It can be difficult enough getting your toddler to sleep well when you’re at home. Getting her to sleep at all when you’re camping is another challenge. Don’t let this stop you from going camping and spending quality time as a family.
Let’s look at some of the things you can do when camping with toddlers to make sure you all get a good night sleep.
1 – Get Them Excited About Sleeping in a Tent
Before your camping trip, build up the excitement of sleeping in a tent. If possible set your tent up in the backyard a week or so before your planned trip. Let your toddler sleep there for a few days with you, starting slowly with naps and working up to at least a couple of nights. Make it a fun experience and let your child know that soon you’ll be doing the same on your trip.
2 – Don’t Skip Naps
If your toddler is napping at home, she’ll do better at nighttime sleeping if she keeps up with her naps while camping. Naps may conflict with your camping plans, interrupting hiking and swimming in the lake. But if possible, enforce the nap rule. Routine is key when getting your toddler to sleep at night. Make naps a time for you to relax as well, either with a good book or your own nap in the shade.
3 – Wear Them Out
One of the best things you can do to increase your chances of getting your toddler to fall asleep, and stay asleep through the night, is wear her out during the day. Keep her as active as you can – playing, swimming, and running around the campsite. The more tired your child is, the better she’ll sleep.
4 – Darken the Inside of the Tent
Even if your toddler is easy to get to sleep at home, camping and sleeping in a tent may prove to be more difficult. One of the first obstacles of camping is that, unless you’re camping in early spring or fall, the sun will be up early and set late. That’s a lot of light in your tent.
If your child is used to sleeping in the dark you may find she has a hard time closing her eyes if it’s too light outside. Bring along a large blanket that you can drape outside over the tent area where your toddler is sleeping.
5 – Keep Your Nighttime Routine
Try to duplicate on your camping trip what you do at home. Bring your toddlers favorite items to sleep with, such as her security blanket and favorite stuffed toy. You don’t need to bring everything, just one or two of the items your child is used to falling asleep with.
If you tell a story before bedtime, or sing to your toddler, do the same when camping. The same goes for a nightlight. If your child is used to falling asleep at home with her little nightlight glowing, you’ll want to bring one with you to light up the tent. You can buy battery operated lights that will work nicely, providing your child another familiar bedtime routine. These ones from Lumipets are nice, because not only are they battery operated, but they come in different animal shapes. Otherwise you can expect that if your nighttime routine is different in the tent, your child will probably be out of sorts and unable to sleep well.
Hopefully, your toddler won’t wake up during the night. But be prepared if it does happen. Your child may wake at home but be in familiar surroundings so able to get herself back to sleep. When waking in a tent, she may be frightened, regardless if you’re right there beside her. Do the same things you would do at home to get her back to sleep – singing, getting her a drink, snuggling.
6 – Stick to Your Bedtime Schedule
If bedtime at home is 8 pm, stick to the same time when camping. It may be tempting to let your toddler stay up with the rest of you, sitting by the fire and roasting marshmallows late into the night. But staying up late doesn’t guarantee your child will sleep in any later the next day, so you can forget about sleeping in.
Toddlers seem to have an internal clock that wakes them at that same time every morning. So regardless of the time you get your toddler to sleep, she’ll most likely be waking you up early, at the same time she does every day, ready to start another day of fun. Letting toddlers stay up past their bedtime will usually result in a grumpy child the next day.
7 – Help Them Fall Asleep
Now that you’ve got your toddler in the tent and ready for sleep, how do you keep her there, so she falls asleep? Children often don’t sleep well if anything is different about where they’re sleeping, and it may take a while for her to feel safe enough to sleep on her own. Get your toddler tucked into her sleeping bag and lay down with her. Wait until she’s fast asleep before leaving the tent. If you leave before your toddler is asleep, she may just think it’s okay to start playing again.
Bring along some new books or small toys if you don’t want to stay in the tent with your toddler until she’s asleep. Tell her you’re going to leave her to read or play quietly, but that she then must go to sleep. This may backfire on you, and your toddler may just decide this is an opportunity to stay awake indefinitely.
8 – Make Sure They’re Warm Enough
Weather conditions are always changing when you’re camping. If your toddler is too hot or too cold, her sleep is going to be disturbed. And if your child doesn’t sleep well, neither does anyone else. Check the weather forecast before heading out on your camping trip and pack accordingly. Always bring enough blankets and clothing. If your child gets too warm at night you can always remove layers, but adding a blanket or sweater is impossible if you didn’t pack along extra.
Some good clothing options for keeping your toddler warm include:
- Footed flannel pajamas
- Long underwear
- Bunting bag for toddlers under the age of 18 months
- Hats, mittens, and socks
Bring extra hats, mittens, and socks so you’re not without if you misplace the one hat you packed.
If you’re camping in colder weather, consider getting an insulated sleeping bag to keep your toddler nice and toasty at night. Take along a couple of extra smaller warm blankets. These are ideal for putting into the sleeping bag with you toddler, and easy to remove if she gets too hot when sleeping.
9 – Keep The Tent Cool on Warmer Days
Keeping your toddler cool when sleeping in a hot tent can be just as tricky as staying warm. The first thing you can do is set up the tent in an area where there will be shade during the hottest part of the day. If this isn’t possible, be sure to keep the tent door and windows closed against the heat.
Try keeping the tent as dark as you can during the day so it’s cooler inside when it’s time to put your toddler to sleep. As soon as it feels like the temperature is cooling off, open the tent door and windows to let a breeze of cooler air drift through the tent.
10 – Reduce or Replace Nighttime Camping Noise
Children get used to sleeping with the same noises around them, or no noise at all. If your toddler usually falls asleep in a quiet room, the sounds of a campsite at night may keep her from falling asleep. Try choosing a campsite that’s away from the camp entrance, restroom, and picnic areas. Also try to get a site where you don’t have any noisy neighbors, although you might not be able to avoid this.
If you don’t have any choice about location, one thing you can do to make nighttime quieter for your toddler is to buy a white noise machine. These machines are portable and small, easy to pack in with all your camping gear. White noise will drown out the noisy activity of a campsite.
White noise machines are fairly inexpensive, but if you see yourself using one at home as well, it might be worth investing in a nice one, like this sound machine from Hatch Baby, that doubles as a night light and can be controlled from your phone.
If your child doesn’t fall asleep with a white noise machine at home, consider trying it out at home for at least a week so it’s familiar to her.
11 – Keep Them in the Tent
Once your toddler is asleep, even though you’re right there on the other side of the tent, plan on checking in on her a couple of times. At least on the first night, just to be sure she’s comfortable and secure. You probably don’t need to worry about waking your child as you peek into the tent – once asleep, most toddlers will sleep through anything.
Perhaps the biggest concern about camping with your toddler is having her wake up in the middle of the night and leaving the tent. Even if you’re a light sleeper, after a day in the outdoors you may be more tired than you are at home. It’s possible that you won’t hear your toddler if she wakes up and decides to check out the campsite at 3 am. Once everyone is in the tent for the night, you can attach a bell to the bottom of the tent door zipper. This way if your child attempts to unzip the door, the bell can be your alarm to wake.
You can also consider setting up your sleeping bag in front of the tent door. If your toddler tries to escape, you’ll wake up when she’s climbing up and over you.
Armed with all this sleep information, you and your toddler are ready to take on the great outdoors. Expect the unexpected when it comes to sleeping in a tent with your child. No matter what happens, have fun as you and your family make some great memories.