For many parents the top two worries are “is my child eating enough?” and “is my child sleeping ok?”

Every child is different when it comes to sleep, and a bit of up and down is quite normal. Also when there is a lot going on, or a child is learning a new skill (like jumping!) sleep can be disrupted as the brain gets rewired. For example, don’t be surprised if your toddler spends part of the night talking away to themselves – it is not naughtiness, just development happening. In the same way, night-time fears can come and go – just when you think it is all over and your child has “grown out of it”, there they are asking for a glass of water.

The important thing to do is to keep laying good foundations for later sleep habits by having a consistent routine, and being sensitive but insistent when your child is struggling with it. If you can get the sequence of events in place, then the exact timings become less important.

And the key strategy is for you to stay calm – if you are worried, this will communicate to your child and nobody will sleep well! If you have concerns, then please do talk to your Health Visitor.

This page has some ideas for getting a bedtime routine in place, and dealing with some common problems

Bedtime routine

Here is one way to get the bedtime routine in place:

  • Start with something you both enjoy and that you can connect with. Your toddler will manage the separation of bedtime more easily if they feel close to you.
  • Play an enjoyable game, or have a chat about the day – pick something repetitive and quiet. Some children like to do the same thing every evening – build the same tower of blocks. It is best to stay away from screens from now on – as the blue light from them keeps us wakeful!
  • This is then a good time for bath (unless you did one earlier after playing outside!), then pyjamas and teeth.
  • Into bed! Try not to establish habits of falling asleep in the living room with you and being carried up, or falling asleep with you in the bed
  • Storytime together is great for calming down and getting ready for sleep. Again, some children like the same story over and over. Cuddle up while you are reading, or telling the story. Sometimes toddlers like to have a bedtime song or rhyme you can sing together.
  • Try to make your child’s bedroom a screen-free zone – it makes it easier to deal with pestering.
  • Once they are in bed, remember to say things like “Goodnight – love you – see you in the morning” and leave the room – look confident as you do this.
  • Common problems

    These are so common, they are not really problems, but a normal part of growing up. Some children have no difficulty at bedtime, others have lots – we don’t really know why.

    Won’t go to bed!

    How to respond to this depends on why you think it is happening – this may take a bit of trial and error.

    Here are some possible causes and solutions:

    Cause? Things to try
    Not tired enough Try more exercise and stimulation during the day
    Over-excited Make the calm, playing together, period before bedtime longer
    Wants to watch more TV, etc Fair enough, but this is your decision – try not to give in
    Consider building a favourite programme into your evening routine – at its end is the end of TV for today
    Testing independence This is normal
    Give simple two-way choices within the routine – e.g., who does bath, which story, which pyjamas?
    Developmental changes Stick with your routine and it will pass
    Fears of the dark Click here
    Separation fears Lots of reassurance
    Keep telling the story about how we have to sleep when we are tired to be ready to play together tomorrow
    Use a stuffed animal, or other comforter, to be with them to look after them


    Waking in the night

    We all wake up during the night. What toddlers can find difficult is getting back to sleep again. So they let us know by calling, crying, or appearing during the night. This can come and go, and peaks at times of change.

    The key is to help your child learn how to get themselves back to sleep – so the less you do the better.

    Try not to get into the habit of your child sleeping with you, or falling asleep in your bed. Take them gently back to their own space.

    It is OK to help by gently settling them back to bed – gentle touch and voice, and then leave them to get to sleep. Say that you’ll be back to check on them in a few minutes once they are asleep. You may need to do this several times – try not to get frustrated as this will wake your child up even more!

    Night fears or fear of the dark

    There are some ideas on toddler fears if you click here