I Can’t Get My Toddler To Sleep

Annie The Nanny

Annie The Nanny

Get your parenting advice questions answered at Annie´s Advice Column
Annie the Nanny is a professional parenting educator. She writes a weekly advice column for parents who need help with their children's behaviour. Her advice has also been featured on CTV, CBC and in all kinds of print media. For more information about Annie, please go to her 'about' page.

Dear Annie. I can’t get my toddler to sleep! Our 13-month-old son started at a day home 3 weeks ago when I went back to work, and he does not seem to be adjusting very well. He cries and cries, and he won’t take any naps there, so he is exhausted when we pick him up, and he is very cranky at night.

Thankfully, I am only working three days a week, but those three days have still become very difficult. Our day-home lady seems to drop subtle hints that we will have to find alternate child care if he doesn’t adjust soon, and finding child care in this city right now is TOUGH!

He has recently become more difficult to get to sleep and down for naps. Another factor could be that I have been weaning him from breastfeeding. We have been down to the bedtime feed for the last few weeks, and now we’ve just dropped that one. I don’t know how to deal with these sleep issues. I have taken the Raymond Parenting class before, and it worked okay when he was younger, but he has amazing stamina to cry for long periods of time now. Help!  Thank you, Leah

I can't get my toddler to sleep
I feel for you. Going back to work is always a tough adjustment for everyone. Here’s what I suspect may be happening in your case: First of all, toddlers don’t deal well with major change, which you’ve had a lot of in the last little while. On top of the changes, your provider is threatening to withdraw his space, leaving you in a difficult bind.

I can’t get my toddler to sleep: Your child is picking up on your stress.

In many ways, this has become a cycle. You are stressed because your provider might withdraw her help. Unless you are extremely careful, your son will pick up on that stress. His stress, including any he picks up from you, affects his mood and his ability to sleep. Because little people show worry through their behaviour, he becomes more demanding and difficult at night. This is something I commonly cover with my behaviour intervention service because, believe it or not, it happens a lot. In response to his demands, you get even more stressed. In other words, one ends up feeding the other.

There are really two issues here. The first is that your son is feeling stressed, and we want to help him feel better. The second is that because he’s not sleeping, it’s very hard for him to feel better. After all, who among us can see the good in the world when we’re thoroughly overtired? I don’t know about you, but nothing is right when I’m not sleeping!

I can’t get my toddler to sleep: Learning to go to sleep is a skill.

Many parents come to me hoping for a magic bullet when it comes to teaching their child to go to sleep. To be honest, I wish there was one, but in my experience, there isn’t. The reason why I say “teaching a child to go to sleep” is because there is a very definitive teaching component. Children have to learn self-soothing skills, and if they’re never allowed to experience the need to self-soothe, they’re unlikely to develop those skills until much later. It’s not an easy thing to teach, but it’s incalculably valuable. I explain the specifics of my preferred sleep training method in my other letters, particularly “How can I get my child to sleep through the night?” What I emphasize in all of my letters, however, is consistency. Whatever method you decide to choose, stick with it. If you don’t, you send mixed messages, which ends up making life more difficult for everyone.

I can’t get my toddler to sleep: Break the cycle.

Perhaps the most important thing to do is to break the cycle of stress. How do you do that? Well, first, make sure he’s got lots and lots of daytime hugs, cuddles, etc. Do as much reassuring as you can. Make sure you get some decent rest as well. In terms of his sleeping problem, my advice would be to get that under control as soon as possible. Having said that, though, I wouldn’t want to put a child through sleep training when he’s already feeling under duress. Can you take him out of daycare for a few days to give him a break while you deal with this? Can your husband/partner help? Once he’s sleeping properly through the night, he’ll be able to deal with the move to the day-home more effectively. You’re unfortunately in a bit of a Catch-22. He won’t adjust until he feels better, and he can’t feel better because he’s so overtired.

I wish I could help more but I hope I’ve at least been able to put the whole issue in a more easily understood framework.  For more help with your parenting, please visit my parenting services page.

All the best,


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