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Sleep - 6 months to 3 years

sleep; baby; babies; child; children; crying; cry; settle; night; controlled comforting; separation; routine. ;

Some babies and toddlers can sleep through the night. Some babies and toddlers need more sleep than others, and some much less. Many still wake once or twice, or several times at night. Between the ages of 2–3 years about 40% of young children wake once or twice a night, with a few still waking more often. During sleep they may, as most adults do, turn over and go back to sleep, or they may cry because they are uncomfortable, or afraid or want to know you are there.

By 6 months of age, babies are having most of their sleep at night, but they still need day sleeps. Expect two sleeps a day until 12 to 15 months – then one is usually enough.

Having different patterns of sleep is not 'wrong' and nothing needs to change unless your child's sleep pattern is causing problems for your child or yourself. Many parents need their child's sleep pattern to change because they are very tired and lack of sleep is having a big impact on their lives.

Some of the content of this topic comes from the Parent Easy Guide 34 Sleep (children 0 - 6 years) developed by Parenting SA. There is information about sleep cycles in this guide.

Parenting SA has also published a video 'Sleep and toddlers'


Getting ready for sleep

  • During the day try regular mealtimes with some snacks and one or two sleeps.
  • Encourage plenty of activity when your child is awake. Visit the park or playground, have some outside activity or go for a walk if the weather is fine.
  • Make the last hour or so before sleep a relaxing, not exciting time.

Settling ideas

  • Keep to the regular settling pattern that you have established, such as a bath, quiet play, story, cuddles and/ or song.
  • You can put your child into the cot awake. This will help them go to sleep there.
  • You might sing a little song or put on some relaxing music.
  • Patting and rocking may still work at this age – a chair by the side of the cot or bed may be most restful for you. Some babies and toddlers may get used to this and cry as soon as you stop, so change the timing of the patting, slow it down and become softer, finally resting your hand on their body.

Settling older toddlers

Try leaving a soft light on, giving a your child a cuddly toy, giving them something of yours to cuddle, e.g. an old T-shirt that has ‘your smell’ on it. Many still like their dummy at bedtime. If they lose it in the night try putting several in the cot and if the child wakes move their hand to a dummy so they get the idea of finding it. Babies and toddlers do not yet need to stop using a dummy.

Some children need you to stay near while they go to sleep.

  • If you decide to do this, don’t sneak out without telling your child. This may keep them tense and on edge in case you do it again.
  • You can whisper that you are going to another room and will be back soon.
  • Make sure you do return soon. If your child copes with this you can start taking a bit longer before coming back, but make sure you always return before they get upset as this builds trust.
  • Even if they have fallen asleep give them a goodnight kiss and whisper ‘I came back’.

When your child settles to bed, but needs you nearby this could become your relaxation time.

  • Take a book to read or a CD and sit in a comfortable chair near your child.
  • You are present but not doing anything that might disturb them.
  • Over a few nights you could gradually move your chair nearer to the door. Eventually you will be able to put it outside the door so your child can hear you but not see you.
  • This way your child gradually learns to settle when you are not there.

Night waking

Many children of this age wake during the night and will grow out of it in time. If you and your child are happy with the way things are, do not feel pressured to change.

Your child may wake and cry at night due to:

  • being in a light phase of sleep so that something like a noise causes them to wake fully
  • separation anxiety. This is a very common reason for children under three years to cry at night. You can tell if your child is waking due to separation anxiety because if you are nearby to reassure them, they will settle back to sleep. By eight or nine months of age, babies have learned that their parents exist even if they can’t see them and they often get frightened when they wake and their parents aren’t there (see Separation anxiety).
  • not knowing how to settle back to sleep. Sometimes young children are in a pattern of being fed, rocked or nursed to sleep and find it hard to settle back to sleep when they are in their own bed by themselves
  • pain such as ear-ache, a cold, or teething.

What parents can do

  • Put a day bed or mattress in your child’s room and lie down near them so you both get to sleep.
  • Put their bed in your room near you. This often leads to the best night's sleep for all of you.
  • Make sure they get plenty to eat during the day.

Some people may suggest that you let your baby/toddler 'cry it out' or that you use controlled crying/comforting. This is not good for babies or toddlers as they need you to respond when they cry, to help them feel safe.

Look after yourself

Caring for babies and young children is tiring and demands a great deal of tolerance, understanding and patience. Most parents say that their need for sleep in the early years is one of their greatest needs. Don’t be ashamed to ask for help from family and friends.

If you feel that you might hurt your child make sure they are in a safe place and leave until you have calmed down. Contact someone immediately if you feel unable to manage.

  • Ask for help from family and friends. 
  • Get some rest during the day.
  • Take a short break from parenting now and then.
  • Try to get some regular exercise.

You will get lots of advice. Some may be useful, but 'crying it out' and 'controlled crying' are not good for babies, toddlers or their parents.

Need more help?

South Australian parents

  • Parent Helpline 1300 364 100 any time, any day.
  • Child and family health nurse (C&FHS). There may be special groups for parents whose children are not sleeping well. 
    Phone 1300 733 606 9am–4.30pm Mon–Fri for an appointment
  • Booklet: the Women's and Children's Health Network (South Australia) has a book 'Settling Your Baby' offering practical hints for settling problems or sleep.

Raising Children's Network - Raising Children website is produced with the help of an extensive network including the Australian Government.

Parenting SA
A partnership between the Department for Education and the Women’s and Children’s Health Network South Australia.
For more Parent Easy Guides. 

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The information on this site should not be used as an alternative to professional care. If you have a particular problem, see a doctor, or ring the Parent Helpline on 1300 364 100 (local call cost from anywhere in South Australia).

This topic may use 'he' and 'she' in turn - please change to suit your child's sex.

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