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Help! My Toddler Won't Sleep Without Me

Parenting coach Susan provides these tired parents a solution to reclaim the marriage bed without using the "cry-it-out" method.

Dear Susan,

I work from home and my husband works and goes to graduate school.  My son is 18 months old is a ball of energy.  He does nap but only if I rock him to sleep. This goes for bedtime too, but he always sneaks into our bed at night after we're asleep.  I'm too tired to fight it so I just let him stay.  To top it all off, I'm 6 months pregnant with my 2nd child.  I need sleep but I don't believe in letting my son "cry it out" either.  Can you help?

Congratulations on your 2nd child.  I know it's exciting and exhausting.  It sounds as if you and your husband are burning the candle at both ends.  I understand that your current situation may be temporary but nonetheless, you need a solution NOW.  I think I can help.  

Consider the following scenario:  You are asleep but wake in the middle of the night (we all do this several times each night) and quickly notice that something is wrong.  You cannot find your pillow.  What do you do?  Do you go back to sleep right away?  Or, do you start feeling around the bed for your pillow, then start earnestly looking for it, and asking your husband if he knows where it is.  Soon, you may even turn on the lights, waking others in the house to find your pillow just so you can go back to sleep.  

Now consider your son.  Isn't he doing the same thing?  

What I'm saying is, you are you're son's pillow.  Here's how to stop being your son's pillow and get some sleep:

Tell your son that now that he's a big boy, his bedtime routine will be (insert your typical routine here) and end with a short cuddle time (reading, talking, kisses and hugs).  Sometimes a simple chart with pictures of each part of the routine is helpful.  When you are ready to leave his room, tell him that he is going to stay in his bed all night.  Do this for nap time as well.  

When your son wakes in the middle of the night, gently take him by the arm, put him in his bed and quietly say "night night."  Do not cuddle or talk to him.  Repeat for as many times as he wakes up, each time he wakes up.  Do not explain anything, simply repeat the behavior for as long as it takes.  I recommend that parents start this treatment on a Friday and typically, the child will be trained by Monday or Tuesday.  However, please know that YOUR behavior is most important. You must be consistent (and gentle) with this or it will not work.  And, the less consistent you are, the longer it will take for this to work.

Good luck and please let me know how it goes!

Susan

susan@ParentCoachAtlanta.com

www.ParentCoachAtlanta.com

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D Ebaugh July 03, 2012 at 08:19 PM
...and then the 18 mo old pops out of bed screaming and wailing and NOBODY gets any sleep. #reallife
Decaturette July 03, 2012 at 11:02 PM
Yeah, thats what always happened to us no matter what method we tried. We went days, weeks, months, maybe years with no rest due to our smugness about how children should learn to sleep alone. When our second was expected, we bought a king size bed and changed the rules--anyone welcome to join the party as long as they SLEPT. We felt less righteous but more rested. (No fluffing bedding, smoking, or alcohol allowed and everyone was thin at the time so it was relatively safe.)
Erin Perry August 19, 2013 at 02:53 PM
Exactly- how do you get them to stay in the bed or the room without you. we have been going on 4 weeks now. and she just cries and runs out of the room to us. sitting beside her the first time isn't bad at night, it's the constant waking and not going back to sleep on her own. she was such a good sleeper until 4 weeks ago (switch to big girl bed), but even going to a playpen at our trailer, i have to "watch" her until she falls asleep.

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