Tag Archives: nap

Sleep and Young Children

sleepWhat’s “Normal” for a Young Child?

The amount of sleep an individual needs ranges a lot, based on their temperament, physiology, and daily activity level. The quality of their sleep also varies. Some children fall asleep easily, and some struggle to let go of the day. Some sleep solidly through all disturbances, others wake frequently. Some wake up happy and bright in the morning, others are sluggish. These sleep temperaments can appear at birth, and remain with the child throughout life. However, don’t be too quick to “label” your child as a ‘good sleeper’ or a ‘bad sleeper’, because there are definitely things that parents can do to improve any child’s sleep, and also habits we can develop that impair our child’s ability to rest well.

As a broad, sweeping generalization, experts estimate that a “typical” one-year-old needs about 10 – 13 hours of sleep at night, and one or two naps (a total of 2 hours of nap.) A typical two-year-old needs 9.5 – 12 hours a night, and one nap (1.5 – 2.5 hours). 1/3 of toddlers still wake in the night. Preschoolers need 10 – 13 hours at night, school age children need 9 – 11 hours. (Read more sleep recommendations here.)

Children who sleep in the same room, or same bed, as their parents tend to have more night-time wake-ups, but may also have more total sleep than those who sleep solo.

Sleep patterns shift during travel, around daylight savings, when a child is ill, having a developmental growth spurt, is going through a separation anxiety phase, or when the family’s routine changes (after a move, a new baby, new day care, change in parent’s work schedule, etc.)

Things that help with sleep at any age:

  • Have a fairly stable, reliable daily schedule to help set their biological clock.
  • Include plenty of physical activity during the day. This will help them rest better at night.
  • Teach day and night: in the daytime, keep the house light, don’t worry about noises, and be interactive. In the night-time, keep lights dim, be quiet, and interact as little as possible.
  • Try to create a consistent sleep environment. Having familiar toys, standard bedtime music, and a typical light level help reinforce that this is the “time and place for sleep.” Do change things a little from time to time, as you don’t want to get into a situation where your child is ONLY able to sleep if they have one specific object with them, since that object might get lost!
  • Know your child’s tired cues. As they near the end of their day, do they get bleary-eyed and yawn and rest a lot? Or do they get wild and wired and run around crashing into things? Try to start your wind-down time before you see these cues! It’s usually easier to settle a just-tired-enough-to-sleep child than an overstimulated-overloaded child.
  • About a half hour before bedtime, start your wind-down time: turn off screens (TV, video games.), turn down the lights, turn down the heat (being cool signals it’s time to sleep), and turn down the activity level. (No rough-housing or big physical activity right before bed.)
  • About ten minutes before bedtime, start the official bedtime routine.

Bedtime Routines

Keep it short and simple! No more than fifteen minutes. Set clear limits on time and number of activities. Tell them the routine and stick to it: “remember, every night we read exactly two books.” If kids learn that some nights they can talk you into more, they’ll negotiate for more every night!

Some helpful tools:

  • Changing into pajamas can be a signal that bedtime has come.
  • Many parents use bedtime as a chance to reflect on the day: what was the best part of the day, what was the worst, what did they learn? Some parents review the day in story-style: “One spring morning, Mary woke up and had blueberries and puffs for breakfast…”
  • Some parents teach relaxation and visualization techniques to help the child self-soothe.
  • Some do bedtime math.
  • The standard is bedtime stories… choose calming sweet stories, and save the rollicking stories for other times of day. Some children like variety, some want the same stories every night.

After the bedtime routine, your child may try to “escape” from bed. Don’t let them, because if you let them escape once they’ll try every night… Instead, every time they get up, calmly and gently pick them up, stating simply “It’s now your bedtime, you need to be in bed. I will see you in the morning.” And place them back in bed. No long lectures, no anger, just a matter-of-fact unbreakable rule. If they continue to escape, use logical consequences: “if you get up again, then….”

Night Wake-ups

After 6 months, children no longer have a nutritional need for night feeds. If they are still waking, do the bare minimum intervention to help them get back to sleep. Don’t make this fun time, or snuggle time – just a simple settling back to bed. Some working parents can feel guilty about lack of connection during the day and try to make up for it at night, but that’s going to cause sleep issues…

How do I know if my child has a sleep problem?

Don’t listen to outsiders on this one: it doesn’t matter what your friend, neighbor, or mother-in-law thinks. It matters how you feel! If it’s working for you, your partner, and your child, then NO, you don’t have a sleep problem. If, however, you, your partner, or your child are miserable, stressed out, sleep-deprived, frequently ill, or just tired of the situation, then take steps to fix the problem!

If you want to change things

When your toddler was a baby, you found things that worked to help him sleep. And you’re probably still doing them! What seemed manageable then may be getting old now. If you’re ready to make a change, such as moving your child to his own bed, changing the bedtime routine, or changing how you respond to night wakings, here are some helpful strategies.

Sleep diary: Spend a week tracking: what time does your child go down to sleep, what steps did you take to get her there, how long she slept, mood on waking, and so on. Once you have a better sense of what’s actually happening right now, it’s easier to begin figuring out what to change.

Goal Setting: Figure out what things would look like if sleep was going better. How are things for you and your child? Having that end goal in sight can help you prioritize the steps to get there.

Make a plan. Prep your child for the change, letting them know what to expect. Writing down the new plan, or creating a picture calendar of the plan may help them. Make changes gradually.

Set your own limits for how long you’ll try something… maybe you’ll try for ten days straight, and if that doesn’t work, you’ll give up for a month, then try again. Children usually begin to learn a new behavior after 7 repetitions. But sometimes you just need to wait till they grow up a little bit more.

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Getting through the Day with a Young Child: Daily Routines

scheduleBenefits of Routines

Establishing a daily schedule with predictable routines can make life with a young child more manageable. Children feel confident and are more independent and competent when they know where things are, how things work, what to expect, and what steps need to be done in what order to accomplish what they need to accomplish. They are less likely to battle things (like cleaning up toys or brushing teeth) when they know they are just something that has to happen every day. They are less likely to melt down when they are well-rested and fed on a regular basis. Children feel safe and secure when life is predictable, and the more secure they feel, the more energy they can focus on playing, exploring, and learning. And for tired parents, routines mean that we don’t have to think as much about what to do next – we know! Instead of spending hours trying to decide where to go and never actually getting anywhere, we say “It’s Tuesday. Tuesday is library story time! And off we go. (And, of course, routines can be flexible when needed – you can change the plan, but it’s often nice to feel you HAVE a plan.)

Building a Daily Schedule

Start with mealtimes, naptime, and bedtime. Spend a few days keeping a journal of what you are currently doing, and see what the patterns are. Then write down what your ideal schedule would be. Make a plan for how to move in that direction. (For example, if your child stays up till 9:00 or 9:15 every night, you can’t declare that “starting tomorrow, you must go to sleep at 7:30.” But, you could do bedtime at 9:00 one night, 8:50 the next, 8:40 the next, and so on.)

Then fill in the rest of the schedule: together time, solo play time for your child, and lots of physical activity – I’d recommend a minimum of an hour a day of physical activity, but more is better. Build in hygiene habits (hand-washing, tooth-brushing), and clean-up times. If there are chores that need doing, put those just before a favorite activity, so they always know that as soon as they finish their clean-up they get to play.

Reinforce the routine by talking about “this is how we always do things.” You can make a poster with pictures of the daily cycle. [Note: Try to keep a weekend schedule similar to the weekday schedule.]

Morning Routine

If you have a child that wakes up earlier than you want to be up yourself, then make a basket of “quiet morning toys” for your room, and set limits on how/what they can play early in the morning, and how they know when it’s OK to transition to louder morning activities.

If you have a child who will sleep late and who you have to wake up, go ahead and spend time taking care of yourself, and getting yourself ready for the day first. Then put on some cheerful morning music, start with morning hugs and kisses, and read a few stories together to start them on their day.

Morning routine might include getting dressed, breakfast, brushing teeth, feeding the dog… try to do the same activities in the same order, each morning. You could make a small flip book showing the steps in morning routine. Hang it on their doorknob. They can walk themselves through it each morning.

Along the way, you can offer choices, but only offer simple options that you can live with, and keep the number of options small. A good rule of thumb is to take their age plus one: so, a one year old would be offered two choices: red shirt or blue shirt?

Getting out the Door

If you notice that every single morning, you’re stressed and yelling “hurry up”, start a new habit: do some work the night before to lay clothes out, prep some food, and so on. Also, whenever you return home from an outing, re-pack your diaper bag or whatever else you know you’ll be taking with you the next time you leave.

Set an alarm on your phone for ten minutes before you have to leave. When it goes off, remind your child of the steps they need to do to be ready on time. Tell them they can have a few more minutes of playtime, then you’ll start the leaving-the-house countdown. While they have their playtime, you get all your things ready to go so you can give them your full focus in those last few minutes. Two minutes before time to go, do the final steps of shoes, coats, picking up your bags and heading out.


A “typical” one-year-old needs about 10 – 13 hours of sleep at night, and one or two naps (a total of 2 hours of nap.) A typical two-year-old needs 9.5 – 12 hours a night, and one nap (1.5 – 2.5 hours). Most children begin to give up naps by age 3, but you may still have a “quiet time” in the afternoon if that’s helpful for them (or for you).

To settle your child down, try an abbreviated version of the bedtime routine. If he falls asleep, let him go till he wakes himself. Don’t feel like you have to wake him to be sure he’ll sleep at night – good naptime sleep begets good night-time sleep. If your child won’t sleep, you can still enforce a quiet time in their room. Be very matter of fact that they must stay in their room for a certain amount of time, and can only get up when you say it’s OK. If you are consistent every day, they’re less likely to fight it. If they learn that sometimes you let them get up early, they’ll fight for that every single day.

Dinner Time

If dinner prep time is hard every day, then plan for it! Have an activities basket that only comes out at that time (keeps it special). Involve your child in meal prep. Give yourself plenty of time to get things done despite distractions. Planning out meals in advance can make this time less stressful. More mealtime tips here.

Bedtime Routine

Start your bedtime routine before the first yawn. Lots of kids will go from tired-but-not-yawning to yawning to overtired-wild-child if you wait too long. Start winding down about a half hour before bedtime: dim the lights, turn the temperature down in the house so they want to get under their snuggly blankets. Turn off all screens, for you and them. Consider a bedtime snack and/or a bath.

About ten minutes before bedtime, start final steps: pajamas and stories. Set clear limits on time and number of activities. Again, if kids learn some nights you’ll read 5 stories, they’ll ask for 5 every night!

Think about having multiple sleep “cues” that help cue your child to settle down but don’t let them become sleep “crutches” without which they can’t sleep. For example, your child might usually have: bedtime music, bedtime story, pajamas, and favorite stuffed animal. But not always all of them… that way if one night you can’t find the stuffed animal they can still sleep. Or if you’re travelling, and forgot pajamas, they’re still able to fall asleep in their clothes.

Adjust as Needed

Make changes to routine gradually. If you know a big change is coming, talk about it beforehand.


Everyday learning opportunities. 101 tips for incorporating learning in your day: www.pnc.com/content/dam/gug/PDFs/GUG_Eng_Everyday_Learning_Tips_Download.pdf

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