Question: My toddler has great sleep-time delay tactics — needing her blanket, reading one more book, a trip to the potty and wanting one more kiss. How do I help her learn to fall asleep alone?
Answer: Sleep time can be very stressful. There are many reasons why a toddler may try to delay sleep.
From their perspective it may be difficult to fall asleep from the stress of being alone, especially compounded if they can hear others are having fun in the house.
For some children, this is the only time of day that they have a parent’s undivided attention.
If this is the case, try to spend more one-on-one time with her during the day so her needs aren’t so intense at bedtime.
A consistent bedtime routine with specific rituals is important to enlist your toddler’s co-operation and help her feel secure.
If your child seems especially clingy at bedtime, one way to help her is to tell her the story of her day so that she can process the emotional ups and downs and “let them go.”
Once your toddler is closer to 3, you can begin setting limits at bedtime by telling her how many stories you will read before you start and anticipate her needs: Before she gets into bed, let her get her toys in order and perhaps choose a soft toy to sleep with, place a lidded cup of water within her reach (juice is not good for tiny teeth) and, before you settle down to read, ask her, “what is the one last thing you need to do before stories?” Help your child stay in bed until she is sleepy by sitting in her room with her.
If you have things you need to do or you are moving to the next stage of helping your child get to sleep by herself (she will need to be close to 3 or older before this will work), you could tell her that you will check on her in five minutes. It is important to keep this promise so she relaxes, knowing you will be back soon.
As you check on her, give her a kiss and leave again for another five minutes.
If she gets up, try not to yell or you will wake her up even more. Simply take her by the hand, lead her back to bed and tuck her back in. Then, in a calm voice, tell her you will check on her in five minutes (or sit with her until she is settled before leaving her for the next five-minute period).
Consistency is key. Even for young children habits take more than a day or two to establish.
Jocelyn Debick is the Children's Services Associate Director at accessAbilities. She is the mother of three children, ages 17, 15 and 12.