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Getting our 3-Year-Old Back to Good Sleep… In 9 (Not Easy) Steps

Yesterday, I wrote about how we found ourselves struggling with sleep with Cee. We knew it was time to make a change, and we knew this meant asking Cee to fall asleep on her own at night, without one of us sitting in her room with her. This was not exactly a new thing for her; until the last 6 months, she’d been falling asleep on her own since she was a baby. Still, given how things had gone lately, this was a big change for all of us.

I want to share how we approached this transition, but I don’t believe this is a magic formula by any means. I don’t think there are easy answers to parenting challenges like these, and what works well in one family might be a flop in another. I am proud of how we thought this through and put a plan into action, and it has seriously given our entire family (Cee included) more happiness around bedtime. Here’s what we did.

1. Husband and I did this together. All of this would have been much harder without his help. He is great at staying calm in stressful situations, which has a calming effect on Cee, and he is thoughtful and empathetic. We also recognize that our relationships with Cee are different. He’s the more fun parent; he’s more lenient with Cee in many ways but is also very good at setting rock solid boundaries when it is important. I’m still the parent that she turns to when she needs comfort. This often means a sweet hug or snuggle session, but it can also mean being on the receiving end of a bunch of messy emotions. Cee and I also tend to end up in power struggles more often, something I’m working on. Because of these differences, Husband was the parent who initially sat down to talk with Cee about bedtime changes. We also made sure he’d be around at bedtime for the first few days (he often works evenings and nights, so this isn’t always the case), so that we could take turns and he could take over if needed.

The importance of a strong parenting partnership has been shown in the research. A recent study from Doug Teti’s Penn State lab found that one of the greatest predictors of high maternal emotional availability at bedtime (discussed in my last post) was the quality of coparenting, even when dads weren’t directly involved with bedtime.

2. We told Cee about the change. We told Cee that it was time for her to start falling asleep on her own again and that we wouldn’t be sitting in her chair anymore. We didn’t dwell on trying to explain why, because we didn’t want her to feel like this change was a punishment for previous bedtime behavior. We didn’t emphasize that big girls go to sleep on their own, because that might have made her wonder if being a big girl was really such a great thing. We simply told her that she used to fall asleep on her own, and we were going to help her do that again.

3. We asked Cee to help us make a new plan for bedtime. “How do you think we can help you with bedtime now that we won’t be sitting in your chair?” Husband asked. She replied, “You can sit in my chair.” And so he offered some ideas. Would it help if we checked on her after we said goodnight? Yes, she thought that would help. We also talked about giving Cee a few minutes of solo reading time in her bed after we said goodnight. I thought this would help her enjoy time alone in her room before we turned out the lights. She said she liked that idea, too. Otherwise, her bedtime routine stayed the same: potty, pajamas, teeth, book, snuggle and “busy day,” and then 4 kisses (cheek, butterfly, nosey, cheek) goodnight. (The reading plan only lasted for a few days. On the third day, Cee said she was just ready to go to sleep. Still, I think having it as an option helped; it was novel and built a little positive excitement around saying goodnight.)

4. We took a couple of days to prepare for the change. On a Monday, we told Cee that we would sit in her chair for two more nights (and naps), and then it would be time for her to fall asleep on her own. Over these two days, we reminded Cee several times that this change was coming and talked through her new routine.

5. We followed through. On Wednesday morning, Cee was sent home from daycare with a fever. As soon as I felt her forehead, I thought to myself that we’d probably need to postpone our sleep changes. Sleep experts always advise not to make big changes when a child is sick, and I think this is generally really good advice. But as I settled myself in her chair at nap time that afternoon, Cee said sleepily from her bed, “Is tonight the night that I will fall asleep on my own?”

She was telling me that she was ready. “That’s right,” I said, “this is the last time I will sit in your chair.”

“Hmmm…” Cee replied, and then she fell asleep.

By the evening, her fever was down, and she was comfortable. She fell asleep on her own that night within minutes and with no protest. The next morning, we congratulated her on her restful night of sleep. She protested more on the 2nd and 3rd nights, but I think that first night gave us all a little more confidence. Of course, I wouldn’t recommend that you plan to make changes to your sleep routine when your child is sick, but in this case, Cee was clearly ready, and postponing it might have made the whole thing seem open to negotiation.

6. We normalized Cee’s emotions. Even before implementing our new bedtime routine, I talked with Cee about how she was feeling about it, hoping that I could help her process some of her emotions ahead of time.

“I don’t like it,” she said.

“I know it will feel different and that it might be hard for you at first, but I also know that you can do it,” I told her.

“Do you think you will cry when we aren’t sitting in your chair at night anymore?” I asked.

She thought about this and said she wasn’t sure. I let her know that it would be okay to cry, that we understood that she might be upset, but that it wouldn’t change the plan because this was normal and to be expected. When Cee did cry for a few minutes during that first week, Husband told her that she was doing a great job staying in her bed, that it was normal to be upset, and that he cried when he was frustrated and sad as a kid, too. That seemed to help Cee a lot.

7. We set firm boundaries, but we also stayed supportive. For a few nights, Cee got out of her bed and came out of her room after bedtime. We reminded her that she needed to stay in her bedroom, walked her back to bed, and told her that we’d check on her again in a few minutes. When she did this several times, I told her that if she was having a hard time staying in her room on her own, then I would have to hold her door shut to be sure that she did. This was the hard part, but I knew this had to be a firm boundary. Of course, she tested it, and when I held her door shut, she cried. I told her that I’d come check on her again when she was in her bed, and then I let her be mad about it for as long as she needed. After a few minutes, she climbed back into bed, and I came in to tuck her in again. I helped her wipe away her tears, acknowledged that she’d been really upset, and told her that it would feel good to rest now. This happened a few times with me, but it didn’t happen with Husband at all. We both stayed firm about the rule that Cee needed to stay in her room, and we followed through with checking on her, as promised. Ultimately, I think Cee feels safer having clear expectations about staying in her bed, and this allows her to shift gears towards accepting restful sleep rather than fighting it.

8. We kept it up. We went on vacation a week after making these changes (again something that sleep experts don’t recommend). Cee was doing great at home, but I worried about whether we would be able to keep our boundaries in a different place. But we carried on with this as the plan. We brought a night-light and Cee’s cozy travel tent so that we could set up a nice bedtime atmosphere. We told her we’d be in the next room and that we’d check on her while she fell asleep. And she did just great.

A consistent bedtime routine kept us on track, even while we traveled.

9. We created lots of opportunities for connection before, during, and after our change. I know that it is easier for Cee to cope with a change like this when she feels really secure in our relationship. Parenting educator Andrea Nair uses the term “attachment tank” to describe the strength of connection and attachment between a parent and child. This image is really helpful to me, because it recognizes that sometimes our tanks get low, and the answer to that is more connection, more one-on-one time together. I’ve been working on trying to find more moments of undivided attention with Cee throughout the day, but it also helps me to build this into routines. One that we’ve tried these last few weeks is a Pajama Walk. After Cee is ready for bed, with her pajamas on and teeth brushed, we take a little walk around the neighborhood or sometimes just down to the end of our longish driveway and back (a 10-minute adventure at Cee’s pace). This is a time for us to talk about our day, check to see if the wild blackberries are ripe yet, enjoy some fresh air, and wind down. When we’re walking together, the distractions melt away, and we can really listen to each other without time constraints or outside agendas. We haven’t pulled this off every night (sometimes, it’s just too late), but it’s really lovely when we do, and it sets the tone for an easy bedtime. (I can’t remember where I read about this idea – maybe here?)

After all of these changes, bedtime is going really well. The moments leading up to saying goodnight are sweeter, because we’re not bracing ourselves for a struggle. After the first few nights, Cee hasn’t protested falling asleep on her own. We still check on her every 5-10 minutes after we say goodnight, but she often falls asleep by the first or second check. Sometimes she lies in bed and talks or sings to herself for a while, and that’s fine. When I was sitting in her chair at night, I would often hush her in my impatience, but now she has the freedom to wind down in her own way, and I have the freedom to do something else during this time. She’s getting more sleep and seems to be better rested and more resilient during the day, and we’re seeing fewer meltdowns at bedtime. There will no doubt be more sleep challenges to come, but I have a renewed sense of confidence in Cee’s sleep and our family’s expectations around it.

Have you made big changes with sleep with your toddler or preschooler? How have you helped your child adapt to the change?

37 Comments
  1. I think kids respond to changes bettet if we help them become emotionally ready. We use the same process when it comes to dinner, playtime, studytime. We inform them ahead that “in 30 minutes we’re going to do this or that”. Works better that “we have to leave now”.

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    July 30, 2014
  2. Ann #

    I’m so glad things worked out for you and your family! Your struggles with Cee’s sleep and your way of looking at studies and extrapolating personal methods have been really inspiring (this method was especially helpful in looking at the literature in an effort to solve my oversupply problem which no lactation consultants seemed capable of dealing with).

    Anyway, I’m really confused by the idea of emotional availability, and am now, quite frankly, freaking out about it and using this vague term to blame myself for the hellacious 10 months me an my family are still going through. We have a 14 month old who Will. Not. Sleep. He falls asleep just fine, really well in fact, but he will NOT stay asleep no matter what we do. We’ve tried CIO probably a dozen times (one time we let him cry from 2-6 am). We were flunked by a sleep consultant. My husband and I have fought and fought and fought. And so now I read this study and of course I am blaming myself entirely for the 5-8 night wakings we sometimes average and it feels awful. So what is emotional availability? Is it snuggles? Nursing? Reading a book? Vowing to stay off the iPhone from 6 pm onward? My husband does the entire bedtime routine in our house, does emotional availability mean that that’s wrong? Is this why we’re in such a place of hell? Sorry for so many questions, but I haven’t had a good nights sleep in 14 months and I’m truly desperate.

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    July 30, 2014
    • Nicky #

      There could be an underlying physical reason he isn’t sleeping, too. My oldest boy started snoring as a toddler and slept poorly and was cranky all the time. We did a sleep study and he didn’t have sleep apnea. We visited and allergist, and it turned out that he is allergic to dust mites, which irritate his nose/throat and cause snoring. As soon as we covered his bed and pillows he slept well and stopped the hours of daily tantrums.

      Good luck, I know it’s hard to deal with poor sleep!!

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      July 30, 2014
    • Oh Ann, I don’t think you should be freaked about emotional availability. There are so many factors impacting a child’s sleep, many of which are out of your control. I’m mobile now and will write more later, but please don’t blame yourself.

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      July 30, 2014
    • mt #

      Oh, after 14 months, you must be desperate, and I’m sure the sleep deprivation is exacerbating your self-doubt, but echoing Alice, please don’t blame yourself! I thought I’d chime in here, because we were in the same boat at 7 months: our son actually fell asleep independently, in his own room, without a fuss. But he would. not. stay. asleep; he’d wake, 2 or 3 times in the night (or more!), then be up at 5:30am for good. Irritable, depressed, demoralized, and just plain exhausted, we decided to make a change.

      First, we tried “gentle” sleep training techniques and tried to night-wean. This blew up in our faces because we weren’t responding consistently, and he actually started waking up *more*. That’s when we took a deep breath and decided to do the “cold turkey” approach. (You said you tried CIO…but as I think Alice mentioned elsewhere, that can mean many things depending on who you ask. For us, it meant not responding during the night, period. One thing we had been unsure of was…how many nights we should let this go on. We took some comfort from Dr. Craig Canipari’s blog–if I remember correctly, he said many parents give up (i.e. declare sleep training a failure) after 2 or so nights, ironically, just before they’re about to see some results. Our experience: we had 2 horrendous nights with lots of crying, and me holding my pillow over my face, also crying, thinking I was a failure, my son would never trust me, etc., etc. The third night, our son cried for a grand total of 5 min., and then it was over–he was sleeping full nights. And he was a much more cheerful baby during the day. And my husband and I snapped at each other less. Because we were all getting rest.

      As for emotional availability, I don’t think there’s a one-size-fits-all formula. For us, it means honoring our son with lots of one-on-one time while setting limits with love (which, by the way, is a heck of a lot easier to do on a good night’s sleep!). Before the sleep training, we gave our son lots of cuddles and a luxuriously extended bedtime routine, complete with bath and massage. We told him we loved him and supported him, and that nighttime is for sleeping. We knew that he could self-soothe (after all, he initially fell asleep on his own)–he just needed to do it in the night, too.

      Caveats for all of the above: I’m no doctor and 7 months is a whole different ballgame than 14 months. I just thought I’d share my experience. Also, it might not hurt to consult a physician and at least ask about apnea. Take care and good luck!

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      July 30, 2014
      • ann #

        Thanks MT and everyone else! I feel that I must mention that we live in New York City, in an apartment building and that we share a room with our son. We’ve been trying to move him out to the living room in a travel crib (after we go to sleep, he falls asleep in our room) for awhile now, but he still wakes up. And the neighbors are starting to complain about his crying. I guess if I thought we could do three-nights of sleep training and have that be the end of it we would go down that route again (we have tried, and like I said, we were flunked by a “gentle” sleep coach who said “I’m not sure there’s much more I can do for you until he starts walking” (that was her theory on why he wouldn’t sleep)). But yeah, that might be where we’re at, again.

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        July 30, 2014
        • AEM #

          Ann, I’ve so been there. My now 3.5 yo was super super hard to get to sleeping well. It may be a silver bullet like others have described, but for us it really was more of a litany of smaller things. First learning to fall asleep, then learning to expect less soothing at wake-ups, finishing teething, then learning that we expected her not to wake up at all, then taking away her nap … it was a very very long road, and who knows if we’re done or not. We tried a multitude of different things, including CIO in various guises, fading methods, you name it. Some of it helped, but none of it solved her problems. I’d like to point out two things that have been key for us.

          First, find a way to get some sleep, we took turns, one night me, next night Husband, there’re lots of ways to do this, but I really think that it makes it much easier to work on baby’s sleep when you’re not so exhausted you can’t think. Not to mention how much easier it is to work together when you’re not snapping at each other. Maybe you’ll need ear plugs or to take turns sleeping in your room with baby and in the living room alone?

          Second, think about how strict your daytime routine is and how much sleeping he’s doing during the day. With our daughter she really needs a very consistent daytime sleep and exercise routine, along with a long wind-down process to sleep well. And well for her is 10 hours in 24, not 12+ like some of her friends her age still sleep.

          Last, this is really really really not your fault!!! And, it will get better, it really will. For us the first step up was around 16 months just after she FINALLY pushed through her molars. At around a year I thought we were doing everything wrong, she was never going to sleep well, and we’d all just go insane, but whether it was the things we did or just her maturing she does now sleep reasonably well, and was down to one or two wakings with rapid re-settling from us by 18 months.

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          July 30, 2014
        • mt #

          The 1-bedroom apartment thing is hard if you’re not co-sleeping. We were actually in the same situation, too. Is there any nook that you can curtain off with some floor-to ceiling drapes or well-ventilated closet (you could even curtain that off too if you don’t want to shut a closet door) that you can turn into a baby’s “room” or at least his own sleeping space? We actually turned our entryway vestibule into our son’s crib room. It was a little awkward (and definitely funny when people came to our place for the first time), but it was the only place in our light-filled apartment that we could get really dark. It ended up working out really well in the end. Anyway, there might be some place in your apt that you’d never imagine as a bedroom or don’t want to “give up” (I was very anti-vestibule at first, but my husband convinced me to try, and he was right). Having one permanent place where your baby goes to sleep (and stays) might help you along through this difficult process.

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          July 30, 2014
        • Christina #

          Hang in there! My son is almost 3, and while we’ve had periods of “good” sleep – with a month or two of him only waking once or twice a night – the rest of that time has been multiple wake ups until I was sometimes worried I was losing my mind! I wasn’t comfortable doing CIO, but otherwise tried everything I could think of or read, while of course still trying to keep the bedtime routine consistent!
          I think the most important consideration is what effect this has on your son and your family as a whole. In my case, my son was happy and healthy and a ray of sunshine all day long; he was also a really good napper. So I didn’t worry about him suffering from lack of sleep – I just had to figure out how to keep myself from going crazy, as with my husband’s work schedule, most of the bedtime duties fell to me. When I felt like my energy and patience were really dwindling, I would nap when he napped, or go to sleep at the same time as him, or draft my husband into bedtime or night waking duty, or do whatever I needed to do to keep my sense of humour and some semblance of my sanity.
          After 2, he just started being able to sleep better. I think being able to communicate with us better helps; he understands the bedtime routine and can be more of an active participant in it. Now, of course, after several months of pretty stress-free bedtime and not many night wakings, we’ve got nighttime potty training messing things up a bit (literally!) but still it’s leaps and bounds better than when he was 14 months.
          Sorry I don’t have a magic solution, but it really will get better, and it is not your “fault”!

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          July 30, 2014
        • Dear Ann, I’m so very sorry that you’re going through this. It sounds SO difficult, and I know that being exhausted makes it hard to plan or think very clearly about what to do. There have been some great suggestions here, and I hope they help or at least help you to see that you’re not alone – and it will get better. One question – is your son falling asleep on his own at the beginning of the night? It wasn’t clear from your comment – if not, then that’s the first thing to work on, even if you keep responding to his wakings throughout the night for a while. If he is, then I second MT’s suggestion of making a dedicated sleeping space for your baby where he stays throughout the night. Otherwise it might be confusing him (and causing him to wake up) to be falling asleep in one place and waking up in another. Finally, you didn’t mention if cosleeping is an option for you. If it is, it might be worth considering so that you can stay in bed when your baby wakes up – you may get a little more sleep. Some moms say cosleeping saves them. (I’m not one of them; I just can’t sleep well with a baby next to me!) It could be something that you do for a while, even if it is just a survival technique so that you can get a little more rest, regroup, and make a new plan when you’re ready. And definitely talk with your pediatrician about sleep if you haven’t, as there may be a medical reason. (I feel like you’ve probably heard all of this advice or tried it before, but I’m just throwing some thoughts out there for you.)

          As to your question about emotional availability, I also agree with MT that there’s no formula to it. I’m going to copy and paste a section of Teti’s 2010 paper here so that you can see how they actually measure it. It is a useful concept to me because it reminds me that what is important to the baby is not so much WHAT you do at bedtime as it is HOW you do it. The key is finding a routine and sleep expectations that allow you to be that emotionally available parent at bedtime – and yes, dad can do it just as well as mom, even though this study focused on moms. Here’s the section (EA is emotional availability):

          “Because to date no studies have examined parents’ EA
          during child bedtimes, some consideration had to be given
          to how EA should be assessed in a context in which parents’
          goals are actually not to engage the infant in play (which is
          more typically how the EAS has been used), but to disengage
          from the infant (i.e., to prepare the infant to go to sleep
          and, in most cases, separate from attachment figures). We
          took into consideration whether infants and parents shared
          the same room at night. For infants who shared the same
          room as their parents, the coding of EA was straightforward:
          Maternal sensitivity was high when mothers were affectively
          attuned to their infants, demonstrated a clear awareness
          of infant cues, interpreted them accurately, and responded
          contingently and appropriately. Structuring was
          rated highly when mothers prepared their infants for bed
          using positive, quiet, soothing bedtime routines that gently
          guided infant toward sleep. Mothers were judged nonintrusive
          when they showed recognition of their infants’ need for
          sleep by not initiating new interactions with the infant and
          avoiding high-volume, intrusive talk with their infants or
          other family members. Finally, mothers were judged to be
          nonhostile when they showed no overt or covert irritability
          or anger toward the infant at any point during bedtime.
          Among families whose infants slept in their own rooms, EA
          was coded very similarly, with some minor modifications
          because, in these families, the parents’ goal was to encourage
          their infants to fall asleep on their own, in the parents’
          absence. Having infants learn to fall sleep in separate rooms
          from parents is normative in the United States (McCoy et
          al., 2004), and thus we did not “penalize” mothers if (1) they
          did not respond to nondistressed infant vocalizations after
          the infant was put down to sleep, and (2) mothers delayed
          slightly (for 1 min or less) before responding to distressed
          infant cries. If the infant continued crying for longer than 1
          min without a maternal response, however, the mother
          received a lower sensitivity score.

          Phew, longest comment ever! A couple more things to remember about these studies. First, they’re only looking at these families for a few nights, so they didn’t capture brief periods of sleep training where parents were intentionally not responding to cries. And second, and this is really important, it is very difficult in these kinds of studies to separate chicken from egg. Maybe the parents with better emotional availability raise better sleepers, OR maybe the parents with naturally easier sleepers have an easier time staying emotionally available. If you’re exhausted and sleep is a constant battle, then it’s really hard to be EA. You can do your best to make changes for better routines, but a lot of sleep is also a crapshoot, and your son’s issues may have nothing to do with EA. So, please don’t blame yourself. You’re doing a very difficult thing here. Hang in there, and good luck. I want to give you a hug:)

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          July 30, 2014
          • ann #

            Hi everyone,

            You have no idea how much your sweet and helpful comments have helped! Knowing I’m not alone is a HUGE help. All of my friends’ babies are good sleepers and I feel really isolated and a little judged. I can’t take one more comment along the lines of “Well why don’t you just do x or x or x” as if we haven’t tried that.

            To answer some of the questions posed above:
            – he does fall asleep on his own, and quite well (except for a few nights as each new tooth pushes through, we’re in molar-town right now) for the most part.

            – the layout of our apartment sucks. Sucks I tell you! When you enter you go either straight into the kitchen or the living room, then the bedroom is off the living room, and the bathroom is off the bedroom. And there are no doors, except for the bathroom. So, there’s really nowhere for us to hide (or hide him) other than the bedroom. To use the bathroom we go down to our building’s basement laundry room. It is disgusting and I hate it. I cannot wait to move.

            – We do co-sleep a little, but only on really bad nights. It’s hard because he’s one of those toddlers they make cartoons about. He’s happiest sleeping perpendicular to both of us, kicking my husband’s back and headbutting me in the sternum.

            – He’s a pretty decent napper (most of the time). We’re considering taking him down to one nap now, because his late nap is creeping later and later and he has occasionally skipped it to no ill affect.

            – As Christina notes above about her son, E is a ray of sunshine. He is the happiest, smiliest, most engaging little boy! Walking down the street or taking the subway is almost comical because people just adore him. He looks like a little angel with huge blue eyes and the most perfect curls, and the personality to go along with it … until midnight. It’s so Jekyll and Hyde. (ps – I’d love to know if any of the other kids who have had sleep problems were born in the daytime or induced (both are true for E) and for some reason I suspect both those things as being part of the problem).

            Now here’s the big reveal, and I think this is what is meant by emotional availability means: Our bedtime routine sucks. SUCKS. My husband gets home pretty late (6:30-7 on a good day), and he pretty much insists on playing with E once he’s home. He really winds him up some days, wrestling, running around, being total goofballs. E loves it! But, I’m beginning to think this might be part of the problem. He’s a really hard little guy to get to chill out. He’s not a snuggler or cuddler. He’s very wriggly and just wants to go go go all the time. So I think it’s time to rethink how we handle evenings. I’m going to devise a new plan that is much lower key and try to get my husband on board with it.

            This parenting thing is no joke! I never fully appreciated how damn hard it is. Thank you all SO MUCH for taking the time out of your own difficulties to help us out. It is very much like getting a big virtual hug, and I appreciate it SO MUCH. Thank you.

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            July 31, 2014
  3. branston pickle #

    This was very interesting, and I am wondering how to apply any of it. My otherwise happy and secure 3.5yo has NEVER been able to fall asleep on her own, and NEVER slept through the night. She can’t even be alone in a room during the day — if I go to pee, she follows me. When she was in a crib, we just had to get up a lot and comfort her. Once she was in her own bed, she would just come running into our room multiple times a night. I honestly don’t even think she’s really awake or aware (my brother sleepwalked loads when he was young). Our only solution is for one of us to stay in bed with her all night long (she only sleeps about 8hrs, so we’re zonked and can easily fall asleep with her), but she still wakes up snd sits up several times, and falls back asleep instantly once we pat her. I don’t even know where to begin, since a) she can’t be alone AT ALL when awake and b) I don’t think she’s really conscious and would be able to remember something like “stay in your bed” when she wakes up. 😦

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    July 30, 2014
    • Wow, I wouldn’t know where to begin either, and I don’t feel qualified at all to offer advice. Maybe other readers have some experience with this kind of situation?

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      July 30, 2014
      • We had some sleep walking and night terrors when our son was 2. It was due to a) not getting enough sleep and b) low ferritin level – that has to do with iron and requires a full blood draw to check – should be above 50.

        From what I understand, these are two of the most common reasons kids sleep walk and have night terrors. He is now on an iron supplement and as long as I can get him good naps, we have good night sleep without these issues.

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        July 31, 2014
        • AEM #

          When we taught our daughter to fall asleep on her own the first few nights we were out of the room it was literally for a few seconds (I think we started at 15 sec). We then built up from there. Also I think Dr Sears suggests peak-a-boo as a way to help babies with that kind of insecurity, I wonder if something similar would work for you? It sure sounds like a hard situation, good luck!!

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          July 31, 2014
  4. I’m about to make a big change. This is the first time with my 6 and 3year old that we’ve had a sleep problem, but I recently read a post from… forgive me if I dont remember who… about a very serious bedtime issue. They solved it like this: At a designated time in the evening, the kids were put in their jammies, brushed their teeth, hair, bathed, whatever, and put in their room. They were told that they could play quietly in their rooms (read a book, color,etc) until THEY felt tired and then come out and mom and dad would tuck them in.
    It worked (for them) like a charm, and their kids started putting themselves to bed earlier and earlier, instead of fighting to stay up later and later.

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    July 30, 2014
  5. Emily M #

    This is perfect timing. Thank you! My two year old recently transitioned to a toddler bed since he climbed out of the crib. The last three nights it has taken 2.5 hours for him to go to sleep, and he finally goes to bed at 9pm when the sun is setting then he is up again at 5am. We’ve tried staying in his room but it isn’t helping. When we aren’t in his room he just plays (even though we took out all toys). He’s not verbal enough to tell us what he needs to help him sleep. Any thoughts on what we can do to support him without creating bad habits?

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    July 30, 2014
  6. tgw #

    I like the plan laid out in this post, but I wonder if anyone has any recommendations for implementing something like this when kids share a room. One of our children has problems both falling and staying asleep, but when we try to implement this type of thing, she then engages her sister, resulting in them both not getting enough sleep. Suggestions?

    Like

    July 30, 2014
    • Funny, I’ve sometimes lamented that I wish Cee had a sibling to share a room with – thinking that might help her – but I can see how it can be difficult for this reason, too. Maybe other readers have some suggestions?

      Like

      July 30, 2014
  7. Liz #

    Thank you for this post! My three-year-old has always gone to sleep with someone in the room, often with someone cuddling him. Not a huge problem for us, but it takes so long for him to fall asleep at night that it would be nice to change the habit at some point. I really like the way you’ve laid out your steps. I especially love the tip about talking to your child about the plan and not making it a “big girl” thing.

    What are your thoughts on having the child fall asleep on his/her own at night, but with a parent in the room for nap? We’ve encountered some nap resistance and so I’m reluctant to leave my son alone to (not) fall asleep at naptime, but I wonder if that would make it harder for him to fall asleep on his own at night.

    Like

    July 30, 2014
    • Our experience with this was that it was easier to have the same routine and expectations both nap and night. We WERE having more nap resistance when we were sitting in her room. Now that she falls asleep on her own, she’s doing much better and taking great naps again.

      Like

      July 30, 2014
      • Liz #

        Just the insight I was looking for – thank you! Now to convince myself to give up the cuddle time 🙂

        Like

        July 30, 2014
  8. Sharon M #

    Well, after reading this I wish we had been more persistent with my 5 year old daughter. She has a twin brother who sleeps wonderfully in his own room. However my daughter started having panic attacks at bed time to the point of vomiting. So we started staying with her until she would fall asleep. Gradually she would take longer and longer to fall asleep, then she would wake up within 30 minutes of going to sleep only to start the cycle again. She would insist we hold her hand. After many nights of lost sleep we started letting her come into our room and sleeping on the floor next to us. That worked for about 2 months, then the same thing started happening and she ended up in our bed. Of course our son became jealous and he wanted in on the “sleep overs”. So now, my husband goes to bed with both kids in our bed at their bedtime and when I am ready for bed I go and get my daughter and the two of us sleep in the quest room. I really miss my bed and being with my husband. We just don’t know how to get her in her own room and sleeping on her own, let alone falling asleep by herself.

    Like

    July 31, 2014
  9. mum of a threenager #

    We recently had similar bedtime issue with our 3yr old (4 in Nov) and I think (fingers crossed) we have it in hand now. She isn’t ready for us to leave the room straight away after story-time just yet so our compromise is that we sit for 5 mins (strictly only 5) and then leave the room while she is still awake. We explain clearly each night what will happen and it has made a huge difference for us all! There is also zero tolerance of excuses after that. If she calls me back and starts with an excuse, “I don’t wan’t to go to bed”, “I’m not tired”, “I’m too hot/too cold” etc we simply say goodnight and leave the room. I’m amazed that she has picked up straight away that we just won’t engage with her attempts to distract us. Most times she tries once and that’s it.

    However we are still having a problem with her waking 2 to 3 times or more during the night. She wakes up and becomes quite upset. When we go to her (we have explained to her that she needs to stay in her bed and it mostly works) she tells us that she doesn’t want to go to bed. We tell her we understand but that’s it’s time for sleep now and she generally settles down again straight away which is good but it still means broken sleep for us all. How do we deal with this effectively? It’s gotten to the point that when she sleeps straight through it is a novelty for us!

    Like

    July 31, 2014
  10. mt #

    I just want to say that I love this post, and I think these tips could be useful for all kinds of parenting “resets” (we all need them from time to time!) and preparation for big changes (a move, new school, etc.). There’s a great balance here of including a child’s input and respecting her emotions while at the same time setting some really firm limits. While saying no or denying a child’s immediate desires is never fun, giving in all the time doesn’t necessarily make everyone happy, either. I like how you show that it is possible to navigate out of habits/routines that just kind of grow up organically when parents find them unsatisfactory. I think lots of parents feel that once a routine is established, because they “let” it happen, this is the way it HAS to be and they all have to live with it. That is absolutely not the case, nor is it the case that switching gears need be a draconian top-down process…happy bedtimes/sleeping to you all!

    Like

    August 1, 2014
  11. Alice thanks again for sharing your personal journey. As you point out, the solution to every family’s sleep challenges are individual. I love the positive yet firm approach you took, as well as how you made everything so predictable for Cee–you included her in the planning process, told her when things would change, and did not get derailed with other issues (illness, vacation, intervened. Congrats and enjoy those extra few hours in the evening.

    (Also, thanks to you and MT above for the kind words).

    Like

    August 4, 2014
  12. Hi, our daughter is a terrible sleeper: she has only rarely slept through for 9 hours since her birth. We are a multilingual family and follow one person-one language rule. I speak to her in Turkish, her dad speaks to her in German. At the daycare she only hears Catalan. My husband and I communicate in English, but we never talked to our daughter in English, so she only hears it passively. This lately started to be a problem around the dinner table: she clearly does not understand us and starts throwing around food to get our attention…

    I searched for some information on whether multilingual exposure is linked to sleep/behavioral problems in toddlers–but I could not find anything. Any thoughts? I am suspicious that my daughter has to process a lot of different information, which may prevent her from shutting down her thoughts and going to sleep… But this is just a lay-man’s hypothesis. What do you think?

    Like

    August 5, 2014
    • maggie #

      My friends have a now 4 year old with the same multi-lingual exposure (5 different languages in his life) and no sleep issues. You mention the attention issue; that might be indepenent of the language issue. Maybe she is just a high cuddle needs child?

      Like

      August 6, 2014
      • Maybe. She only goes to sleep if one of us stays in her room, and holds her hand until she sleeps. I don’t know any other family in our situation, so I wasn’t really sure whether multilingual exposure is a problem or not. Many thanks for your insights.

        Like

        August 6, 2014
  13. Lily #

    Hi! I originally found your blog while googling infant self-soothing. I loved all your research on infant sleep, and found it very helpful (and reassuring) while I was bouncing my own baby to sleep. He’s now 6 months old and fully sleep trained, and truly much better rested and happier than he was when he was dependent on us to get him to sleep. My question for you is how do you plan on getting your second baby off to a good start sleep-wise? Are you going to put baby down awake from day one? In all my research to help my little guy sleep better, I found mixed messages about an infant’s ability to put himself to sleep. Some people claim every newborn is born able to put himself to sleep while others say to do everything in your power to help the baby and then sleep train at 4/6 months. And there is even a middle of the road approach that some babies can self-sooth from birth and some need some help (but to avoid props). I have loved the Baby Whisperer books, and the author seems to take the middle approach with the idea that we can teach our babies to sleep by putting them down swaddled at the optimal time and, if necessary, shhhhh’ing in their ear and patting them until they’re asleep, with the idea that eventually they won’t need this help. What do you think? How are you going to approach sleep with #2? Also, on a related note, I have heard a lot of push-back against the “back to sleep” campaign. I am convinced that babies sleep better on their tummies, and after really digging into the SIDs research, I am just not convinced that putting baby down on his tummy from day 1 increases his risk of SIDs by much at all. With all the sleep troubles, flat heads, and slowed development that come with sleeping babies on their backs, I am 100% committed to sleeping my #2 (eventually…) on his tummy. Anyways, just wanted to thank you for your previous research on infant sleep and see what you are thinking about #2. Thanks!

    Like

    August 26, 2014
  14. Jass #

    Hi
    I have read many of your articles on sleep training. Do you recommend using CIO for 3 month old.

    Like

    August 29, 2014
  15. We are trying out a plan based on this. We started by talking about it a few days ago and tonight was the start. I’m sitting watching my almost 3 year old now reading books in her bed with the light on. This was after about ten times of me escorting her back to bed after she came out of the room crying, turning off the light, and eventually holding the door closed, along with calming her down a few times when the crying was so hard. I’m worried she is going to stay awake for a long time (an hour or more) reading with the light on before trying to come out again and then the process starting over again. Any suggestions?

    Like

    April 10, 2015
    • I would set a limit on the reading time. If that helps her wind down and feel comfortable in her room, maybe that can be part of her routine. Eventually you have to have a firm limit about her staying in her room to go to sleep though. Trust me, I know that’s the hardest part! Have you tried sitting outside her door so she can hear you, maybe singing or talking softly to her periodically so that she knows you’re close, at least for the first few nights?

      Like

      April 10, 2015
      • Sharon #

        Hi I’m hoping you can help me. My son is almost 3 and has had sleep difficulties from a young age, but lately it’s getting worse. I have explained to him he needs to go to sleep on his own, but at bedtime he cries hysterically unless I lie down next to him. He likes to play with my hair and I am not having lick breaking that habit of sleep crutch. He then wakes up in the middle of the night multiple times crying hysterically and it takes a very long time to slithe him back to sleep. Any suggestions? I tried having my husband or older kids put him to bed and he keeps crying until I come.

        Like

        January 25, 2016
  16. That’s so great that Cee was able to remember the change and encourage you to make the Wednesday change.

    One of my girl, Georgia, was easy to put to bed. Katie, on the other hand, thought sleep was the worst thing ever invented and would fight me tooth and nail. I ended up reading this blog – http://blog.childrenofamerica.com/?p=367 and we created a very colorful “bedtime to-do” list and eventually she didn’t mind going to sleep. She liked being in charge of what happened next: story, then teeth brushing, then bath? Sure! So long as you go to bed at the right time, whatever!

    Like

    July 27, 2015

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