01/17/2013 07:32 EST | Updated 03/17/2013 05:12 EDT

How To Help Your Toddler Get A Good Night Sleep

The curtains are drawn, lights are dimmed and the books are ready to go back on the book shelf in exchange for a night of happy dreams. Instead, your little ones are full of stories of their own. You just know the road to dreamland is at least another hour away. Falling asleep is difficult for many toddlers and pre-school children. Research shows approximately 21 percent of pre-schoolers deal with at least two sleep challenges, including nightmares, difficulty falling asleep, repeated night waking or daytime tiredness.

This can become frustrating for exhausted parents, especially when techniques recommended by parenting experts either seem too cruel, too soft, or simply ineffective. To help your child go to sleep, the key is consistency. Ensure that your child goes to bed at the same time every night, and follows the same steps. After a month or less, your child will come to expect this routine, and ease into it comfortably.

The best thing to do is to muster all the patience you have and relax with them. Do not reprimand your child for not falling asleep, and do not leave them alone in the dark if they feel scared. What children need is to feel safe, protected and looked after. Sadly parents often feel stressed and impatient when their child does not fall asleep. That tension often keeps their little ones awake even longer. Instead, use these 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.

Sometimes, sleep problems are created by things we do at home without realizing that it will affect our child. Here are a few things to consider to ensure your child gets a good night sleep, and establishes a healthy sleep pattern:


Helping Your Child Sleep

1. Create a calm environment before bed time

Start the bedtime routine 20 minutes before you would like your child to fall asleep. This gives you the opportunity to calm the environment. Children feed off the energy around them. If you are in a rush to put your child down, they will pick up on your anxiousness. Start with a warm bath or shower and then change into comfortable clothing. Choose a book to read together and spend some time cuddling. Try rubbing your child's back, and encourage them to enjoy quiet time. You can also sing a gentle lullaby. The idea is to quiet your child's mind and prepare them for sleep. If your child likes to talk about the day's activities before bed, make this a part of the routine, but in a separate room. This will help establish in your child's mind that the bedroom is for sleeping.

2. 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 they are comfortable with, a nightlight is left on. Pay attention to the reasons your child wakes up, and adjust the environment accordingly.

3. Limit liquid consumption in the evening

Once your child is potty trained, waking up in the evening to go to the bathroom becomes a sleep interruption. While it's important children stay hydrated, always, encourage your child to drink water and liquids throughout the day. In the evening, only give your child liquids if they request it.

4. Restrict TV and video games after 7 p.m.

Research shows consuming media in the evening is linked to a significant increase in sleep problems amongst children. Yet 20 percent to 43 percent of preschoolers have televisions in their bedroom. These same children watch an additional 40 minutes of television per day on average, and are eight times more likely to suffer from sleep problems. The Seattle Children's Research Institute discovered a link between sleep problems and watching evening television as well as playing video games or using computers at night. Even 14 minutes of TV time after 7 pm affected children, regardless of the content. Choose a good book instead.

5. Avoid violent media consumption

Children who are exposed to violence in the media (and this, unfortunately, includes the evening news), or play video games with violent content at anytime during the day are much more likely to suffer from sleep problems. This is due in part to the fact that children younger than five have difficulty distinguishing between real and make-believe. For this age group, violence, whether it is real or not, has the same effect.

Getting children to establish healthy sleeping patterns can be a challenge for parents, who often are deprived of sleep themselves. It can also be scary for young children who find themselves alone and awake in a dark room. Not being able to fall back asleep can provoke anxiety. Creating a positive and understanding environment will go a long way in supporting your child in the development of good sleeping patterns. In the long run this will help your child get a good night sleep much faster and more effectively than by force.