Lisa Witepski
4 minute read
19 Jun 2020
1:00 pm

How to make your toddler sleep

Lisa Witepski

Here are four tips to make your toddler sleep.


Waterloo. The Somme. Blood River. Your child’s bedroom at bedtime. All the sites of tremendous battles.

Be honest, though: how many times has your little one won the bedtime battle, in spite of your intentions to ignore her pleas for more water, another story, a ‘just in case’ trip to the bathroom? Yup. It’s one of life’s greatest ironies: while you might have a bone-deep yearning to get into bed, knowing you’ll be lights out almost instantly, your toddler will keep fighting it to the very last minute!

Also read: Honestly, how can I get my baby to sleep without rocking them?

Here’s the ammunition you need for your ‘go to bed’ battle plan.

Calm down

No, really. We completely understand that by the time you’ve explained that no, you will not be phoning Elena of Avalor now to invite her to your daughter’s birthday party (which only takes place 5 months from now), you’ve completely lost whatever patience you had to start with. But, says sleep training specialist Erica Lotter of Momslifeline, you’ll have better results if you adopt a “clinical approach” to bedtime.

Here’s why: “When your child is a baby, she has no emotions of her own. So instead, she picks up on what you’re feeling. So, if you’re feeling frustrated and angry at bedtime, she will too, and this pattern will be repeated into childhood.”

Bedtime, not sleep time

Your greatest wish is that your child will take one look at her bed and start to feel drowsy, right? If only. Just as you take some time to unwind before you actually fall asleep, maybe by reading a few pages of your book, so is getting into bed only part of the process for your little one.

Once you start to get your head around the fact that 7pm means bedtime for your toddler, not sleep time, you’ll feel less frustrated. This is because your expectations will shift, says Erica. But take heart: “If your child is content in her sleep environment, melatonin will do what it’s supposed to do,” assures Erica.

Also read: Why is daytime sleep important for children?

Distinguish between wants and needs – and teach your child to do the same

Obviously, if your little one is crying, you need to find out what’s happened to wake her up and make her unhappy. And if she needs a glass of water, then of course you need to help her. But, if it’s just about getting your attention for a few minutes, that’s a no-no: just walk away. (You can always go back to check on her a little while later.)

This gives your child a chance to learn that unless she has a physical need, she’s perfectly capable of comforting herself until she falls asleep again. But, you need to learn this, too. Erica points out that everyone has good and bad nights, and a little sleep disturbance is to be expected from your child every now and then. Unless your child is crying, you don’t really need to go into her room to check on her.

Embrace the hygge

Remember the Swedish trend we were all in love with a few years ago: dim lights, soft music, maybe some board games or a cuddle-up on the couch with a movie? All of that is brilliant for inducing a sleepy mood – so don’t shy away from treating your little one with some quality pre-bed bonding time that eventually leads to peaceful zzz’s.

More about the expert:

Erica Lotter is a sleep training specialist and owner of Momslifeline: Learn more about Erica Lotter here.

In her 16 years as journalist, Lisa Witepski’s work has appeared in most of South Africa’s leading publications, including the Mail & Guardian, Sunday Times, Entrepreneur and Financial Mail. She has written for a number of women’s magazines, including Living & Loving, Essentials and many others, across topics from lifestyle to travel, wellness, business and finance. She is a former acting Johannesburg Bureau Chief for Cosmopolitan, and former Features Editor at Travel News Weekly, but, above all, a besotted mom to Leya and Jessica. Lisa blogs at and, and tweets at @LisaWitepski.

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