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Getting Your Toddler to Sleep at Bedtime

Getting your one-year-old to go to bed is no easy task. Few self-respecting toddlers will go to bed without a fuss or a fight. Your child just has too much that she wants to do to welcome rest, no matter how reinvigorating it might prove. What's going on elsewhere around the house? Where are mommy and daddy? What am I missing? Such questions—even if not articulated—consume your toddler's feverish mind. That's why it's not at all uncommon for parents to use every trick in the book to try to get their toddler to go to sleep: rocking, cuddling, nursing, feeding, reading, singing, stories, sitting with, leaving, and punishing. And that's just in the first hour. Many parents then concede defeat, giving up until later. Of course, they'll just have to start all over then, again trying anything they can think of.


Never use your child's crib or bed as a place of punishment. Nothing destroys your child's comfort at sleeptime more than seeing the bed as a prison.

The younger you start encouraging your child to go to sleep by himself, the easier it will be. But when you finally decide that your child needs to learn how to go to sleep by himself, you may wonder about the best way to do it. Do you need to shut out your toddler entirely? Or should you stay with him every waking moment until he finally drops off to sleep?

Try to picture each of these scenarios from your toddler's point of view. Up until now, everything's been fine. Whenever he got tired, you would rock him, sing to him, feed him, and off he went. If he later woke up, you just came back to go through the same routine again. Then, suddenly—at least to your child, no matter how gradually it actually took you to come to this resolve—you decide that you've had enough of this routine. It's high time that your child learned how to go to sleep without you.

So what happens? One night, out of the blue, you nurse your baby or give him his bottle, say "good night," place him in his crib, and disappear. Naturally, your child will object. He may cry and cry, but you stick in the earplugs and remain firm in your commitment to let him "cry himself to sleep," no matter how long it takes.

Is this really fair to your child? Without warning, you've abandoned your toddler totally to his own devices. Do you think that it will be easier the next night if only you can stick to your guns tonight? It won't: Sleep will come to be something dangerous and frightening for your child. From the moment that you say, "good night" and stand up to put him in his crib, your baby will start screaming and clinging desperately to you. Will you entirely abandon your child again? Or will your resolve crumble on the second night—or if not, then on the fifth or twelfth?

The alternative extreme is almost as bad. Again, everything's fine until the night when you "suddenly" decide to put your child in his crib before he's fallen asleep. Because you don't want your child to be scared, you decide to stay with him until he falls asleep. Though your toddler may not be as scared as he would be if you left, he certainly won't like it either.

For your one-year-old, it must be torture for you to stay visible but out of reach: to be able to see you, but have you refuse his pleas to pick him up. You may not have "abandoned" your child, but all the same you have "rejected" him. If you let your toddler's crying sway you, if you decide to pick him up again—or maybe even give up for now and try again later—he now knows from experience that if he cries long and hard enough, he will get the relief he wants from you. Is this helping either one of you at all?

More on: Preschool


Excerpted from The Complete Idiot's Guide to Parenting a Preschooler and Toddler, Too © 1997 by Keith M. Boyd, M.D., and Kevin Osborn. All rights reserved including the right of reproduction in whole or in part in any form. Used by arrangement with Alpha Books, a member of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.

To order this book visit Amazon's web site or call 1-800-253-6476.

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