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How do I get my toddler to stay in bed?

Q: About an hour after we put our 2-year-old to bed, she is up asking for water. Or a story. Or wants to come into our bed. If we put her back, she cries and carries on. What can we do to make her stay in her own bed?

A: Our bedtime routine was a favorite with our four children. It began with a slow trip up the stairway, saying goodnight to each relative’s picture along the way. Then, after taking baths and brushing teeth, the children would settle in for the cuddly part of the night. Here are some tips to make bedtime work for your daughter – and to get her to stay in bed.

Look at other parts of the day. It sounds counter-intuitive, but to see why your daughter is getting up, take a  look at her naptime. She should be down to just one nap (of about one to three hours). Make sure her nap is early in the day, rather than close to bedtime. When does she wake in the morning? Her total sleep time, including her nap, is about 12 to 14 hours at this age. Be consistent every day! If you keep her up later on weekends by taking her with you to visit friends, then it is difficult for her body to readjust. Having a baby-sitter come to your home will help keep her on schedule.

Start cherished routines. Engage in quiet activities, rather than rough-housing, when bedtime is approaching. Children love lullabies; they will think your voice is enchanting! Take requests! My daughters begged for “The Castle Song” [Castle of Dromore] and my son was partial to “You Are My Sunshine.” Insert their names into the lyrics. Your child probably will become relaxed and drowsy after stories, songs and prayers. Here’s an extra tip for parents of infants: Sleep experts recommend that babies be put to bed when they are drowsy – don’t wait until they have fallen asleep in your arms. These babies are more likely to soothe themselves back to sleep after nighttime awakenings, just as they do when they first fall asleep. Start early and you may avoid the 2-year-old who’s up all night.

Stuffed animal for security. Having a special nighttime sleeping buddy may help. We love the imaginations of toddlers and preschoolers, but not when that imagination leads to bad dreams. I used to give my children “alternate endings” so that their bad dreams turned out fine. Then I put them back to sleep with a new, cheerful dream.
    Remember to pray with your daughter before she goes to bed. She will turn to God for comfort throughout her life.

Dr. Cathleen McGreal

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