Tips to get your toddler to sleep

By Barb Dehn NP, aka Nurse Barb

Every parent, including me, knows how difficult it can be to get a baby to sleep, but what may surprise you is how many toddlers and preschoolers suddenly develop nightmares and are crawling into bed with mom and dad. Pretty soon, no one's getting a good night sleep.

As children grow and develop, their imagination grows too. They develop magical thinking, which is normal and expected.

It's perfectly normal for children at different ages to suddenly have sleep issues, so parents, you're not doing anything wrong.

Here's a few toddler tested, practical tips to help bleary-eyed parents get some more sleep.

1. Winnie the Pooh and soft flannel blankie
Children thrive with bedtime routines, none more so than with their lovies, security blankies or stuffed animals. These help with separation anxiety and provide the child with a sense of security. Try starting your bedtime routine about 1 hour before you want them to be in bed, lights out.

2. What is your child watching?
As adults, we know that watching a disturbing news story can leave us tossing and turning, it can be the same with scary videos or TV shows. A character that seems silly to us and be frightening to a child. I recommend: Berenstein Bears, Max & Ruby or Cordoroy videos.

3. Night lights
The Key no-no .......when your child calls out for you: Whatever you do, DON'T turn on any bright lights. Bright lights signal the body that it's time to wake up. it may take your child a full 1-2 hours to get back to sleep. Resist this temptation to look under the bed or in the closet to shoW them that there aren't any monsters.

4. Monster Spray
The same magical thinking that triggers nightmares helps young children believe that this will work. You want to reassure You can say," I don't believe in monsters, but I believe you and know that you're scared. When I was little, I was afraid too." Then you can try some creative ways to help them get themselves back to sleep.

5. Fans
Monster spray bottle not for you? Try a tiny hand-held fans. Perfectly safe, they can't get hurt. Can blow away worries or monsters.

6. Question What happens when your child wants to crawl in bed with you?
Many parents are comfortable co-sleeping with their chlld,, but for parents who want their child to sleep in their own bed, I recommend that you snuggle for a while, then bring them back to their own room. Remember, children like routines, so if you let them stay, they'll want to repeat this every night.

7. Crayola and dinosaur flashlights
The key is to be creative and talk to your child about their fears during the daytime. You can work together to solve this challenge. You want to be creative, and have your child pick out a fun flashlight. You can even use these to play flashlight tag before bed.

8. Guatemalan Worry Dolls
Here's are some hand-made Worry dolls from Guatemala. You can whisper your worry to the doll and then place them under your pillow. Overnight the doll takes care of your worry. There were many mornings when I'd reach under my son's pillow and find 3 or 4 of these.

Many families also use dream catchers in much the same way. There's no one way that will work for all families. The important thing is to be creative, and give your child the tools they need to get themselves back to sleep, otherwise you could find yourself still rocking them to sleep when they're in high school.

About Barb Dehn:
Barb Dehn is a practicing Women's Health Nurse Practitioner, award winning author, and a nationally recognized health expert. She holds a BS from Boston College and earned Masters degree at the University of California, San Francisco. An in demand and popular national speaker on all aspects of women's health, she also lectures at Stanford and is a frequent health expert on NBC's iVillageLive and recently In the Loop with iVillage.

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