Handling Toddler Sleep Anxiety
Sleep consultant Emma Purdue discusses sleep anxiety in toddlers and provides expert help so the whole family can get a good nights sleep
4 min read
Handling Toddler Sleep Anxiety
Has your toddler been struggling to sleep for months? There are lots of reasons our children struggle to sleep, but it’s also not uncommon for toddlers to start to feel anxious about sleep. They are aware that they are not doing a great job at falling asleep, or something which has happened during their day is causing enough anxiety that they are struggling to fall asleep. Toddler anxiety might be why your toddler is struggling to fall asleep.
Toddlers experience a huge range of emotions and stressors throughout the day. They are forced to share their favourite toys, other children hit them and push them, and sometimes they spend a lot of time away from their parents. While this is all normal everyday life for toddlers, for some of them it’s enough to cause anxiety when they are due to sleep
Use toddler ’emotion cards’
Create some simple emotion cards, such as happy, sad, angry and neutral. You could have a look online or create your own Create two sets and have a place where each night before bed, the parent and the child choose how they are feeling about going to bed. The first night mum might be happy, and your toddler might choose the angry face about going to bed. That’s fine, blue tac them to the outside of the door, or the wall in your toddlers room.
Tell your toddler that you are happy about bedtime, and that you understand they are angry/neutral/sad, but it is time for bed, and you hope they will be happy by morning.
When morning comes, take the cards down
Do the emotion cards each night until both mum and toddler choose the happy cards, then continue for a couple of weeks.
Once your toddler gives you the happy card when you ask how they are feeling about bedtime; exclaim “me too!” Then tell them exactly why you are happy, because you love reading stories to them, you love tucking them into bed, you love looking at them when they sleep, you love that the sleep fairy comes, you love how nicely they go to sleep, you are proud of how quiet they are in their bed. Use this as a time of positive reinforcement.
You can use the cards to ask your toddler about their day, and if anything happened which they might want to talk about. Depending on their age this will vary, but it is a useful tactic for children right up to and beyond 5 years old.
Naming feelings really helps if your toddler is anxious about sleep
The key to successfully using emotion cards is to allow your child to feel what they are feeling and help give them a name for the emotion they are feeling. This naming allows them to begin to compartmentalize the feeling and move into a space where they can sleep.
If they are anxious you might sit with them, but you don’t need to “fix” the anxiety or stressors affecting their sleep right then and there, just acknowledging them and helping them to be named, will help your child switch off and fall asleep.