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Tackling Toddler Sleep Problems

Troubleshoot your tot’s nighttime woes so you can all get the rest you need in your own beds.
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Preferring your bed over his or her own

Some parents may enjoy sleeping with their children, but this can be a toddler sleep problem in other families. Whether you call it co-sleeping or bed-sharing, this is primarily a cultural or economic issue, Pelayo says. "You can only put baby in a crib if you can afford a crib, and your baby can only have their own room if you can afford it," he says. "It is really a cultural thing to have kids sleep in separate rooms or beds." 

But if both parents agree that bed-sharing is a troublesome toddler sleep issue, "try telling them that mom and dad are happier when they sleep alone because children innately want to please their parents," he says. "Or say, 'There is no such thing as a three-person bed, just two-people beds.'"

Children may be scared to be alone, so you need to let them know that they are safe and secure wherever they sleep.

Breaking this habit can be hard, Zafarlotfi says. It usually starts innocently enough. "A child may have had an earache and slept in their parents' bed and gotten used to it," she says. "If they are accustomed to your bedroom, you need to reverse it and spend more time in their bedroom. Stay in their room on a recliner, dim the lights, and act as if you too are dozing off or relaxing at bedtime or naptime so they know that you are present," she says.

Be positive. "Say, 'Mommy needs her time, but she will come to your room for a while.'" While you are there, "play soothing music and have fun in their room so they know that their bedroom is not for punishment or abandonment," Zafarlotfi says. "When they fall asleep you can say good-bye or sneak out."

Consistency counts too. Zafarlotfi says, "You can't take them to your bed one night and then not let them in the next night."

Nightmares

"The first thing you can do is to look for any physical problems that may be disturbing their sleep," Pelayo says. Snoring, acid reflux, heartburn, or even allergies may be waking your child up at night, not nightmares. "If there doesn't seem to be anything physical causing them to wake and stir," he says, "then it's time to talk about the nightmares. Tell them that they are always safe and that nightmares and dreams are like paintings and drawings, meaning that they can paint a nice picture or scary picture," he says.

Dream rehearsal may also help children take the sting out of nightmares. Here's how it works: "Discuss what happened in the nightmare and come up with a new ending," he says. If your toddler dreamed that he was falling off of a cliff, tell him to imagine that he can fly. Or if the nightmare involved a monster, perhaps the monster could be made of marshmallows, he suggests.

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