Advice On Sleep & Settling

Sleep consultants, Carolyn Van Balkom & Natelie Van Wickel, from Safe Sleep Space share tips and advice on sleep & settling for babies and toddlers.
Advice On Sleep & Settling Advice On Sleep & Settling


How much sleep should my baby have? How can I sleep my baby safely? How do I settle my baby and what are the tips and settling strategies? Getting little ones to sleep and stay asleep can be tough!  At Only About Children, we have partnered with Safe Sleep Space to provide sleep advice and tips to Only About Child parents.

See below common FAQs families asked at our recent Grow With Us virtual workshop hosted by Safe Sleep Space consultants:

My 1 year old is breast fed to sleep and doesn’t seem to respond to other settling techniques other than breastfeeding. When my partner picks him up to try and resettle, bub gets very upset and wants mum, how do you break this habit?

Answer: Safe Sleep Space Consultant: You can continue to use feeding to calm rather than to sleep. Often this time is about getting close to you so make sure you provide him with this opportunity for cuddles before bedtime. It can help to feed him in another room so that when you move him into his room you can give him a clear message that it’s sleep time or alternatively your husband could take your baby into the baby’s room to settle him. Creating some space between the feed and bedtime will help – a book or putting on his sleeping bag can help. I would also look at the timing of his naps/bedtime in case he is overtired and finding it hard to self-settle.

See our Safe Sleep Space Blog article on Common Sleep Associations and how to manage here.


Our 18 month old has only just transitioned to one nap. The issue is she only naps 1.5 hours and usually doesn’t settle back to sleep. As a result, she is absolutely overtired, she then does a split night where she wakes up and just won’t go back to sleep for a couple of hours.

Answer: Safe Sleep Space Consultant: An earlier bedtime if possible is the best approach to compensate for the lack of day sleep. If this isn’t possible then quiet time in the afternoon, low energy activity and into bed as early as possible.

See our Safe Sleep Space Blog article on how to transition from 2 naps to one here.


Can I please have some advice on helping the little ones to get back to sleep after having nightmares?

Answer: Safe Sleep Space Consultant: Firstly, is it a nightmare or night terror?

Night terrors occur in the first half of the night, the child may be standing, sitting, crying, eyes often open and can last for 40 minutes. They are usually inconsolable. Wait until the night terror has ended, make sure he is safe then guide back to bed if out of bed.

Nightmares occur in the 2nd half of the night – usually the child wakes fearful and upset. He needs comfort and reassurance first. Fears are very common around 2 years of age. You may need to stay with him until asleep providing him with reassurance with words or shushing, singing, patting.  Reassure your toddler that you will stay a while as they settle. When they are calm, find a reason to leave the room and RETURN. Your toddler will begin to trust brief separations if you are true to your word. This trust will help them develop the skill of drifting off to sleep while they wait for you.

See our Safe Sleep Space Blog article on nightmares and night terrors here.


Our nearly 2 year old is starting to mostly sleep through now (after some previous difficulties). He wakes up very early though – around 4.30am. Any advice on getting him to sleep in a bit longer? 

Answer: Safe Sleep Space Consultant: Early morning waking is very common.  Exposure to natural daylight helps the production of melatonin (sleepy hormone) to be released overnight. Melatonin stops being produced around 4am as the body prepares to wake. This is a lighter period of sleep which is normal. An earlier bedtime can help with early morning waking as overtiredness is often a common cause. If your 2 yr old is full of energy before bed at night they are saying they are overtired, melatonin can’t be released, the time they get off to sleep gets later and they go to bed tired which causes early wake ups.

The other thing to consider is your response to these early mornings. If he is crying go into him but give a clear message that its nighttime, just some shushing or “night night, no interaction and leave.  If he cries respond again with shushing or your method of choice, you may need to stay with him until asleep for the first few times if he is unable to cope.

Also check if he is a bit cold as the temperature drops at this time of the morning but still take care with overheating and use safe sleeping principles even at this age.

See our Safe Sleep Space Blog article on Tips for Common Toddler Sleep Problems here.


Our 19 month old still needs someone to hold her and rock her to sleep. We have tried just putting her in to her cot, but she cries. This is for both naps and overnight sleeps. Any tips on how to teach her how to sleep by herself? 

I would look at the timing of her day naps and bedtime. I wonder if she is slightly overtired and therefore requiring some more assistance to go to sleep. Monitor for early tired signs then into her room – toddlers of this age need time to wind down – create a consistent nap time/bedtime routine so she knows what to expect next. Toddlers find change really challenging and whilst she is learning a new way to go to sleep you may need to sit beside her patting her or the mattress, singing to her, even holding her hand and then gradually remove these props.

See our Safe Sleep Space Blog article on helping with Sleep Associations – Sleep Tips here.


My 15 month old always cries when we put her down in her cot. We do follow a routine consistently. Any tips for self-settling where she doesn’t cry herself to sleep?

Answer: Safe Sleep Space Consultant: I would look at the timing of her day naps and bedtime. I wonder if she is slightly overtired and therefore requiring some more assistance to go to sleep.

If not overtired, try the following steps:

1. Give your baby a signal that it’s nearly time for bed they’re now old enough to understand what this means.
2. Read a book together, get them into their pyjamas or sleeping bag.
3. If your baby cries during this preparation stage – it’s perfectly normal. It’s their way of anticipating and preparing for sleep.
4. Take a few deep breathes with your baby. Hold your baby close and gently rock with them in an upright position. Quietly tell your baby it’s time for sleep.
5. Once your baby is calm in your arms (not asleep), gently place them into their cot. Try not to hesitate even if you are worried that your baby will protest. Your baby will pick up on this hesitation.
6. If your baby remains calm, slowly move away, and give them the opportunity to drift to sleep.
7. Once out of eyesight from your baby, wait and listen. If they are not fussing or grizzling – give them a chance to get comfortable on their own. Like adults, babies also need time to settle.
8. If your baby cries out, wait, and listen to see if the crying tapers off. If it does respect their space and let them continue to manage on their own.
9. A loud forceful cry that continues for more than 3 cry outs means that they are not managing on their own and need your help. Comfort them with some shushing from the door. If they remain calm, continue for about 5 seconds, and then move away and give them a chance to drift off to sleep.
10. If they continue to cry, they may need more emotional support. Drop down low beside the cot, reach through the side rails, and place your hand on the mattress and begin patting and shushing. If your baby requires more comfort, try stroking their hair.
11. If your baby is still not calming, it’s time to pick your baby up. If your baby nuzzles into you and calms quickly, you may like to start the steps again.
12. If your baby continues to cry – this is your cue to end the settling for this time. Use your go-to settling strategies and attempt the above settling steps again at the next sleep time.

For more help see our Safe Sleep Space resources for parents here.


Our 12 month old can get to sleep in her cot at night, but on weekends when she isn’t at day care she’ll scream and won’t go down for the day nap unless we hold her. How can we get her to sleep in the day?

Answer: Safe Sleep Space Consultant: This is quite common for children in Child Care Settings (ECEC Settings).

Ask your Early Years’ Service Educators what her nap routine is when she is there – timings, what it involves etc and try to stick to the usual routine as best you can. If nap times vary too much on the weekends, she may be over tired and needing more support to go to sleep. Day care environments are generally very stimulating so provide stimulation – to tire her out.

For working parents, enforcing a naptime can be an especially tough limit to set – a bit of parental guilt often appears here.  If your daughter cries, go in to comfort her briefly—but don’t linger or take her out of the cot. Provide   shushing, singing. The approach you choose depends on her temperament and what you feel might work best for her. Again, ask day care how they calm her if she needs to be calmed whilst there.  Remember, this is a learning process and takes time.  The most important thing is consistency. Going in and picking her up one day, then letting her cry it out the next is not likely to work and will only confuse her.

See our Safe Sleep Space Blog article – sleep tips here.


What about when a toddler only wants 1 parent in particular and won’t let the other parent help/comfort/support the toddler at all?

Answer: Safe Sleep Space Consultant: Parent preference is a normal stage of development for babies, toddlers and preschoolers and it isn’t just about exerting control. At this stage, the frontal cortex is not yet fully developed, and they can only manage to focus on one relationship at a time. So, if you have been home all day with your child and your partner comes home, they can’t focus on both parents simultaneously.

You can also encourage connections with the other parent by stepping back a bit. For instance, if your toddler is insisting on one parent putting her shoes on and he or she is busy, you could say, “we can go to the park when you have your shoes on, Daddy (or Mummy) is busy, here let me help and you will be all ready when he’s finished doing (whatever).”

If your toddler has been breastfed to sleep or your toddler is usually in bed before your partner gets home, you can gently help your toddler accept changes by including your partner in parts of the bedtime routine or helping with naps during weekends.

If your toddler wakes in the night and needs comfort from one parent, this isn’t the time to insist the other parent will fix it. This is about your child’s security and sense of trust that his ‘comfort person’ is there for him when he is scared or hurt.


Our 2-year-old falls asleep in the cot with us sitting next to her holding her hand. Do you have any advice on how to take the next step and get her to fall asleep on her own without us in the room? When we try, she has a full on hysterical melt down. No matter how much explaining we do she just says no she wants us to stay.

Answer: Safe Sleep Space Consultant: Lengthy explanations are lost on a toddler. Moving from patting her hand to patting next to her hand, then the mattress, then slowly give a reason to leave the room then return to build up a sense of trust. Role playing in the day can also help – role playing the sleep routine. You could use a doll or teddy to role play a new routine. If her language is ok, she can explain the bedtime rules to her doll/teddy and then leave the room together and return to comfort teddy/doll.

See our Safe Sleep Space Article on How can I help my toddler feel good about sleep here.


Procrastinating is such a challenge for 3yr old – especially when they don’t entirely comprehend the concept of time and hurrying. Any tips?

Answer: Safe Sleep Space Consultant: Preparation is key. Plenty of timed warnings. In 3 minutes we are going to…… in 1 minute we are going to bed what is the last thing you need to do. This will give her plenty of warning that bedtime is coming and he will feel more in control.  Also be aware of the impact of screens on the production of melatonin making bedtime often very hard.


I’ve got a 2.5 and 3.5 year old sharing a room. They’re messing around together. Strategies to overcome this?

Answer: Safe Sleep Space Consultant: This is tricky as they have different sleep needs at this stage. The 2.5 year old is going to need to be in bed before the 3.5 yr old. If 2 parents are home I’d suggest 1 parent take the younger one into the room alone, have some quiet time ( books, cuddles) and into bed asleep before bringing the older one in. Maybe the older one could do books in the lounge with the other parent.

See our Safe Sleep Space Article on What to consider when moving your baby and toddler in together here.


Safe Sleep Space are a consultancy group specialising in gentle and effective sleep and settling solutions. They support our Only About Children team in developing our Sleep Policy. They also provide Educator training on safe sleep practises, sleep patterns and sleep requirements.

For more great reading:

How To Help Your Screaming Child

Child Developmental Milestones: A Checklist for Babies & Toddlers

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