top of page

Navigating Your Toddler’s Sleep Challenges Through Positive Incentives And Compassionate Boundaries

Written by: Cátia Pinto, Executive Contributor

Executive Contributors at Brainz Magazine are handpicked and invited to contribute because of their knowledge and valuable insight within their area of expertise.

Executive Contributor Cátia Pinto

One certainty for new parents is that their toddlers will likely face sleep challenges. Whether your little one struggled with sleep as a baby and now insists on joining you in bed, or your previously good sleeper starts testing boundaries and becoming more challenging at bedtime, almost every parent can recount a period during the toddler years when sleep became a challenge for their children.

A photo of toddler.

Just like us adults with our unique bedtime rituals, children too have their own ways of finding comfort before drifting off to dreamland. Some need a particular sleeping position, others crave the soothing breeze through an open window with socks on, and some find relief in the gentle embrace of bedtime melodies.

Yet, when your little one becomes dependent on external "props" like breastfeeding, bottles, or constant parental presence, it can lead to bedtime struggles. Your mission should be to empower your children with the ability to self-soothe, ensuring they can peacefully navigate the journey to sleep independently.


Testing the waters

As your baby transitions into toddlerhood, she engages in constant learning and develops various tactics to fulfill her wants and needs from the surrounding world. For instance, if she knows that making a funny face will make her parents laugh one day, she is likely to repeat that strategy to continue receiving the desired attention.

However, alongside the cute and positive strategies, toddlers may also acquire negative approaches to achieve their goals. Many parents find their children resorting to whining, crying, stomping, yelling, hitting, and throwing tantrums to gain the negative attention they need to get the desired response.

When it comes to bedtime, toddlers can be very persistent and strong-willed, making the journey of putting them to sleep feel like navigating a labyrinth of stalling tactics. However, fear not! This bedtime adventure is a crucial opportunity to instill in your little ones the invaluable skill of self-soothing.

It’s common for toddlers to test the boundaries in all areas of their lives, but particularly at bedtime. They are growing and changing from helpless infants into independent little people, and they must always explore their boundaries to discover what is acceptable and what is not. The interesting thing is that when they test the boundaries around bedtime, and those boundaries shift, it can leave them feeling insecure about their role as a child and your role as a parent.


Consequences and incentives

As you navigate into this content, it becomes more evident that the solution lies in setting clear boundaries and enforcing consequences with unwavering consistency. Think of it as providing a black-and-white roadmap for your toddler, ensuring a smoother bedtime routine, and reinforcing their sense of security in your role as their guiding parent.

When appropriate, let natural consequences unfold. This approach helps your toddler understand the results of their actions without putting them in a dangerous situation.


Now, let me be clear – it's not just about consequences; it's about creating a bedtime experience filled with positive incentives and delightful transitions. Here's a roadmap to help your little one thrive and cooperate with achievable incentives, all while maintaining a sense of control and choices.

  1. Embrace empathy and compassion: Recognize that a tantrum is your little one’s way of expressing feelings. By fostering empathy, acknowledging their frustration, and understanding the emotions behind the meltdown, you can navigate tantrums with grace and guide your toddler toward healthy emotional expression.

  2. Remain calm and kind: Keep your composure and respond with kindness. Be the calming presence your little one needs during the transition from playtime to sleep. A calm demeanor not only helps de-escalate the situation but also reassures your toddler that you are a source of support.

  3. Set firm limits: While understanding their feelings, be clear and firm with your limits and boundaries. Communicate these boundaries in a gentle yet assertive manner, ensuring your toddler knows what is expected.

  4. Avoid negative attention: If tantrums arise at bedtime or during a night waking, resist the urge to respond with anger. Recognize that even negative attention is a form of attention to a toddler and can inadvertently reinforce the behavior. If bedtime becomes a battlefield, stay patient and avoid getting drawn into a cycle of continuous visits to their bed or room.

  5. Praise galore: Shower your little one with praise at every opportunity. Acknowledge his achievements during the bedtime routine and after lights out. Building his confidence around going to sleep and staying asleep is key. Positive reinforcement creates a warm and encouraging environment.

  6. Sweet warnings: Provide a gentle heads-up with a 5-minute warning before diving into the bedtime routine. For example: "Hey, in five minutes, our bedtime adventure begins! Wrap up what you're doing and get ready for some bedtime magic."

  7. Joyful transitions: Infuse a burst of fun into transitions to make each step a delightful experience. The more enjoyable the transitions, the smoother and more enchanting the journey to bedtime becomes. Let the bedtime routine be a joyous escapade for your little one!

  8. Encourage positive behavior: Reward charts for toddlers can be highly effective, especially when using a Sleep Behaviors Chart. By incorporating a charming treasure chest as a delightful incentive for morning rewards, this temporary motivator encourages your little one to consistently make positive choices in their sleep routine. Celebrate their achievements along the way, and after a few weeks, consider discontinuing the chart. This approach aims to foster independence and discourage reliance on external rewards, promoting sustained positive behavior.

  9. Choices: Toddlers, in their small yet significant world, crave a sense of autonomy and control. Offering choices becomes a powerful tool for parents, allowing these pint-sized explorers to feel a delightful sense of independence. From selecting their favorite bedtime story to choosing between two cozy pajamas, these decisions may seem minor to us but can be monumental for a toddler.

  10. Expectations through routine: Navigating a toddler's expectations around bedtime is akin to orchestrating a nightly adventure filled with wonder and routine. Toddlers thrive on predictability, and bedtime becomes a stage where their expectations are met with a comforting script. The expectation of a favorite stuffed animal's warm embrace or the comforting scent of a cherished bedtime storybook is not merely a routine; it's a nightly script that unfolds, promising comfort and security.

While this process may require some time and effort to re-establish control, the rewards are immeasurable. Picture a serene bedtime scene, with your little one peacefully settling into their bed each night, no longer reliant on external props to drift into dreamland. The journey may be challenging, but the destination is a sleep-filled haven where both parent and child can rest assured. Sweet dreams await!


For more info, follow Cátia on Instagram, visit her Website or schedule a Discovery Call with her.

Cátia Pinto Brainz Magazine

Cátia Pinto, Executive Contributor Brainz Magazine

Cátia Pinto is a pediatric sleep coach. She dedicates her life to coaching parents teach their children to develop independent sleep skills, through a gentle and child-friendly approach. Her strategies follow the Sleep Sense system, which has helped over 100.000 families since 2003. Cátia is the founder of My Sweet Dreamer and also the mother of two, so she truly knows how sleep deprivation can negatively affect children and, inevitably, their parents. All the inherent feelings of guilt and tiredness end up preventing them from enjoying parenthood in full. Her mission: Help tired parents recover their well-deserved rested nights.



  • linkedin-brainz
  • facebook-brainz
  • instagram-04


bottom of page