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Baby Hates Crib
Q: My son refuses to sleep in his crib. He is 19 months old and we have tried letting him cry for twenty minute intervals and have gone in after the first five then waited, unsuccessfully, for him to go sleep on his own. We made the mistake that many parents do of bringing him into our bed since my husband and I both work full time and we are exhausted at the end of the day. Any suggestions to how we get our son to realize that he is to sleep in his crib? We thought about purchasing a bed, but he has not attempted to get of his crib. Thank you.
A: It's very difficult, as you have stated in your letter, for your son to self-calm himself to sleep without your being present. He has learned that if he screams loudly and for long enough that you will come get him. I do understand that for two exhausted people, just letting him go to sleep with you seems the only way you'll get any sleep. Unfortunately you are not doing your son or yourselves any favors by sending him these mixed messages.
If you can prepare yourselves for a period of time (a week is usually sufficient for most kids his age) where you will expect not to sleep as well or as long as you'd like, then you will have a very good chance of turning this habit around.
Go through all the regular nighttime rituals that help him prepare peacefully for sleep; if he doesn't have a transitional object (blanket, toy, etc.) that he associates with sleeping, you may wish to cultivate a "sleep buddy" for him. Prepare him for his new sleeptime routine by talking to him and showing him what's going to happen. Do this during the daytime and pretend it's sleeptime. Putting him through these brief dress rehearsals and then pretending like he has slept through the night in his own crib and you're coming to get him in the morning (excited and full of praise, of course) will dramatically prepare him for what's coming.
Put him down in his crib, calmly saying you'll sit by his crib for a few minutes while he gets sleepy and ready to have a great night's sleep. Don't let him actually go to sleep while you're there because that reinforces then notion that you need to be there in order for him to get to sleep. When he cries to get out, wait 5 minutes, go in and pat his back, sit down a little farther away from him for a little shorter period of time, and leave before he falls asleep. Do not pick him up or let him fall asleep in your arms while rocking him, etc.. Continue this for as long as it takes him to drop off to sleep. Resist bringing him into your bed and take turns going into his room. If you need more techniques, consult Dr. Richard Ferber's books. Good luck.
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Carleton Kendrick has been in private practice as a family therapist and has worked as a consultant for more than 20 years. He has conducted parenting seminars on topics ranging from how to discipline toddlers to how to stay connected with teenagers. Kendrick has appeared as an expert on national broadcast media such as CBS, Fox Television Network, Cable News Network, CNBC, PBS, and National Public Radio. In addition, he's been quoted in the New York Times, Washington Post, Chicago Tribune, Boston Globe, USA Today, Reader's Digest, BusinessWeek, Good Housekeeping, Woman's Day, and many other publications.