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Better Bedtime Techniques to Get Toddlers to Sleep

Antsy little kids can be the toughest customers to lull to bed. If you're at your wits' end, try these three tried-and-true tips from southeast Michigan moms.

For parents of little ones, that "happily ever after" at the end of a bedtime story would include a tuckered out kid who drifts peacefully into sleep and doesn't wake up until daylight. If only! The reality is that many toddlers struggle to unwind and fall asleep, no matter how many bedtime stories you read – and, even if they do surrender to shut-eye, they're up in a few hours.

This can become frustrating for exhausted parents, especially when techniques recommended by parenting experts either seem too cruel, too soft or simply ineffective. Looking for tricks that really work? Here are three battlefield-tested suggestions for sleep success from metro Detroit parents.

Create a consistent routine

Ensure your child goes to bed at the same time every night and follows the same steps. "It's not easy," says Farmington Hills mom Brandy Solomon. "But after a few weeks, it really creates an expected pattern. My son really clicked into the routine, and I think his body just expected to sleep at his bedtime because that was the pattern."

Be sure to limit liquid consumption, so you reduce middle-of-the-night potty breaks, and turn off the TV at least an hour before bedtime to prevent your child from being wired from stimulating programming.

Start the bedtime routine a few minutes before you would like your child to fall asleep. This gives you the opportunity to calm the environment. Begin it with a warm bath or shower, then change into comfortable clothing. Choose a book to read together and spend some time cuddling. Try rubbing your child's back, and encourage him to enjoy his quiet time. You can also sing a gentle lullaby.

The idea is to quiet his mind and prepare him for sleep. If your child likes to talk about the day's activities before bed, make this part of the routine, but in a separate room. This will help establish in your child's mind that the bedroom is for sleeping.

Keep your cool

As you're easing your child into adjusting to his new bedtime, be sure to be patient. Do not reprimand him for not falling asleep, and do not leave him alone in the dark if he feels scared. Children need to feel safe and protected.

"The longer it took for my son to fall asleep, the more stressed, tired and frustrated I'd get – and I could just feel that making him even more edgy and less likely to fall asleep," says Clinton Township mom Nicole Trumbell. "My husband had a lot more patience about it. He was zen. So we switched roles and it made a huge difference."

When putting your child to bed, take a few minutes to relax completely, and leave a hand on your child's arm or back, to "transfer" that state of relaxation onto them. Take a few deep breaths and teach your child to do the same. Soon, your child will learn from you the tools to enter into a state of relaxation – and be able to fall asleep without any help.

Learn your child's sleeping preferences

Many children wake up at night because they feel too hot or cold. The room temperature you feel comfortable with may be different than what your child prefers. Lighting is another big issue for children. While some will wake up if the room is too bright, or if light seeps in through the window at night, others can't fall asleep when the room is too dark.

Listen to your child and make sure that, if complete darkness is not something she is comfortable with, a nightlight is left on for her. Pay attention to the reasons your child wakes up and adjust the environment accordingly.

"My daughter has this stuffed monkey that she must have in order to fall asleep," says Lathrup Village mom Renee Collings-Langton. "As soon as I realized how crucial this monkey is, I bought a couple of backups. My hope is that she outgrows the need for monkey before he's discontinued."

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