Mission: Getting Toddler to Fall Asleep On His Own – The Chronicles Begin
A common dilemma that many parents face is how to get their child to fall asleep on his/her own. It is easy to get a child using to needing a parent by his side in order to fall asleep. It is difficult to get the child out of this habit.
Dependence on the parents for falling asleep evolves from an early age. When the child is young, parents generally want to give their children a feeling of security. We feel that our children may need us by their sides in order to feel safe. Or, the child may genuinely want the parents by his side, and the parents give in, because they do not want their child to feel abandoned. In some cases, children get used to falling asleep while being carried or having their back stroked.
Efforts to break sleep dependence habits are difficult and may be prone to failure, because they are met with strong resistance from the kids, usually in the form of crying and screaming. It is really hard for parents to leave a screaming child alone to sleep. As parents we do not want to give our children the feeling that we are abandoning them.
I can totally understand this, because I am in the same situation. Smarty Pants does not fall asleep at night unless we are lying by his side. We have tried many times to stop this sleep dependence, but never had the heart, or the energy, to go through more than one night of the crying we faced when leaving him alone in his bed.
We always took the approach of saying goodnight, leaving the room, and going back into the room periodically to reassure him. He would cry and scream endlessly. It was trying and exhausting for all of us. Eventually, he would fall asleep, but more out of exhaustion than anything else. The next night we would be reluctant to go through the same all over again. We figured, “What’s the big deal anyways? As long as he falls asleep fairly quickly, there is no big loss in lying by his side for a bit while he nods off. It is certainly more relaxing than going through those screaming sessions!”
Now that we have a second child, and Smarty Pants is two and a half, it is becoming more and more important to us that he learns to fall asleep by himself. It is an important skill, and he needs to know and learn that he is totally safe, secure and able to fall asleep without us by his side. He is also now old enough to understand that we love him and are there for him, even if we leave the room after putting him to bed.
What are we going to do?…
We are going to try again. But this time we don’t want to take the “cold turkey” approach that we have in the past. It is really too exhausting, and his will is stronger than ours with this. Also, he is in a big-boy bed, not a crib, so, if we leave him alone, he can easily climb out of his bed, open his bedroom door, and come hunt us down in tears. Carrying him back to bed every two minutes is not my idea of a fun evening.
So instead, we are going to try a gradual approach. We read about this approach in a book called “Supernanny” by Jo Frost. We think it could work for us, as it is gradual and specially geared toward toddlers.
The gist of the approach is that you do your bedtime routine and ritual, and at the end of the routine, rather than staying in the bed or leaving the room, you sit on the floor next to the bed. You don’t make any body contact with the child, and only tell the child to “Sleep” if she tries to talk to you. You do this until the child falls asleep, and continue to do this every night. The trick is that with each successive night you move farther from the bed and closer to the door. Eventually, you get to the point where you are sitting by the door, and then soon after, outside the open bedroom door. Then you start to slowly close the bedroom door, again, more and more each night.
This approach sounds like it could take awhile, especially if the bed is far from the door and the room is really big. In our case, his room is not so big, so we are willing to give it a shot and see how long it takes. I will chronicle our progress here, night for night, to see if it works, and just how many nights it takes. Follow along with us throught this real, live, test of the Supernanny approach! It will be an eductional experience for all of us!
Stay tuned for Night 1 – The Beginning.
Flickr photo courtesy of thejbird
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