Sleep training toddlers isn’t for the weak. You and your toddler is exhausted, and whatever progress you feel like you’ve made seems to disappear the next night. Mama, I hear you.
In this article, Pediatric Sleep Consultant Eva Klein, owner of My Sleeping Baby and mom of 3, walks us through some important tips toddler sleep training tips. These ideas focus less on a specific sleep training method and more on how to deal with the unique complications that arise from sleep training a strong-willed toddler. Her advice is insightful, judgment-free, and will hopefully give you the sleep strategies you need to help your toddler fall asleep and stay asleep!!
Sleep training can be a challenging journey for any parent. But when you’re dealing with a strong-willed and spirited toddler, it can feel like an uphill, impossible battle to fight. The good news is that this REALLY doesn’t need to be the case. Strong-willed toddlers CAN learn to sleep like champs, just like their easy-going friends.
In this blog post, I’ll explore five essential things you need to know about sleep training strong-willed toddlers. These tips will help you navigate this delicate phase while nurturing your child’s development… and maintaining your sanity.
5 Things You Need to Know About Sleep Training Strong-Willed Toddlers
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1. Understanding Strong-Willed Toddlers
Before diving into sleep training strategies, it’s crucial to understand what defines a strong-willed toddler, as well as what makes them tick.
Easy-going toddlers exhibit adaptability, cooperation, and a more even-tempered nature. They tend to go with the flow and cooperate with changes to their routines. And when there’s a change they don’t like, they usually don’t respond NEARLY as dramatically as their strong-willed friends do.
By contrast, strong-willed toddlers are characterized by their drive for independence, assertiveness, and intense emotions. They often challenge authority, communicate their needs assertively, and persistently pursue their goals. This can make sleep training feel especially challenging!
What’s important to emphasize about sleep training toddlers with strong-willed temperaments is that you will likely get TONS more pushback from your toddler. And this pushback is likely going to be more intense and last longer than if you were sleep training an easy-going toddler.
Don’t let your toddler’s big emotions deter you from sleep training your toddler. He is allowed to feel angry and frustrated by these changes! And you can offer your little one tons of support throughout the process, all while remaining consistent and making big, amazing changes to your toddler’s sleep habits.
2. Consistency Is Key
Consistency is a fundamental principle in sleep training, especially for strong-willed toddlers. Establishing a consistent sleep routine and sticking to it can help create a sense of predictability in your child’s life. Strong-willed toddlers thrive on routines that provide structure, helping them feel more secure and less likely to resist bedtime.
Start by establishing a calming bedtime routine that signals to your toddler that it’s time to wind down. This could include activities like reading a book, taking a warm bath, or listening to soothing music. Consistency should extend to wake-up times, nap times, and bedtime as well. Even though it may be challenging, try to maintain these schedules as closely as possible, as deviations can lead to confusion and resistance.
Now, it’s VERY common for strong-willed toddlers to use a whole slew of delay tactics to push off bedtime. Requests such as “one more book!”, “I need a snack!” and “I need to pee!” can be VERY effective, especially when coupled with a massive tantrum when they don’t get what they want. This is why I recommend instilling strict boundaries around each of the steps in your bedtime routine.
- Have a set number of bedtime stories you offer your toddler at bedtime and stick to that number like glue.
- Explain to your child that the “kitchen is closed” by a certain time and offer a “last call” for a bedtime snack.
- Implement a bathroom trip in your bedtime routine to give your child ample opportunity to pee.
- Remaining loving but firm with your bedtime routine is the BEST thing you can do to help your strong-willed toddler adapt to changes, cooperate nicely at bedtime, and sleep like a champ.
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3. Empower Through Choices
Strong-willed toddlers often want a say in their lives, and sleep is no exception. Offering age-appropriate choices can help them feel more in control while still adhering to the sleep routine you’ve set. For example, you could allow them to choose which pajamas to wear, which books to read, which toothbrush to use, or which stuffed animal to sleep with.
By giving them a sense of control within the bedtime routine, you’re lessening the likelihood of power struggles.
4. Positive Reinforcement and Rewards
Strong-willed toddlers respond well to positive reinforcement and rewards. Celebrate their small victories and successes in sleep training. Create a sticker chart or a rewards system where they earn a sticker or a small treat for following the bedtime routine, staying in bed, or sleeping through the night.
Make sure the reward is meaningful to them. It needs to be something that will truly incentivize them to follow these new routines. Otherwise, the rewards system won’t do much.
However, it’s important to strike a balance between rewards and intrinsic motivation. As your toddler’s sleep patterns improve, gradually reduce the external rewards and focus more on praising their efforts and the positive outcomes of a good night’s sleep.
Note that younger toddlers under the 2.5-3-year range are usually not old enough to understand a rewards system. I only recommend using this for older toddlers and preschoolers.
5. Patience and Flexibility
Patience is a virtue when it comes to sleep training strong-willed toddlers. It’s unlikely that changes will happen overnight, and setbacks are a normal part of the process. Be prepared for resistance, tears, and moments of frustration. Stay calm and empathetic, reassuring your child that you’re there to support them.
Flexibility is also essential. While routines are crucial, there will be times when adjustments are necessary. Illnesses, changes in routine, or developmental leaps can disrupt even the most well-established sleep patterns. During such times, be willing to adapt your approach temporarily, while gradually returning to the established routine once the disruption has passed.
Veteran Moms: Which Toddler Sleep Training Techniques Helped You?
Sleep training a strong-willed toddler can be a test of patience and creativity, but it’s also an opportunity to nurture their burgeoning independence and resilience. By understanding their nature, prioritizing consistency, offering choices, using positive reinforcement, and practicing patience, you can navigate this phase with greater ease.
I want to assure you that sleep training a strong-willed toddler or preschooler IS possible! I say this confidently having worked with thousands of families to date, MANY of whom have strong-willed, “difficult”, “high-needs” and “spirited” toddlers and older children. Your child isn’t an alien incapable of figuring out how to sleep through the night. Rather, it simply means your strong-willed toddler isn’t going to let you get away with any inconsistency or error.
Remember that every child is unique, and what works for one might not work for another. Stay attuned to your child’s cues and adjust your approach accordingly. In the end, the goal is to create a peaceful and supportive sleep environment that sets the foundation for healthy sleep habits as they grow. And THAT is possible- I promise.
Eva Klein is a Pediatric Sleep Consultant, owner of My Sleeping Baby, and a mom of 3. She helps exhausted parents across the globe get higher-quality, more restful sleep through her renowned sleep courses, private coaching, and corporate seminars. You can watch her free masterclass here called “How to get your little one consistently sleeping 11-12 hours at night so you can feel like a functioning human again (even if you feel like you’ve tried everything)”.
Do you have a favorite toddler sleep training method? Let us know below. If you’re looking for more sleep training tips, check out the articles below: