Updated: Jun 16, 2021
It’s a very common occurrence to hear that your two-year-old (or three, or four-year-old) was a great sleeper until… they’re not! They’ve suddenly become clingy at bedtime or take forever to fall asleep! What’s changed? How can it be resolved?
Some of the most common reasons behind this new bedtime stalling can include:
Time for a later bedtime.
As children grow, their wake windows lengthen, which means that their routine will need to be tweaked every now and again to keep up. Many older toddlers and pre-schoolers require more time awake before fall asleep... meaning a later bedtime is required! If your little one is taking a solid 2hour afternoon nap; it can be impossible for us to expect them to fall asleep again 5-6hours later. Determining their new awake window requirements can help you to predict their new bedtime. You could try pushing for a later bedtime in increments of 15minutes, every couple of days, until you find the right sleep pressure driven by their awake window for your child.
Burning Excess Energy.
Before bedtime, children can still be filled with excess energy meaning that they are still have energy to burn, which could prevent them from feeling ready for bed. Many older toddlers and pre-schoolers can benefit from some high-energy play before bedtime to help them feel ready to unwind before bed. Some examples of play to introduce could be dancing, jumping, getting outdoors in the garden or park, tickling (creating close bonding between parents), tunnel play, etc. Whatever you chose to introduce with your little ones, make sure you also provide them with a chance to wind down properly before they are expected to sleep… and try not to make it too messy so you have less to tidy up once they’ve drifted off!
Extending the Bedtime Routine.
As children grow, they need longer periods of time to unwind, and they are also deal with more steps before bedtime. Your bedtime routine may have consisted of milk, bath and stories before bedtime however it may be time to introduce new stages into the routine that encourage the child to wind down. This could include playing with quieter toys, massage time, listening to relaxing music, etc to help them relax. You could also create dim lighting by closing the curtains and putting soft lighting on to help signal to the body clock that bedtime is approaching.
Separation anxiety isn’t Just for Babies.
Our older little ones can go through phases of separation anxiety too! At this age, they vivid and vibrant imaginations but ultimately have little understanding about what is real and what is imaginary. Try not to use screen time, including TVs, 1-2hours before bedtime and ensure anything they do watch is age appropriate – even if they are not directly watching it. In addition, night lights and comforters can provide some reassurance to address their separation anxiety to know that they are in a safe space, when it is time to go to sleep.
Your Limits are Being Tested.
This age group is notorious for testing limits and exploring independence. While it can be challenging, it’s ultimately beneficial and completely developmentally appropriate. However, giving in to all the new requests can make bedtime long and stressful.
Deciding what your boundaries are and sticking with them can really cut down on bedtime struggles.