Toddlers Need a Consistent Bedtime Routine
Is your toddler getting a good night’s sleep? Kids ages 1 to 3 need as much as 14 total hours of sleep each day (including naps) to stay healthy and feel their best. A set bedtime and a comforting, consistent nightly routine will help them get the rest their growing bodies need.
Toddlers are busy, curious and social. They may view going to bed as missing out on the action – especially if older siblings are still awake. So as bedtime nears, it helps to bring down the energy and noise levels in your home.
As much as possible, do the same routine every night, and don’t let it get too long. Your own calmness will help your toddler relax, so speak quietly and soothingly. Brush and floss teeth, and clean up with a washcloth or a bath. Put them into pajamas and a fresh diaper – or for those who are potty trained, have them go pee. Then read in bed or a comfy chair for a set length of time. A final, brief ritual will further ease them toward sleep, such as a whispered poem or prayer listing loved ones, topped by a kiss goodnight. The goal is to help your child relax enough to fall asleep on their own, not to stay with them until they nod off.
Does your child get out of bed? Other than one drink of water or a final pee, don’t fall for the stall. Quietly and calmly usher them back to bed, but don’t engage in conversation or provide any other payoff for their stalling. Be boring.
All caretakers should follow the same, calming routine. Be sure they understand that playing, tickling or silliness before bed will excite your child, and may result in an over-tired meltdown.
Good nutrition, exercise, time outdoors – plus little or no screen time – all help a child sleep better. A white-noise machine or air purifier will block out sounds in your home, including others coming to bed in a shared bedroom.
Some toddlers slide easily into a deep slumber, while others fight it or have trouble staying asleep. If your child can’t fall asleep or often wakes during the night, your healthcare provider can rule out physical problems and offer some advice.
Read Sleep Hygiene for Children (PDF) to learn more.
Preventing TV and Furniture Tip-Overs
There has been a 31% increase in TV–tip-over injuries in the past decade – mostly among kids age 5 or younger. Every 45 minutes in the U.S., a falling TV sends a child to the emergency room. Every 3 weeks, a child dies from these injuries.
You can prevent a tragedy. Mount flat-screen TVs to the wall and anchor furniture like bookshelves, cabinets and dressers to the wall. (Deep old-style TVs should be placed on low, sturdy surfaces.) General retail stores and hardware stores carry special mounts, brackets and straps that are simple to install.
Don’t allow a child of any age to climb up on furniture, and be sure grandparents and other caregivers secure their own TVs and furniture.
Treating a Cold
Healthy children average six colds a year. For kids under 6, avoid any over-the-counter cough and cold medicines. For those older than 1, a half-teaspoon of honey can help a cough. Cough drops are OK for ages 6 and older, but follow the dosing directions.
For a fever, if your child is over 3 months and is uncomfortable, give acetaminophen (Tylenol). At 6 months, you can give acetaminophen or ibuprofen (Motrin). Give the right dose based on your child’s weight, using the measuring tool that comes with the medicine.
For a stuffy nose, try saline nose drops or spray, or a cool mist humidifier in the bedroom. Have your child rest and drink lots of fluids. Warm water or apple juice can help thin the mucus and relax their airway.
Teach them to cough and sneeze into their elbow, use tissues for a runny nose, and wash their hands often. When should you call the doctor? For infants under 3 months, call if they have a cold and a fever. For older kids, follow your instincts: if they don’t look or seem right, call.
Visit our symptom checker to learn more about treating colds and when to take your child to the doctor.
Kids Must Have Critical Water Skills to Avoid Drowning
Drowning is a leading cause of unintentional death among children of all ages. All kids should know how to swim, plus have additional skills to save themselves from drowning. For parents themselves, it's never too late to learn to swim or improve your skills.
There are critical in-water safety skills everyone should have. They are the ability to:
- Step or jump into water that's over your head
- Return to the surface and float or tread water for one minute
- Turn around in a full circle
- Swim 25 yards; and
- Exit the water (if in a pool, exit without using a swim ladder)
The American Red Cross has found that among adult swimmers, only 56% can perform these five critical in-water safety skills. And among parents of kids ages 4–17, only 40% say their child can perform all five skills. So even if you and your child can already swim, it's crucial to learn these extra skills.
Make sure your child understands how swimming in a pool is a lot different from swimming in open water such as lakes, rivers and the ocean. In open water, swimmers must be aware of sudden drop-offs, objects below the surface, currents, ocean undertow and sudden weather changes. Normally confident pool swimmers may panic in open water where they can't see the bottom, and where there's no nearby edge or shallow area.
Kids must always be closely supervised whenever they swim. And if the situation calls for life jackets, be sure kids and adults alike wear them and keep them fastened.
Visit our section on drowning prevention and water safety to learn more.
Kids must have healthy bowel movements (BMs) to feel their best. Daily BMs without strain or pain are the goal. Most kids can avoid constipation by drinking lots of water, eating plenty of fiber (fruits, vegetables and whole grains), and limiting foods that can cause constipation such as cheese (or too many dairy products), bananas, white flour or white rice.
As kids grow up, parents naturally become less aware of their child’s BMs. So be sure your child lets you know if they are having pain or not voiding enough. If there’s a problem, take them to see their doctor. Your child may need medicine or other treatment.
Be Prepared for Emergencies
The best way to cope with a disaster is to be prepared. Your child can help! When kids know what to do and have practiced for an emergency, they are better able to deal with disaster when it strikes. Let them help you shop for and gather emergency supplies such as flashlights, batteries, a radio, food and water. Discuss your family’s escape plan, draw a map with two escape routes from each room in your home, and agree where to meet in case you are separated. Teach your child how and when to call 911, and be sure they know your out-of-state contact’s full name and phone number, in case local phone services aren’t working.
Check out Seattle Mama Doc for more on preparing for emergencies.
Nutrition, Supplements and Vitamin D
Healthy kids who eat a variety of nutritious foods generally don’t need to take multivitamins or other supplements, with one big exception: vitamin D. Vitamin D is crucial for strong, healthy bones – but almost no one gets enough vitamin D from sun exposure alone, especially when practicing great sun protection using sunscreen. For this reason, infants should get 400 international units (IU) of supplemental vitamin D each day, and kids over age 1 should get 600 IU daily. However, if your child has underlying health problems that affect their nutrition, or has a restrictive or selective diet such as veganism, their doctor may recommend a multivitamin or another supplement.
Visit Seattle Mama Doc to learn more about multivitamins and children.