The Baby Whisperer shares her advice on toddlers: part two

Recently, Dorothy Waide - The Baby Whisperer - gave us her take on toddlers during the day. In this follow up, Dorothy dives deeper into what’s happening with your toddler once the sun sets.

Dorothy is New Zealand’s leading baby sleep consultant with over 30 years’ experience as a Mothercraft Karitane nurse. She’s worked with some of Hollywood’s elite, is OHbaby!’s sleep specialist, and has written two popular parenting books.

Together, New Shoots and Dorothy regularly host workshops about her positive parenting approach.

Night-time routines - Once your daytime routine is sorted, look to your evening routine. The first step is to ensure you allow enough time for your child’s evening meal and bedtime preparation. Rushing your toddler or child will only put stress on this part of the evening and provide yet more ammunition for the evening battle. Many going to bed issues are created because of overtiredness, and this not only relates to toddlers and children but their parents as well!

In a lot of cases, bedtime battles actually start because of dinnertime battles, so try to avoid these as well. If your child is very tired after a big day at kindergarten or daycare, they may just be ready for bed and you could be asking too much to expect them to eat a full meal. Having meal times slightly earlier can help, and focus on offering nutritious foods earlier in the day so you are not trying to get all the goodness in at the end of the day.

Some toddlers will start after dinner by saying, “no bed, no bed!” My response is, “well then, we’ll go and have our bath, bath-time is fun.” In other words, remove the negativity and replace it with a positive response. Deal with the moment and not what may happen later on in the evening.

The type of activities you do with your child after dinner can also have an impact on their bedtime routine, so avoid the television or iPad as well as books that are too stimulating and do not have a calming influence. Try to experience these through their eyes and ears and choose appropriate bedtime stories that are not too scary.

Once you have put them in bed, have a special sign-off, which can be made more meaningful by doing something slightly different with each child. This small detail makes the child feel that they have special time with Mummy and Daddy before going to bed. It acts as a final signal that it is time to go to sleep. This ritual again should be short and sweet – like a quick kiss on the nose. My favourite is a short song I’ve made up, something along the lines of, “hush little child, time to sleep. Hush little child, I love you.” I sing this as I am switching off the light and leaving their room.

Crying it out - You will often hear people say it only takes three nights to sort a toddler’s overnight waking out. How is this possible, you ask? Very simple: it is by leaving your toddler to cry it out on their own and not intervening at all. How sad is this? It is important to understand that if your toddler cannot self-settle or resettle, it would be better to take the time and give your little person the tools they need. Consider this: if it was an adult, like your grandparents or someone else you love, crying in a room for attention would you ignore them?

Night waking - We all wish our toddlers would sleep through the night; however, it is important to understand that all babies, toddlers, children and adults wake up overnight. Babies and toddlers, for example, like to check in with themselves, they might count their fingers and toes and go back to sleep. Ideally, a toddler is able to resettle overnight without your intervention, but sometimes they need reassurance. We all need reassurance from time to time and we would not be too happy if we didn’t get it.

If your toddler knows how to self-settle and resettle for daytime naps and self-settles at night but wakes up crying inconsolably overnight, in my experience this toddler is telling you something and you need to figure it out. If a toddler consistently wakes at night, I always return to their daytime routine and start from there. As I’ve said earlier, once their daytime routine is sorted then their evening routine usually follows. 

Nightmares and night terrors - Yes, toddlers can experience one or the other and again, one thing I look at is diet as some foods can contribute, one of which is cheese. So, what is the difference between a night terror and a nightmare?

Nightmares tend to happen in the early hours of the morning and are like a bad dream, often relating to worries your toddler had during the day. The toddler will often be calmed with reassurance and a cuddle but at other times you may need to talk it through with them.

Night terrors often happen one to two hours after your toddler has settled and can be very frightening. Your toddler may not recognise you, they may try and push you away and they may also scream. It is as if their mind is still asleep while their body appears to be awake. Once they go back to sleep and wake in the morning all memories of the night-time terrors seem to be eradicated.

It is important that there are no medical conditions associated with both nightmares and night terrors such as sleep apnea. If you’re concerned, always check in with a medical practitioner.

Learn more from NZ’s leading sleep consultant - Check out Dorothy Waide’s website for helpful videos, tutorials and books all designed to support parents of babies and toddlers.

Or visit her Instagram and Facebook pages for positive parenting tips.

Throughout the year, New Shoots and Dorothy regularly host informative events for free with our community of parents and whanau. If you want to head along to our next event, let us know.