Welcoming a newborn infant into the family is a very special time, however can be mentally, physically and emotionally exhausting for parents. Disrupted night time sleep and sleep deprivation can be difficult for families of babies and young children.

When disturbed sleep impacts upon parental ability to work,or function in day to day activities it becomes something which should be addressed. Being emotionally available for children is very important for their development and in order to ensure restful sleep for the whole family, parents can help babies and young children establish good sleep patterns.

Most infants and toddlers get enough sleep for normal growth and development, even though they may wake during the night and cause some disruption for the family. Traditionally there are many approaches to sleep environments and encouraging good sleep patterns. There is no one correct way to help your young person sleep, the correct method is one that you feel comfortable with and that works with your child.

Toddlers generally need approximately ten to twelve hours sleep per night, often maintaining a day sleep of one to two hours. Most toddlers can learn to sleep through the night without waking their parents, but vary in how much time and help they need to achieve such a pattern. Young children can become over tired easily and it is very helpful if you learn to recognise the tired signs in your child. It is generally much easier to settle your child when you first see the signs of tiredness, overtired children can be difficult to settle and generally do not sleep in longer, rather they can wake not fully refreshed, making a more difficult new day for everyone.

A good starting point is to try to understand your child’s sleep and sleep patterns, to take a positive attitude towards their sleep and develop healthy long term sleeping habits which are important as they progress towards the school years.

A common sleep pattern may look like this wake at six or seven am, a nap of no more than two hours after lunch time, wake in the early afternoon and a bed time at around 6.30 p.m. to 7.30 p.m.

If a toddler has a very long day time nap they may not be ready to sleep until quite late at night.

Some toddlers like to wake early at 5.30 a.m. or 6.30 a.m. This is not easy to change, so parents may consider shifting their own sleep patterns so they also settle earlier in the night and rise early with their children. This can be both a productive and beautiful time of the day.

Some children seem to naturally establish good sleep patterns, while others may inherently have more difficulties. This is not a reflection of your parenting ability.

A consistent bedtime routine can help children prepare for sleep. Most toddlers are ready for bed around 6.30 p.m. to 7.30 p.m., and this is good because deep sleep is often best between 8.00 p.m. and midnight.

A settled evening routine may include a 6.00 p.m. bath and dinner, then brushing teeth and some quiet time such as reading a story, having a massage or listening to some gentle relaxation music. Reading stories is a wonderful way to enhance your child’s language development. Following this a kiss and a “good night” by parents. Always ensure that the environment is safe before turning out lights.

Toddlers are full of energy and may have the desire to spend every minute of their lives awake so that they do not miss anything exciting. Toddlers can be delightful as they grow and learn to experience the world Life can be exciting and confusing for toddlers, common changes involve – the arrival of a new baby, parents returning to work, or commencing child care all of which can make it more difficult for toddlers to settle to sleep

To help your toddler adjust to separation at sleep time, allow them some choices during wakeful times so that they have a sense of control, and do not feel the need to control so much at sleep time.

Toddlers seek attention, good or bad. If they do not get positive attention, any attention will do, so you can help by commenting on positive behaviours and achievements, rather than focusing on negative ones. Try to avoid to saying ‘no’ to your toddler for a whole day, and you will be surprised how many times you actually do say it. Use lots of positive comments for them. Try to “catch your child being good “Toddlers thrive on attention and positive attention can help your child’s self esteem.

To help your toddler feel good about going to their cot or bed, try to keep some sort of routine, and a similar routine each day. Let you toddler know it is five minutes before bedtime, two minutes before bedtime, one minute before bedtime, so they have a little bit of sense of control over it. Reassure your child that you will stay for a while as they settle, and then when you come, you will come back in.

Other general tips to help promote sleep

  • Avoid screen time for one hour before bed time, this includes television, I-pads etc.
  • Avoid boisterous play before bed time as it can make it hard for your child to settle. Do however have plenty of active and outdoor play during the day.
  • Establish a consistent calming bedtime routine, based on the above descriptions.
  • Before leaving the room, check your child has everything that they need and remind them to try and stay quietly in the room.

Most children move from a cot to a bed somewhere between two and three and a half years of age.If you are having a new baby it is often good to transition your older child earlier, not exactly at the time of the arrival of the baby, as two changes at once can be hard for a toddler. Moving to a” big bed” can be a cause for celebration, be creative, reorganise the room, choose a special doona cover or pillow case.

If you are worried about your child’s sleep seek advice from your maternal and child health nurse, general practitioner or paediatrician

Lovely descriptions of examples of responsive parenting and responsive settling techniques can be found at www.safesleepspace.com.au.

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