Toddler Sleep Training: 7 Tips and Tricks

Toddler Sleep Training: 7 Tips and Tricks
Baby sleep training can be challenging, but toddler sleep training? Whew, boy… That can feel like an impossible task sometimes! That’s why many parents find they need sleep training methods and techniques that are especially for toddlers. Sometimes, the tips that work well with baby sleep training fall short with toddler sleep training.

Fortunately for you, we know a thing or two about toddler sleep training! And today, we share 7 key toddler sleep training tips and tricks. Keep reading for details!

Toddler Sleep Training: 7 Tips and Tricks

  1. Establish sleep boundaries in advance. With toddlers, sleep training is as much about enforcing boundaries with discipline as it is about teaching new and healthy sleep habits. We usually recommend that parents who are planning to sleep train their toddlers start by outlining sleep-time boundaries they want their child (and themselves) to follow. For instance, decide ahead of time how you will handle middle-of-the-night waking, or nap refusals. Then stick to those sleep rules so as to help your toddler understand where the boundaries are.
  2. Optimize your toddler’s schedule. Sometimes, toddler sleep problems are due as much to schedule issues as they are to sleep associations and unhealthy sleep habits. Take a hard look at your toddler’s daytime nap schedule. Are naps ending too late in the day? Are naps themselves too long? Remember, too much nap sleep can result in less night sleep, especially for toddlers. If early-waking is one of the problems you want to solve with sleep training, be sure that bedtime isn’t too early.  Many toddlers who are still napping during the day actually benefit from a later bedtime, to help prevent early waking. You can use our schedule resource page to see sample schedules by age, and to create a custom sleep schedule with our schedule-maker.
  3. Offer a snack before sleep times. Toddlers are mobile little things, aren’t they? And all that mobility can seriously make a kid hungry! That’s why we usually suggest offering a snack (or a breastfeed, or a bottle, perhaps) before a nap, and before bedtime. While you don’t want a child who grazes constantly and never eats a real meal, most toddlers do need healthy snacks between meals in order to sleep well, and to not wake from hunger. Just be sure to brush your toddler’s teeth after the bedtime snack, before your little one goes to sleep.
  4. Give your bedtime routine a clear, definitive end. Hopefully, you have a bedtime routine at this point. (If you don’t, get one soon!) It’s really important, for toddler sleep training purposes, that you give your bedtime routine a very clear end. Toddlers are masters of bedtime stalling. Be sure that your routine has a strong end that clearly signals to your toddler that it’s time to lie down and sleep. This can be a phrase you say, a song you play, a prayer, etc. If you do this consistently, over time you can help to cut down on (and maybe eliminate) your toddler’s stalling.
  5. Provide incentives for progress. Older toddlers will really benefit from being able to see their progress somehow – like on a sleep training chart. They will also do well with periodic rewards for progress. For instance, you may want to offer a small reward, like a sticker to put on the chart, each night that your toddler stays in bed at bedtime and falls asleep without getting up. But you may also want to offer bigger rewards. Maybe after a week of earning stickers, your toddler gets to pick a small toy from a favorite store.
  6. Be calm, because your toddler may not be! Toddler temper tantrums may very well be a part of your toddler sleep training. Most toddlers don’t respond well when their usual routines and ways of sleeping are altered! This is one reason why sleep training a toddler can feel so difficult. Just remember that throughout this process, you will need to keep your cool and remain calm. While you may feel sorely tempted to match your toddler’s wails with your own, it’s best if you can remain calm and in control.
  7. Remain consistent – this is key with toddlers! Staying calm is important. Staying consistent is vital. Most toddlers are incredibly smart about this. If they sense that they can breach any of your sleep boundaries, and that you will give in, they will surely do it. So even though it may be tough, stay firm in enforcing your sleep-time rules, and in your sleep coaching plan. If you do, it’ll pay off soon, and your whole family will be sleeping better!

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11 thoughts on “Toddler Sleep Training: 7 Tips and Tricks”

  1. My Son is 1 year old. We tried to sleep training him when he was 8 months using Ferber method, but it didn’t work . We ended up co-sleeping with him on the ground until Now. But doesn’t matter what we do, he will wake up after three hours of sleep. doesn’t matter what we do ..if we keep him up during the day , if he sleep later at night ,…whatever we do he will wake up after three hours of sleeping. Please help!!!

    • @Sarah – thank you for writing to us. I’m so sorry you are struggling with your son’s sleep! We would love to help. Since you are at your wits end, I do think you would benefit most from working one-on-one with our expert sleep consulting team that can look at a full picture of his sleep and go from there with creating you a step-by-step plan you feel good about. Here is a link to read about all of our different options: services/
      If you have questions about what specific package/level of support would be best for you, please feel free to email us at [email protected] with any questions and we can help more from there. Hang in there!

  2. My now 2 year old daughter has decided to move bedtime an hour later, because it’s taking that long for her to even settle down enough to realize she’s sleepy. I haven’t really changed our routine, except adding a little quiet play after bathtime, before turning off the light to snuggle up and help her get drowsy. I always lay her down awake, but it’s only on her terms when she’s ready to be laid down. I try not to let her cry too much, because she can really get worked up in a matter of minutes. So right when she starts to get more sleepy, she stalls and has to go potty. After she goes, then she seems more cued that it really is bedtime. How can I make bedtime shorter and sweeter? Thanks!

    • Hi @Karla – Thank you for writing to us! Bedtime routines are quite subjective and things that really work for one family may not work for another, but we do have a great article about just this and that can help you create the perfect routine for your little one! Here is the link:
      Feel free to make bedtime your own, and with consistency and time, your daughter will helpfully be sleeping sooner!!
      Good luck!

  3. My daughter is 19 months and we have developed a great schedule and she has been sleeping through the night for the last 6 months (thanks to Miriam working with us!), however we have one “issue”…. For the past 2 months, she has been crying – screaming! – EVERY night as we lay her down at the end of her nap or bedtime routine (she’s incredibly strong-willed but the screaming is new, she used to go down so peacefully) unfortunately she wakes up the same way! Sometimes it lasts 30 seconds and sometimes it lasts 10-15 minutes, and if we go in to console her it just creates a terrible cycle, so we resist going in while it goes against every fiber of my being – I feel like I’m torturing her to leave her in her room to scream and then fall asleep! I’ve read that babies who wake up crying and screaming don’t rest well and this is a huge concern for us. Can’t tell you how many times I’ve stood outside her door and cried, I know it’s important for me to be calm and consistent and I am until I leave her room and then I fall apart!

    • @ Betsy – Woohoo! So glad Miriam was able to help your family find success. She’s great 🙂 But oy, your problem sounds really tough! Sorry you’re going through this 🙁 Could this be the 18 month sleep regression coming a bit late? If you haven’t been through that already with your daughter, that may be your culprit. If that’s the case, just wait it out as best you can. You can definitely offer comfort (although it sounds like your attempts to comfort her are making things worse right now). I’d say just hang in there as best you can, Betsy. If things get worse, you can always purchase a follow-up help package in the Helpdesk; we offer discounted packages to existing clients like you.

      Best of luck, Betsy! Hope things are back to normal very, very soon.

  4. I’m getting desperate. My daughter is almost 23 mths and has always had a great going to bed routine. It takes us 5 mins to get her ready for bed and she goes straight to sleep without issues. The challenge is for 4+ months she only sleeps 4+ hours before she cries and cries and cries until I (not dad) snuggle her and let her sleep in our bed. If either of us try to rock her she is fight until she gets out of the chair and runs into our room and begs to get into our bed. I’m exhausted and 3 months pregnant and desperately need sleep. She was a consistent 11 hr a night sleeper until this started. please help

  5. Our 2.5 year old has started refusing naps over the past 6 months or so. It’s really clear that he still needs them, he’s obviously exhausted and more cranky the rest of the day without a nap. We have continued doing the routine for naptime and give him the option of quiet time if he can’t sleep. He took a nap with grandma the other day. He seems to have most trouble going to sleep with me, the mom. He still sleeps sometimes when daddy puts him down or grandma. I’m not sure what I can shift…I want him to get the sleep he needs!

    • @ Vasi – I can totally relate! My daughter started to skip naps when she was 2. She’s now 3.5, so I have some experience with this. 🙂 I’d advise you to keep putting your little guy down for a rest time, and just see what happens – he’ll no doubt skip the nap sometimes, but if he’s like my daughter, he’ll have stretches where he’ll sleep, too.

      Thanks for commenting, Vasi!

  6. My little guy, who’s now over 19mo, has always been a bad napper, and still naps in my arms, continuously nursing! I’ve tried to sleep train him for naps more than once, but it has always failed. I’d like him to keep napping for many more months but I just can’t see how it’ll work. I don’t mind holding him (he’s my baby after all) but I can’t see him being comfortable for much longer, plus I would really like the hour (sometimes more!) of nursing (with lots of biting – ouch!!) to not be necessary, but he won’t go to sleep or stay asleep without it (unless in the car or maybe sometimes the stroller). I’m in pain from it! Plus his naps can’t be restorative I imagine – me shifting him around as he bites, and the naps sometimes ending before he’s probably done (1 hour is average for him, sometimes more, sometimes less). And no one I talk to has had this crazy situation and can offer any help- anyone been through this same thing? Am I doomed to have a 20 month old who doesn’t nap? I know he needs it – and so do I! Thanks!

    • @ Joanna – oh, goodness, you must be wiped out! I will tell you that while none of your friends/family members may be able to relate to you, our team definitely can – we’ve worked with tons of families in situations just like yours. I’d strongly encourage you to consider one-on-one help from a consultant, since toddler sleep training can be really tough. It helps to have the support and guidance of a pro in tough sleep coaching situations, and it sounds like yours may be tough. Not impossible, mind you, but tough.

      Hope this helps, Joanna! Thanks so much for reaching out! 🙂

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