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Getting Your Toddler to Sleep at Bedtime

The Sleep Solution

The ultimate solution to the problem of getting your toddler to go to sleep on her own involves a compromise between these two extremes. Leave the room, but come back periodically. You're not abandoning or rejecting your child (though she may still feel you are). You're simply leaving for a while, but are available to come back if really needed. When your baby cries (you know that she will), come back, perhaps settle her back down in her crib, say "good night" again, and then leave immediately. Keep contact short and avoid cuddling, rocking, or any of the comforts you once used to get your child to sleep.

You need to send a clear and firm message that playtime is over and rest time has begun. If your child continues to cry—as she no doubt will for at least several nights—return every few minutes just to reassure her that you're still within earshot. Or promise your toddler that you'll check on her every five (or seven or ten) minutes until she falls asleep. If you do, make sure to keep your promise. Your child needs the security of knowing that you are close by and that she can depend on you. But she really doesn't need you to pick her up to receive that reassurance. Again, just say "good night" and leave. Don't try to joke your baby out of her tears. Don't pick her up to comfort her either (unless she becomes so hysterical that she has difficulty breathing—and even then, first try to pat her back and calm her without picking her up). Be a bore: Do the same thing in the same way every time you come back into your child's room.

When you leave your toddler's room, try not to maintain total silence to "help" her get to sleep. This may actually do your child a disservice, making her hypersensitive to any things that go bump in the night. More important in terms of the goal at hand, if your child hears you cleaning up or walking around in a nearby room, she will be comforted by knowing exactly where you are as she drifts into unconsciousness, however unwillingly. (It may help to let your child know where you are going and what you will be doing when you leave the room.)

If you decide to try this compromise method, keep these suggested guidelines in mind:

  • Never stay away for more than five minutes if your toddler is still crying. Indeed, if your child is very upset, visit as frequently as once a minute.
  • Never stay for more than the minute it takes to resettle your child and repeat that quick "good night." Ignore her if she pops back up to her feet again.
  • If your child is used to going to sleep in the dark, try to avoid turning the lights on when you go into her room. Don't do anything to disturb the monotony of your routine.
  • Never take your child back out of the crib unless her diaper is dirty, she has vomited, or the bed is on fire.

If you maintain your resolve, bedtime should become much more peaceful for both of you within a week or two. Until this becomes the established bedtime routine, however, you can ruin it in a single night. If you leave your child to cry for too long or pick her up and then try again later, you'll have to start the "weaning" process all over again from the beginning.



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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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