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Toddler Bedtime Struggles

A Patch parent recounts her toddler's bedtime struggles and how she used positive parenting techniques to resolve the issue.

Recently, I (Rebecca) met a Patch reader named Jessica who was having a bedtime issue with her toddler. I gave her my number and told her to call if she needed to troubleshoot. That weekend she called me explaining that they were not having much success with getting him to go to bed and stay happily in his bed. 

Here is her story:

“I cannot thank you enough for the changes that have occurred in my home since that brief phone conversation with you a few weeks ago. 

"I met Rebecca a few weeks ago at a doula gathering and in hearing about what she does for a living, I asked her about the sleep problems that we have with our two-and-a-half year old son. Before implementing Rebecca's suggestions, this is what our evenings with Ethan looked like for almost six months.

"We'd give him a bath at a random time each night mostly whenever we felt he was tired or we were tired and needed to get him to bed. We sometimes read to him and sometimes not and occasionally played lullabies to him. We would lie down in his bed with him, and he would want to play with us. If we tried to leave his bed, he'd beg us to stay. When we finally left the room, usually out of frustration because lying down with him wasn't working as far as putting him to sleep, he'd beg us to leave the door open. We'd tell him that we'd leave the door open only as long as he stays in his bed.

"He'd inevitably break the one thing we asked of him and come out of his room.  We'd then put him back in his bed and close the door, which resulted in him crying and screaming. We'd listen to this for 10 or 15 minutes in the hope that he'd eventually fall asleep. Then we'd feel sorry for him and give him another chance with the door open. By that time, he would have cried a puddle of tears onto the floor and look all puffy-eyed. We'd leave the door open again using the same threat of closed door if the child leaves the bed. And, the child would leave the bed, and the whole cycle would start over.

"Closed door, crying, open door, leave the room, closed door, crying...this would go on every night for one to two hours and he eventually would cry himself to sleep on the floor by the door. Sometimes he would not fall asleep until 11 p.m. Needless to say, we were all losing our mind!

"Rebecca advised us to prepare him in advance, by telling him of the new routine over and over again throughout the day, that you plan on implementing these changes. All the while explaining that you love him very much and this will help him to feel good in the morning, to have gotten a good night sleep.

"At Rebecca's suggestion, we implemented a new bedtime routine:

  • Bath at about the same time every night, usually between 7 and 7:30 p.m.
  • 1-3 stories read to our son, usually the same ones
  • We do not get into his bed, but rather sit at his bedside. If he wants to cuddle, he can be in our lap at story time
  • We leave the same CD with the same lullabies playing every night when we leave the room
  • We got him this really nice night light so that he wouldn't be afraid of the dark with the door closed
  • And, the biggest change, we close the door from the get go and leave it closed rather than using closed door as punishment

"The first night: He begged me to get into his bed at story time, I held strong and sat next to his bed. He begged me to leave the door open when I left, I explained to him that he will sleep much better with the door closed. I had to go back in many times and return the crying child to his bed, tell him that I love him and that it's bed time, good night...about every 15 minutes. Two very difficult hours later, he fell asleep in his bed.

"The second night: He really pulled on my heart strings when he looked broken hearted that I didn't get into his bed at story time and like he was just going to die when I told him that I'm going to close the door. I explained to him that he had two choices: He could cry and make himself miserable or he could play with his teddy until he felt tired and then put his head on his pillow and go to sleep. He kept trying to pull me into his bed and told me how much he loves me over and over again. He was so cute and clingy that it took every ounce of my strength to pull myself away and close the door. He cried for 30 seconds and then a miracle happened.....SILENCE! He had tested me and I had passed the test, and he fell asleep in his bed again. I was sure that this was a fluke and would never happen again, but...

"By the third night: There was no more crying, less begging as he grew to accept this new bedtime routine. Now weeks later, he happily says 'good night' and 'I love you' as we leave the room. By 8 or 8:30 p.m. every night, my husband and I are home free. 

"We are all so happy and grateful to Rebecca of Parent Sense for having helped us implement a peaceful bedtime routine that works. The peaceful evenings in our house are simply priceless!”

We welcome you to share your story. If you have questions about this topic or any other, contact us at: parentsense@theparentsense.com or visit www.theparentsense.com.

(Editor's Note: The opinions in this article are those of Parent Sense, Inc. The opinions are not medical advice. Always consult your pediatrician about any changes you are contemplating.)

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