Last updated on Jul 8th, 2015 at 11:36 am

“Sweet dreams, my darling, sleep well”, is every parent’s wish for their child. Yet, bedtime can sometimes be a nightmare when it comes to toddlers who often throw tantrums.
If sleep is vital for all of us, why are there so many children who don’t want to go to bed and struggle to fall asleep?

Consistency is key

“The key to getting your child to sleep is consistency, consistency, consistency,” stresses Dr.Irshaad Ebrahim of The Constantia Sleep Centre in Cape Town. 
“Children of all ages respond to rules and routine, as this provides them with an element of predictability in their life and hence security, and they need this especially when they are tired,” explains Ebrahim.
“Bedtime should happen in the same way, at the same time every night, as long as day time naps finish early enough”.

Bending your routine

Your toddler can go to bed later on the weekend and during the holidays, once a bedtime routine has been established, and “both parents clearly and consistently explain that this is a variation from the routine,” stresses Ebrahim.

The bedtime ritual you use may vary to the one outlined below. Nevertheless, it should get your toddler to bed calmly and quickly, so that they can sleep for at least eight to 12 hours a night.  

Bed time routine tips

When your toddler begins slowing down and is tired, it is time to start the bedtime routine.

Don’t wait too long, otherwise she may get a second wind and then it becomes difficult to get her to sleep. Announce in a firm matter of fact tone, that it’s bedtime. “Time to say goodnight to everyone, brush your teeth, and go to the toilet.” This should take five to 10 minutes. You can make bedtime more fun by telling your child that her favourite teddy is waiting for her to cuddle, or by describing how snug her bed is going to be. A positive tone from you will reassure her that bedtime can be enjoyable.

Subscribe to our Free Daily All4Women Newsletter to enter

For the next 10 minutes you can read a story, and your child can have a drink of warm milk. Give her a favourite soft toy or blanket. The bed and its surroundings should be free of any stimulating toys or pictures.

Then, sit with your little one and gently stroke her if necessary to help her relax. Do not engage in conversation, but rather say, “We’ll chat tomorrow.” If she keeps chatting say, “Go to sleep now, I’m going to pack things away in the kitchen.” “Make a slight noise,” Ebrahim advises, “to let your child know that you are still there.” Leaving a bathroom light on also makes children feel safe.

If your toddler comes out of her bedroom, calmly return her to bed. Be firm and reassuring but don’t resort to hitting or shouting, as “this can arouse the child and make them excitable and alert – the exact opposite of what you are trying to achieve,” explains Ebrahim. Sit with her until she is asleep. If you are implementing this routine for the first time, you may have to return your child to bed several times in the first week.

Be tenacious, especially if you have to undo bad habits.

About the Author: Claire Marketos