We’re talking about the D-word today, parents – discipline! Yikes! I know this is no parent’s favorite thing to discuss, but would you believe that discipline is actually deeply, profoundly linked to how your toddler sleeps? It’s true – and since we are a blog that is devoted to sleep, we though it was a time we highlighted this connection.
So what does toddler discipline have to do with toddler sleep? How can positive discipline and boundaries lead to toddlers who sleep through the night and take longer, more restorative naps?
Read on to find out!
Toddler Discipline: It’s All Aout Boundaries
First, let’s be clear – we are NOT talking about punitive, harsh punishments when we use the word ‘discipline’ here. Rather, we are talking about positive toddler discipline. And what does positive toddler discipline largely consists of? Two words: setting limits.
Remember, your toddler is a curious little creature who is new to the world, and who is jumping to explore every inch of it. But, of course, your toddler doesn’t have the wisdom to explore his world safely – and that’s where you come in. Really, this is SO much of what disciplining a toddler is about – simply keeping your toddler safe and healthy. Yes, working on character and manners is important, but in my opinion, much of that really starts being meaningful in the later toddler years, and pre-school years. When you’re talking about disciplining an 18 month old, or a 2 year old, your discipline is largely about setting limits that are designed to keep your child safe.
Yes, setting these limits can be painful for us as parents, but keep in mind that limits equal love! Your love may be rewarded with screams and sobs and tiny fists to the face, but still – at least you will know that your limit-setting is an act of love.
What Toddler Discipline Has To Do With Toddler Sleep
So what does all of this have to do with sleep? Plenty! If you have every worked on sleep training a toddler, then you know first-hand what bedtime tantrums and nap time resistance look like, don’t you? 😉 As we often tell parents who work with us in our Helpdesk, toddler sleep training is as much (in some cases, more) about establishing and enforcing strong sleep-time boundaries through positive discipline as it is about teaching new sleep habits. Babies who struggle with sleep do not generally have discipline issues, but toddlers? Often, discipline and limit-setting is key to helping a toddler sleep better.
Keep in mind that for most toddlers, sleep is not exactly high on their list of priorities. Why nap when there is so much fun to be had? Why go to bed when the rest of the family is still up, and clearly having a great time? THIS is why discipline is so important for toddler sleep – if left to their own devices, most toddlers would much rather stay up than go to sleep. Yes, it may feel painful to enforce sleep-time discipline, especially if your toddler protests loudly, but keep in mind that you are doing this for your toddler’s sake. Your toddler needs restorative sleep in order to be healthy, and it’s up to you to make sure your toddler gets that sleep.
Toddler Discipline At Naptime and Bedtime
What does sleep-time discipline and limit-setting look like? Glad you asked! Here are some common discipline techniques we often recommend to parents who are working on toddler sleep training:
- Use a sticker chart to provide instant rewards for good bedtime behavior (i.e. staying in bed). Some parents take stickers away as a consequence for bad behavior, but others prefer not to do that.
- Put a baby gate at your toddler’s door, if your toddler has a habit of wandering out of her room all night long. (This is an essential safety step for some families – an unsupervised toddler wandering around in the middle of the night is a major hazard!)
- Use a timer as part of your bedtime routine to limit bedtime stalling.
- Use a special nap time or bedtime toy as an incentive (or perhaps more than one) – start the sleep time out with handing your toddler a special sleep time toy or two, and then the consequence becomes that any bad behavior results in the toy being taken away for a set amount of time. (Alternately, some parents start the sleep time with no toys, and then provide their child with the special toy as a reward for good behavior.)
These are just a few tips, of course – there are many ways you can enforce sleep time boundaries in many different ways. It’s all about what works for your child, and what you feel comfortable with. For more discipline tips, read our article, 16 Limit-Setting Tips For Toddlers.
A final word – please, please remember that discipline and limit-setting is not an optional part of parenting. This isn’t just something that’s nice to do, but not necessary – it is 100% necessary! And while it can feel so tough to discipline your toddler, keep this in mind: that toddler is only going to grow bigger, and more opinionated. Discipline is not something that gets easier as a child grows – in fact, it tends to get harder and harder. This is one really good reason to start working on positive discipline and limit-setting when your child is very young; if you do, then, as he grows, he will know exactly how to listen to authority figures, how to follow rules and respect boundaries, and that in turn will make your job as mom or dad much easier as the years go by.
Toddler Discipline and Toddler Sleep Training: We Can Help With Both!
If you’re struggling with frustrating toddler sleep problems, we can help! We have worked with thousands of families to overcome toddler sleep problems, and we can help you overcome yours, too, with one of our Personalized Sleep Plans™! Connect with a sleep consultant today, and she will craft a Personalized Sleep Plan™ just for your toddler, that accounts for your unique circumstances. She’ll help you implement it, too, and will be available to answer any of your sleep training questions.
Browse our list of sleep consultation packages here.
Once you make your choice and purchase, you will immediately receive an e-mail with your Helpdesk login information. You’ll be able to login and start your Family Sleep History form right away – it’s that simple!
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