Managing Toddler Sleep Problems

Judy Arnall discusses sleep guidelines

If you have a child between the ages of one and five years who won’t go to bed, won’t stay in bed and won’t stay asleep, or wakes up too early, you are in good company.  According to a National Survey in the US, 70% of parents with children under five years have the same problems.  When children are older than one year, there is very little risk of suffocation, so sleeping with parents are easier. Here is some possible sleep arrangements:

  • Toddler sleeps in his own bed – parent soothes and gradually leaves in baby steps.
  • Toddler sleeps with parents in their bed.
  • Toddler sleeps with siblings in their bed.
  • Toddler sleeps on living room sofa, while the parents are still up, and then the parents move him when they go to bed.
  • Toddler sleeps on the floor on a mattress or airbed next to the parent’s bed.
  • Toddler starts the night in his own bed and may climb into parent’s bed when he needs to, probably in the middle of the night.
  • Toddler starts in parent’s bed and gets moved to her own bed when asleep and when parents want to go to bed.
  • Parents take turns sleeping with the toddler in her own bed every third night so one parent gets a solid night of REM sleep.

Sleep is important. Seventy percent of growth hormone is secreted during sleep.

It’s still one of those things that is totally under the control of the child. Parents can facilitate sleep, but can’t force it.

Some toddlers still sleep with and nurse with Mom during the night. By about age three and a half years, most toddlers are okay with sleeping in their own bed, and their night nursing has become negotiable. They are able to talk with Mom about when and where to nurse. Many Moms want to night wean their toddlers by two years or sooner. Often, holding, cuddles, and a sippy cup of water is enough to help toddlers stop night nursing and go back to sleep. Other Moms have said, “Num-nums have gone to sleep and will wake in the morning to feed you!” Some Moms found it helpful to leave their toddler with Daddy at night to sleep and cuddle with and not feed for a few nights.

If parents understand the reasons why toddlers and preschoolers don’t want to go to bed, they can address those needs. Separation anxiety is a huge issue. A recent Today’s Parent Survey of 3000 parents revealed that at least 10 percent of families co-sleep. Sleeping with a child for a few years doesn’t mean they will never sleep in their own beds any more than using diapers for a few years will prevent a child forever from using the toilet.

There are no studies that show any negative effects from co-sleeping for children aged one and up. Most children sleep alone, in their own beds, in their own rooms, by age 12. By then, they will insist on it!

Wherever a toddler sleeps, be sure to have a bedtime routine: a snack, bath, then pajamas, teeth brushing, and finally a story. Have a brief talk, prayer or snuggle time and kiss them good-night. Children tend to open up and want to talk just before bed. That’s why it’s great for Dad and Mom to alternate putting children to bed. It’s a time for intimate conversations that really builds relationships. It may help to stay with your child while they “let go” and drift off.

Leave them in their own room with a white noise machine, fan, book, or quiet toys in bed. If they get up, attend to their needs. Usually, it’s not a drink of water or scary monsters under the bed. It’s their need for more parent cuddle time and attention. If they don’t settle, bring them downstairs to cuddle and lay on the couch while you watch your adult show or carry on with your adult activities. Keep the focus off them and on to what you want to do. It’s your time. They will fall asleep but secure in the fact that their parents are there.

Although there are recommendations for babies under one, there is no co-sleeping safety concerns for children over one.  Where your child sleeps is a matter of your family preference, culture, and values and the decision is up to you.  No professional should tell you how or where your family sleeps.

Whatever works so no one is crying and everyone is sleeping safely is the right option for your family.

Co-Sleeping with School-Aged Children

Family Bedrooms Still Popular Even with School-aged

By Judy Arnall

“But Mom! You don’t have to sleep alone!” Kyle protests to his mom when she suggests that he
might want to sleep in his own room. Family bedrooms are increasingly becoming common in
North America thanks to the attachment parenting movement that recognizes that babies and
toddlers are not developmentally ready to sleep on their own for the first few years of life.

However, Kyle is seven years old, not two. The prevalence of family bedrooms among families
with school-aged children has not been studied, let alone talked about openly in our society yet,
but the trend is growing.

Many children, especially those that don’t have siblings to snuggle in with, continue to sleep in
the same family bedroom as their parents, well into the school-aged years. Because of high
profile cases such as the late Michael Jackson issue where he openly talked about sleeping with
older children in a non-sexual way, causing such public distaste, many families do not admit to
anyone outside their close family relatives that they sleep with their children, again, in a caring,
non-sexual way. The fear of being investigated by child welfare authorities is the biggest barrier
against discussing this practice. So the practice occurs quite often, but is not openly admitted. As
a society, we accept family bedrooms for motels rooms, visiting at relatives, camping and
vacations, but not for everyday use in a society that values independence at all cost. Still, parents
persist. “We co-sleep because it’s a cultural choice. My husband is Vietnamese and I am Canadian
and we have decided that it’s what works best for our family. Back in Vietnam my husband`s
sisters still sleep with their mother and my husbands’ brother and father also share a room. The
younger ones are all in their 20`s and it is not illegal or abnormal or culturally odd like it is here,”
says *Cheryl, mom of two children.

How does a family bedroom work? Two hundred years ago, before the invention of central
heating, most of the family slept in the same room if not the same beds. Fast forward to the
twenty first century, where bedrooms now have the square footage size of the average 1950’s
house, the family bedroom can easily accommodate two king-size mattresses on the floor or
several beds in the same room.

Not everyone agrees with the concept of a family sharing sleep in the same room. Barbara Evans,
a parent educator from Beaumont, Texas, worries about the parent’s need for privacy and
intimacy. “My concerns are that as parents, our job is to raise healthy, loving and lovable,
independent (heavy on the independent) children. Not to the exclusion of depriving them of
nurturing and cuddling, but this may be the first place to start learning about boundaries and selfcare.”

Why do families choose a family bedroom? No separation anxiety issues and no bedtime battles is
the biggest reason. For an increasingly separated family where both parents might work in paid
work all day and children are away at school, it is comforting and enjoyable to cuddle together at
the end of a busy day. “The best thing about having the kids there with us is the emotional bond
we have with them. We love the time upstairs to talk in bed, read, write or just watch T.V.
together. There’s no separation between us and we don’t send our kids away at night to be alone
unless they want to.” says *Ally, mom of three children, ages 9, 10, and 12. They have a big
master bed for the parents and two mattresses on the floor on either side of the master bed for the

What age should family bedrooms stop? Children naturally develop the desire for more privacy
at puberty and tend to want their own room and sleeping space by the age of 12 or 13. This
occurs naturally whether they sleep alone, or share a bedroom with siblings or with parents.

Most experts agree that the rules are simple. Generally, all members of the family must wear
night clothes. Whoever doesn’t like the arrangement and says “no” should have their wishes
honoured whether they are the parent or the child. The parents might enjoy the closeness, but if
the 8-year-old wants his own room, that should be respected. And of course, couple sexual
intimacy must take place in another room.

Former Canadian Prime Minister Pierre Elliott Trudeau once said, “The government has no
business in the bedrooms of the nation.” And for many families, that rings truer than ever.

Family Bedroom Pointers

1. Parental sexual relations must take place in a private room away from the eyes and the
ears of the children.
2. Whoever says “no” rules. This must work for everyone
3. When children hit puberty, their natural desire for more privacy will take over and the
concept of the family bedrooms should be reviewed by the family.

*Names changed upon request.

Judy Arnall is a professional international award-winning Parenting and Teacher
Conference Speaker, and Trainer, Mom of five children, and author of the best-selling
book, Discipline Without Distress: 135 tools for raising caring, responsible
children without time-out, spanking, punishment or bribery and the new DVD,
Plugged-In Parenting: Connecting with the digital generation for health, safety and
love as well as the new book, The Last Word on Parenting Advice,, 403-714-6766
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