Summary

  • Toddlers are growing, learning and developing quickly. By understanding and connecting with your toddler you will learn their cues and be able to support positive sleep patterns.
  • Learn to recognise your toddler’s tired signs or cues so you can encourage your child to go to sleep at the right time.
  • Toddlers need a cue to tell them it is time to go to sleep. This is usually something in their external environment such as self-soothing items, a bath, or a dark, quiet room.
  • Bedtime routines are predictable and calming for your toddler and can prevent sleep problems.

Connecting with your toddler

Understanding your toddler helps you bond with them.

Toddlers are growing, learning and developing quickly. They can get frustrated if they can’t find the right way to communicate with you.

Even though they want to be independent they also get scared when they are separated from you.

By understanding and connecting with your toddler you will learn their cues and be able to support positive sleep patterns.

Recognising your toddler's tired signs

When your child is tired, they show signs or cues that they are tired. If you learn to recognise these signs, you can encourage your child to go to sleep at the right time.

Toddlers from 1 to 3 years might be tired if they miss a morning or afternoon nap.

Tired signs for this age group can include:

  • clumsiness
  • clinginess
  • being grumpy
  • grizzling or crying
  • demands for attention
  • boredom with toys
  • rubbing eyes
  • fussiness with food.

Creating a sleep routine and environment for your toddler

Routines and environments play a big part in helping toddlers get to sleep.

Toddlers need a cue to tell them it is time to go to sleep. This is usually something in their external environment. 

It could be a dark room or having familiar objects around them. 

Some routines might be difficult to keep doing for the long term as they may create a negative sleep association for your child. This includes cuddling or holding your toddler to sleep, as they may then only be able to fall asleep if you cuddle or hold them. It’s up to you to decide whether you can maintain these types of routines. 

Your toddler's sleep environment

Some things you can do to create a good sleep environment for your toddler include:

  • Darkened and quiet environments.
  • Having a bath at night.
  • Consistent and predictable bedtimes and wake times. 
  • Quietness and reducing stimulation (such as screen time, television and boisterous play before bedtime).
  • Self-soothing objects (such as soft toys and special blankets). 
  • Positive bedtime routines including pre-sleep associations (such as reading, lullabies and taking your toddler to where they usually sleep). 

Bedtime routines for your toddler

Bedtime routines help your toddler develop positive sleep patterns and behaviour and can prevent sleep problems. 

Regular daytime and bedtime routines can help your toddler to fall asleep and stay asleep. They let your toddler know that sleep is coming.

They are predictable and calming for your toddler.

Some things you can do include: 

  • Keeping the routine short – no more than 30 to 45 minutes.
  • Using the same relaxing activities before bed every day (such as a warm bath, a massage, reading stories or singing lullabies).
  • Creating a calm, quiet, dark and warm environment, with no television or mobile devices.

Use regular bed times, nap times and wake times to help your toddler develop a good sleep–wake rhythm. 

Having a consistent bedtime routine also means parents and caregivers are less likely to be stressed trying to get children to sleep.  

Flexible daily patterns and your toddler

Research shows that it’s good to keep using the same sleep routine as your toddler grows and develops.

Flexible daily patterns are a daytime routine you can use for babies, toddlers and pre-schoolers to encourage positive sleep patterns and behaviour early on. 

Encourage play time during the day so your child is more tired for their nap. Examples of play time for toddlers include:

  • drawing
  • reading
  • singing
  • dancing
  • playing (such as kicking a ball)
  • running or walking
  • going to the park
  • climbing and jumping

Watch for the first tired signs and then put your toddler to bed, when they are tired but still awake.

Flexible daily patterns are most effective if done throughout the day. You should reduce play at night and provide a quiet and dim environment so that your child understands the difference between day and night.  

Mealtime is a very important part of the routine. With a healthy and adequate diet, your toddler will have energy for play, which in turn encourages positive sleep behaviours.

Helping your toddler to sleep safely 

Ways to sleep your toddler safely include:

  • Sleep your toddler on their back.
  • Keep their head and face uncovered – it is never appropriate for a child to be settled to sleep wearing a hat.
  • Ensure your toddler is in a smoke free environment.
  • Sleep your toddler in a safe cot.
  • Ensure that the whole of the sleeping environment is safe – including items outside of their cot but within reach (such as electrical appliances and blind or curtain cords).
  • Don’t introduce a pillow into the sleeping environment until your toddler is at least two years old.

Moving your toddler from cot to bed 

Once you notice your toddler is attempting to climb out of their cot, it is time to move them to a bed. This is usually between 2 and 3 ½ years of age but can be as early as 18 months. 

It is important to make sure that your home and toddler’s bed is safe. They shouldn't have access to things like power points, blind or curtain cords and stairs as they could hurt themselves if they get up during the night.

Typical sleep behaviour information in community languages

This fact sheet is available for download in the following community languages:

A full list of all our sleep behaviour act sheets available in community languages can be found here.

Maternal and child health nurse visits are important

Victorian parents have free access to the Maternal and Child Health Service, which is a great support after your baby is born. 

Specially trained maternal and child health will work with your family to help you care for your child until they are ready to start school.

As part of this service, you will visit a maternal and child health nurse in your local area at 10 key ages and stages in your child’s development. These visits are important because they you an opportunity to identify and address any issues and concerns early in your child’s development. 

Visits take place:

Families can access the service at other times by telephone or through a centre visit. 

Where to get help

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Last updated: January 2020

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