6 Tricks to Help Your Toddler or Preschooler Go to Bed (and Stay There!)

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by: Lindsay Hutton
Has bedtime turned into an all-out battle of wills between you and your child? If getting your little one to sleep has become a nightly struggle, or if sleep is elusive now that he's in a new big-kid bed, has a new sibling, or had another big change, try these tricks from our readers to help him (and you) catch some ZZZZZ's. And don't forget to leave your own tips in our comment section!
Father reading child bedtime story
Create a Routine
Have you fallen out of your routine as your child gets older? Even toddlers and preschoolers thrive on consistency. At around the same time every night, take a bath, have a snack, cuddle, read a story — and anything else that helps your child unwind. Establishing this ritual will help your child relax, and will signal to his body that it's time to sleep. Having trouble staying on track? This printable bedtime routine for younger kids can help.

One parent says, "As our daughter gets older, we plan to incorporate more time into the routine for reading. Remember though that you won't want to implement too elaborate a ritual, or you may very well find yourself taking an unreasonable amount of time to prepare your child for bed!"

Toddler cozy in bed
Comfort is Key
Your child's sleep can be disrupted if she is too hot or too cold. Dress her in layers for maximum comfort, generally in one more layer than you would normally wear.

Make your child's bedroom as cozy and soothing as possible. Install a dimmer switch on the overhead light and get a sound machine or a white noise machine to help drown out any background noise.

Although warm and cozy bedding and stuffed animals are nice too, just make sure any objects placed in your child's bed are safe for sleeping. Avoid heavy pillows and big stuffed animals, since these can be a suffocation hazard, and keep battery-operated toys away as well, since leaking batteries are toxic.

Parents and children in bed
Give a Bedtime Pass
If your child gets up frequently after going to bed (for water, another hug, more blankets, less blankets — you get the idea), try creating a bedtime pass. The pass can be an old credit card, a homemade coupon, or anything else you have around the house. Tell him that if he needs something after he is in bed, he can use his bedtime pass to come out one time. He'll likely save it for something he really wants or needs.

One of our readers says, "We gave our daughter an old department store card to keep under her pillow and told her if she needed something after she was in bed, she could use her bedtime pass and come out just once. This has worked like a charm! She takes it very seriously."

Brother and sister in parents bed
Have a Reward System
The promise of a reward or treat can work wonders. Let your child choose one himself (within reason, such as watching a special movie ), and if he goes to bed without a fuss during the week, he can have it on the weekend.Letting your child choose the reward allows him to feel in control and that his opinion counts. It also ensures he'll ask for something he really wants — and will therefore work hard to get it!
Boy reading book in bed
Let Your Child Wind Down
Children of all ages benefit from having time to relax before naptime and bed. Kids easily become over-stimulated and restless, making it difficult for them to relax enough to fall asleep. Minimize stimulating activities before naps and bedtime: In the timeframe between dinner and bed, keep games and play more low-key and quieter than you might during the day.

The amount and type of wind-down time your child will need depends on his age and temperament. Learn to recognize signs that your child is tired — this will help prevent him from becoming over stimulated.

Toddler sleeping
Know Your Child's Sleep Requirements
Finally, take note of how much sleep your child actually needs. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) offers a recommended range depending on your child's age. According to the AAP, children ages 1-3 years need 10-13 hours of sleep each night. The National Sleep Foundation (NSF) recommends that children in that age range get 12-14 hours of sleep in a 24 hour period, including naps. The NSF also recommends between 11-13 hours of sleep for children between the ages of 3-5, including naps. Keep in mind that most children ages 5 and up do not require a nap during the day.

The NSF suggests looking for cues during the day that your child is well-rested. For example, is she alert and able to concentrate? Does she wake up naturally in the morning, or do you have to drag her out of bed? Using these indications as a guideline will help determine if your child is getting enough sleep and whether or not you need to adjust her bedtime and/or nap schedule.