calming bedtime routine is a crucial part of sleep training. For starters, you need to set a bedtime and stick to it. It helps communicate that it’s time to go to bed.

Start by keeping things calm an hour or so before bedtime. No active games or running around and avoid screen time. Then, in the 20 or 30 minutes before bedtime, begin a set routine that might look something like this:

  • A warm bath

  • Changing into pyjamas and brushing teeth

  • A trip to the potty (or a diaper change)

  • Dimming the lights and spending a little quiet time together reading, putting his favourite teddy to bed, or singing lullabies. Experts suggest this step should happen in his bedroom (or whatever room he is sleeping in) so that your toddler sees his room as a positive place where these shared moments happen, not a place he gets sent to for bed. It can be hard, but at this point don’t let your little one talk you into just one more story or a lengthy conversation — try to stick to your bedtime routine.

  • Ensuring that your child has his "lovey" —a security blanket or favourite toy that he can’t sleep without — as it helps prevent him from calling out to you for it later on.

  • Checking that the room temperature is cool but comfortable for sleep and that your child is comfortable — for example, that he isn’t thirsty and doesn’t need to go to the toilet. Again, this helps reduce the chance of your toddler calling out for you later on. Also, make sure to have a night-light or a hallway light on if that's what is needed.

  • Tucking your toddler in and saying good night.

2. Be Consistent

No matter what you decide to include in your toddler’s sleep training ritual, be sure to keep the whole thing short and simple so that it’s easy to do consistently. If other caregivers (such as grandparents or babysitters) will be putting your little one to bed, make sure they know the routine and follow it as well. Doing the same things over again will help your child know that it’s time to wind up and go to bed.

3. Reassure but Don’t Reward Crying

During sleep training, if your child wakes in the night and calls out for you, you should respond by reassuring him that everything is OK, and it’s bedtime. Keep your voice soft and the lights down. The goal is to reassure your little one, but not reward him by offering too much attention. Initially, you may need to go right over to him, but eventually, you’ll get to the point where you can just reassure your little one from the door. Avoid the temptation to soothe your toddler by letting him sleep in your bed, as the goal with sleep training is to train your toddler to fall asleep on his own, even if he wakes in the night.

4. Be Firm About Staying in Bed

If your toddler is in a bed, not a crib, you may have the added problem that your toddler will actually get out of bed. Make sure the rule about staying in bed is clear. If he does crawl out, experts recommend not making a fuss but quietly reminding your toddler he needs to go back to bed. Put her back in bed if he doesn’t go on his own without saying anything more. Then leave and close the door. Don’t show that you’re getting frustrated or upset. Be firm and consistent. In time your toddler will learn that nothing fun happens if he does get out of bed. In case, you’re potty training him, only then he can leave his bed to use the toilet.

How to Transition a Toddler from a Crib to a Bed?

As your little one is growing; you might be excited to witness him go from the crib to the bed. You might wonder when the right time is to make this transition. Typically, there’s no set age as the transition can take place anytime between the age of 1 1/2 to 3 1/2 years. You need to watch out for signs like your toddler being able to climb out of the crib or successfully being potty trained, wanting to access the toilet.

To help make the transition easier for you and your toddler, here are a few tips:

  • Keep Things Familiar:

Make sure that your toddler’s bed is in the same place as where his crib was. This will make him feel comfortable and will make the transition smoother.

  • Take Baby Steps:

Try not to overwhelm your toddler with too many changes in one go. For instance, if your 2-year-old toddler is going through potty training, you might want to think of sleep training later.

  • Give Rewards:

Set up a rewards system that will encourage your toddler to stay put in his bed. The rewards could be a toy or a cookie, which can be used as positive reinforcement.

Read more about when to transition your child to toddler bed

Your Sleep Training Toolkit for Bedtime Battles

You've faithfully followed the bedtime routine and said your good nights. Then your child starts crying, or throws a tantrum, or won't stay in bed. Now what? For many parents and toddlers, this is the trickiest time of all, and the point at which you have to take a deep breath and summon every ounce of wisdom you can muster.

Here are some parent-tested methods and strategies for these challenging scenarios.

1. In and Out Checks

This toddler sleep training technique involves briefly checking on your child when he cries but not picking him up. When you go in, remain neutral and say something like “Sweetie, everything’s OK, it’s time to sleep now.” Don’t stay for long — just a minute or two at most. You may need to do several "ins and outs" before your child falls asleep, and you will need to keep it up for several nights in a row to start seeing improvements. Eventually, your child will get used to falling asleep without you and won’t cry out for you.

2. Disappearing Chair

This toddler sleep training approach could work well for a child who starts crying even before you say good night and leave the room. Start by sitting quietly by your toddler’s bed for a short time as he falls asleep. The next night, move your chair further from the bed, where your child can still see you, and keep doing this in the following nights until you and the chair are in the hallway outside the room, but you can still hear him.

The theory is that your child gradually gets used to falling asleep with you being further and further away, and eventually will be able to fall asleep even if you’re in another room. However, a potential downside of this method is that your child has to get used to something different every few nights, which may prolong the process. Just as your toddler gets used to you being two feet away, he has to get used to falling asleep with you by the door, and so on.

3. Countdown

In this toddler sleep training method, you stay with your toddler for a block of time that progressively shortens each night. The key feature is that five minutes before you leave, you tell your toddler “I’ll stay another five minutes,” and then leave when the five minutes is up. As an example, you could spend a total of 20 minutes with your child the first night; at the 15-minute mark, you tell your toddler you’re staying for another five minutes. The next night stay for 15 minutes but tell your toddler you’ll be there another 5 minutes at the 10-minute mark. With this method, you’ll get to the point where you can stay just five minutes, and then eventually no minutes as your toddler gets used to that fact that you’ll be gone after tucking him in and giving the last hug and kiss. Always phrase your five-minute warnings positively: Emphasize that you’re still staying another five minutes, rather than that you’re only staying for so long or that you’ll be leaving soon. An option is to add a timer to the routine. This can help prevent arguments about the time being up so soon or begging for just another minute. Once the timer goes off, your toddler knows that it’s time for you to leave.

4. “Hold On, I’ll be Back in a Sec”

This technique begins during the day when you're going to help your child learn to wait a short while (in other words, practice being patient). For example, you might say “Hold on, Daddy’s just got to give Mommy a kiss in the other room” and then step away for a few moments. Once your child understands what’s happening and can wait calmly during the day for about a minute, you can use this as a sleep training method at bedtime. When your child is lying in bed, say “Wait a moment, I’ve just got to check something in the hallway,” and return after a few moments. Tell your child that he waited really well and give him lots of praise. When you first start, the waits should be very short — only up to 20 seconds long — especially if your toddler has never been alone in his bed at nighttime before. Build up to doing a few of these, with each wait being progressively longer. This sleep training method gets your toddler used to being alone in his room at night without you there. Eventually, you’ll be able to get to the point where you can leave the room without promising to return.

5. Make a Deal

Another toddler sleep training approach is a card or ticket system. You don’t need to use physical cards, but the idea is that your toddler gets two cards at the start of the night. If your toddler calls out for you for any reason at all, you’ll go straight to him, but each time you go he’ll lose a card. In the morning, though, if he still has both of his cards, he will get a special treat, like a sticker or the chance to do an extra-fun activity that he loves. For this method, don’t forget the power of profuse praise. If he still has one card in the morning when he normally uses up both, tell him how great he is and that he’s almost there. Here’s an example: “Look at you, only using up one card! I noticed how quiet you were last night. I’m so proud of you! Maybe tonight you’ll be able to stay in bed quietly and keep both your cards and get that special sticker in the morning.”

6. Rehearse Bedtime

This toddler sleep training technique involves taking the edge off bedtime by "practicing" during the day. In the morning or afternoon, when everyone is feeling relaxed and good, have a practice session. Perhaps both of you can get into your favourite pyjamas and brush your teeth together. Then you can let your little one chooses a book to read before you both practice jumping into bed ready for sleep. Maybe you can even play pretend to snore really loudly from the next room to add to the fun. The key to the rehearsal is to make it as fun as possible and to create positive associations around bedtime. You might like to have a competition to see who can remember all of the steps of the bedtime routine so that there’s a sense of achievement around getting bedtime “right.” As part of your rehearsals, you might also like to ask your toddler if anything about bedtime has been bothering him. An older toddler may be able to articulate that he's scared of the dark, while a younger toddler may point to something scary like a shadow on the wall or an open cupboard door. This may provide insight on how to help reduce any anxiety: Keeping the light on in the hallway might help your toddler if he’s scared of the dark while moving objects that cast scary shadows might help reassure him if he’s afraid of shadows being monsters. Know top three tips to help your baby sleep

Sleep Training Solutions for Special Circumstances

1. The Big Kid Room Switch

If your little one has been sleeping in a crib in your room, transitioning him to his own room can be a major adjustment for him. If you make a big deal out of what a great next step this is, your toddler may actually look forward to the move, as children this age love being able to do “big kid” things. Start with the naps being in his bed in his own room. If your child has been sleeping well on his own when still in your room, you may even be able to close the door without a fuss. After a week or so, you can add nighttime sleeps to be in his own room too. Offer lots of praise for how well your toddler is sleeping in his own room. You can make it more exciting by letting your child choose a special blanket or toy to sleep with, and by rewarding those nights when your child stayed in his own bedroom all night. Keep in mind that if your child is struggling with sleeping on his own in his new room, you may need to try one of the other sleep training methods on this list so that your child can get used to both sleeping in a new environment and sleeping on his own.

2. The New Bed Camp Out

If you’re transitioning your toddler from the crib to a toddler bed, then the camping out method could work for you. Basically, you’ll be sleeping next to the toddler bed on a spare mattress or in a sleeping bag as a way to help reassure your toddler. From here, try out the disappearing method which we talked about earlier. If your toddler gets out of the bed, remind him that he needs to stay in bed. Don’t reward him by letting him join the rest of the family or by letting him crawl into your bed. Whenever your toddler is good at staying in bed as you’ve asked him, heap praises on him. If you’re concerned about your toddler rolling over and falling out of the toddler bed, you may want to invest in toddler bed rails or move the mattress to the floor.

How to Sleep Train Your Toddler?

  • Carefully choose when to start sleep training; if you begin when there are other forms of upheaval, like moving to a new house or the birth of a sibling, sleep training will be more difficult

  • Create positive associations around your child’s bedroom and the bedtime routine

  • Be consistent with your sleep training approach

  • Decide on a bedtime that isn’t too early or too late, and stick to it

  • Be firm and clear with your expectations, and don’t send mixed messages as this can make sleep training harder

  • Stay reassuring and calm; try not to get upset if your toddler calls out again and again or appears in the living room for the umpteenth time

  • When you check on your toddler, keep things quiet, brief, and “boring.” A quick “Everything’s OK, it’s time to sleep now” is great.

  • Sleep training can be hard on you as the parent, too, so think about what coping strategies might help you during this period

  • Be prepared for how you will deal with multiple requests for a drink of water, a final kiss, or a bathroom trip as a way to evade bedtime. For example, decide how many glasses of water are acceptable, or how many times you’ll be willing to pick up the security blanket your child’s thrown out of the bed.

  • Keep in mind that sleep training may require many visits to your child’s bedroom. Experts say that upwards of 20 checks is not unusual during this period. Choose a time in life when you yourself will have the patience and the bandwidth to follow through on your chosen sleep training approach.

  • Give sleep training time, and be patient. Your child will get there in the end, and easier evenings are just around the corner!

When to Visit a Doctor

If your toddler is struggling to sleep, you can reach out to his doctor any time. He will be able to provide you with the right guidance that can result in successful sleep training. In case your toddler is experiencing severe nightmares or night terrors, you must contact your child’s doctor.

The Bottom Line

Sleep training your 2-year-old toddler is not an easy feat. It takes a lot of patience and time. It might look difficult as your toddler will throw tantrums at first. But remember that having a good night's sleep is quite crucial for your child’s development. During sleep training your toddler, make sure to have a consistent approach and follow it regularly. It will help your toddler get used to the routine and in no time, he will be able to soothe himself to sleep. In few weeks, he will also learn not to unnecessarily leave his bed at night. This might feel a little overwhelming for you as a parent, but patience and consistency will assure you with successful toddler sleep training. In the meantime, you can watch your toddler grow and take his next step towards independence as he dwells in a sound sleep.