When my daughter was a baby, she was the best sleeper. We never had the stereotypical newborn-sleep drama. Camille would easily sleep for six-hour stretches. In fact, her pediatrician recommended that we’d wake her regularly to feed her. It was great while it lasted, but at this point, it seems as if her toddler sleep drama is making up for the wonderful newborn sleep routine that we once had.
Just to be perfectly honest, this post is a result of me conducting research of sleep experts with the purpose of teaching my own toddler to sleep alone. Parent-to-parent, the struggle is really real. With that said, my family has not achieved this feat yet, and I am not a sleep expert by any means. I am simply a parent sharing resources as I find them. So let’s dig in.
Assess Your Toddler’s Sleep Associations
Sleep associations are routines and practices that your child will grow to expect each time it’s time for bed. Some examples of sleep associations include bedtime stories, bathtime, or sleeping with a pacifier or bottle. Some sleep associations are positive and can help to foster independent and well-rounded children. On the flip side, other sleep associations can create issues that can be hard to break. Assess each component of your child’s current bedtime routine. Make a list as to which sleep associations you want to keep, and the ones that need to be broken.
How to Fix Negative Sleep Association
After you’ve determined the habits that need to be altered, the next step is deciding what habits will replace the negative ones. After carefully determining a revised bedtime routine, the most important thing is to execute it consistently. The habits that you are working to break did not happen overnight, and you won’t fix them overnight either. Although you most likely did not intend to contribute to this problem, know that you most likely did. Be patient with your little one as they try and make big adjustments to a delicate part of their toddler experience.
How to Get Your Toddler to Sleep Alone
Nighttime is when scary shadows morph into monsters, and little people can feel abandoned when left alone in their rooms. It makes sense that they want comfort when trying to get to bed, and what better comfort than the comfort of their parents? It’s easy to see why they want you to be a part of their bedtime routine, but they most likely don’t understand why you can’t sleep with them every day or spend hours sometimes trying to help them to get to sleep.
Helping your toddler to sleep alone can be challenging. The earlier that you improve their bedtime routine, the better. Have a family meeting to discuss why the changes in their bedtime routine are needed and what they should expect.
To fulfill their desire to be around you as they drift to sleep, give them at least five high-quality minutes. If you currently sleep in their bed, perhaps the five minutes of cuddling can start there. After your designated cuddling time, quietly say good night and leave. If you’re reading this, your little one is most likely not going to be okay with this. Don’t worry – I got you! Calmly explain that you are going to sit in another part of the room and you’ll be there if they need you. However, they also need to be aware that you fully expect them to stay in their bed. After transitioning to another spot in the room, eventually, reduce the time that you stay in the room by increments of five. Jo and I are going to start with 20 minutes with the end goal being leaving the room once the five minutes of cuddling is up.
As I’m sure you know, toddlers are the masters at testing limits, so be consistent and firm with your expectations. Realistically, the first few times that you leave the bedroom, your toddler is likely to get out of bed and follow you time and time again. Your response should not be a big deal at all – even if you are beginning to get frustrated. The best technique for this is the silent return. Silently and calmly pick up your little one and just return them to their bed. The first few times this is going to be tough because they will test the limits, but calmly let them know that you mean business.
Their sleeping habits did not form overnight and so restructuring a sleep routine will take time too. Be calm, be patient, and above all, be consistent. Over time the new bedtime routine will become a habit.
I’m excited to share how our journey to revise Camille’s bedtime routine will go. Like I stated before, we haven’t fully mastered this, but I feel confident that it will all work out. All the best!! You got this!
Parenting is hard work. Let’s figure it out together!