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How to help your child sleep

Many parents experience difficulties getting their toddler to sleep at some point. Babies, toddlers and children of all ages do wake at night, and this is normal.

Some common sleep struggles may include your child staying up too late, not staying in their own bed, not being able to fall to sleep on their own or waking up during the night in distress.

In certain circumstances, this could be due to:

Children are creatures of habit, so the most important thing when it comes to sleep is establishing a good bedtime routine. This won’t happen straightaway, but once the routine is in place it will be very effective.

You’ll find advice below about what this routine could include.

Establishing a good evening routine

  • Decide on a reasonable bedtime for your child, and start the evening wind-down around one hour before this
  • If your child is in a habit of going to bed very late, gradually bring their bedtime forward by 15 minutes each night until you reach the bedtime that you want
  • A good bedtime routine could look something like this: Enjoy some warm ‘bedtime’ milk, bath time, changing into pyjamas in a low lit room, brushing teeth (at least 30 minutes after milk), a calm story read to your child in their own bed and cuddles. This can be adjusted to suit you and your child
  • The routine must take place at the same time each night and involve the same components in the same order. Consistency is key!
  • It’s a nice idea for your child to have a soft toy/comforter that is for bedtime only so they associate this with going to sleep
  • You can lay with your child quietly, for a few moments, if you are happy to, as this will help them to feel calm and relaxed. However, try and leave before they fall asleep. If they fall asleep with you by their side, they will be very confused if they wake in the night and you aren’t there. They will then find it hard to fall back to sleep on their own

Great Ormond Street sleep guide

Every child is different, some will require more sleep than others.

Getting your child to sleep on their own

Here are a couple of strategies that you can use to help teach your child to fall asleep, and then go back to sleep if they wake up, on their own without help from you:

The ‘kiss’ strategy

(You can use strokes or pats instead of kisses)

  • After you have gone through the bedtime routine and your child is in bed, say goodnight and give them a kiss
  • Tell them that you will give them another kiss in a moment and return almost immediately to give them a kiss – this shows you have delivered on your promise
  • Take a few steps to the door, then return straightaway to give another kiss
  • And again, promise to return in a few moments to give them another kiss, each time going a little further away and staying away a little longer. But each time making sure to go back to give them a kiss
  • As long as your child stays in bed, keep returning to give more kisses. If, however, they get up or out of bed, you must state ‘go back to bed and I will come and give you another kiss’
  • Keep going back often to give kisses until they are asleep
  • Repeat every time your child wakes during the night
  • It may take a while at first, but the time it takes your child to fall asleep will get shorter and shorter

The ‘disappearing chair’ strategy

  • After you have gone through your child’s bedtime routine and they are in bed, say goodnight and then sit by their side quietly
  • Don’t interact with them; just sit quietly at their side
  • If they get up, put them back into bed in a calm manner. You can either stay quiet or use one phrase only such as ‘bedtime now’, ‘back to bed’ or ‘lay back down’
  • Every time they get up, lay them back down and repeat the same phrase – nothing else
  • Sit back by their side quietly, repeating the above until they fall asleep
  • Each night, repeat this same strategy, but each night sit a little further away from your child
  • The idea is that you move further out of the room each night until you are sitting outside of the door and your child is falling asleep without you there

Habit stacking

If you’re finding your child needs to follow a routine for bedtime that you want to change, for example if they need rocking to sleep, you can try a technique known as habit stacking.

This is where you introduce another method alongside their original routine. For example by reading them a bedtime story or playing some gentle sleep music whilst rocking them, and slowly rocking them less and less each night until you transition into the new routine.

Top tips for a good night’s sleep

  1. If you think your child could be afraid of the dark, consider using a night light so their room isn’t completely dark
  2. Don’t let your child watch the TV or play on laptops, tablets or phones in the 1-2 hours before bed. The light from the screens interferes with sleep
  3. If your child wakes at night, repeat the same strategy used in the evening. Be as ‘boring’ as possible when seeing to your child at night. Talk to them as little as possible, or not at all, and keep lights off. Your child needs to learn that night time is not a time for playing or chatting!

Health visitors support mothers who wish to breastfeed for up to two years and beyond. Feeding overnight is normal and healthy behaviour for babies as it promotes good health and nutrition as well as responsive, close and loving parenting. It can be normal for toddlers  to continue to want to feed overnight; they enjoy the comfort, closeness and cuddles that overnight feeding can bring and will often get them back to sleep quickly. Toddlers will self wean when they are ready or you wish to stop.

However, bottle fed toddlers are unlikely to need to feed during the night at one year old; transitioning to a free flowing beaker from a bottle is best for their dental health. If you feel you would like to move on from feeding your toddler milk overnight, offering a free flowing beaker of water, comfort, closeness and cuddles and staying consistent will help with this. You may also find cutting out the milk may increase their day time eating too.

Useful links

The Lullaby Trust

Page last reviewed: 23-11-2022

Next review due: 23-11-2025