Tuesday, February 7th, 2006
HOW TO: get your toddler to sleep without a fuss
This isn’t so much a “how to” as it is “a method which worked for me.” I’d love to hear what has worked for you.
We have wanted nothing more than to get Little Miss to fall asleep without the required presence of a parent. At almost 20 months we are finally there.
Background: Our home is cribless. From birth to eight months, Miss slept in an Amby Baby hammock, in her own room after the first month. At eight months she moved to a twin mattress sitting on her floor. She sleeps with the door closed because — without a crib — she could get up and walk around the house.
- Take a bath or shower.
- Put on pajamas.
- Breast feed.
- Brush teeth.
- Read one or two books on her bed.
- Mom or Dad stay in the room until Little Miss falls asleep, usually 30 minutes to an hour later. I lie on the floor in the middle of the room, or next to the bed letting her hold my index finger.
- If she hears me leave the room, or I wake her up when closing the door, she wails and the whole ordeal starts again. She must fall asleep with a parent in the room.
Enough is Enough: One night, about three weeks ago, we decided we would get Little Miss comfortable sleeping by herself. I handled bedtime exclusively to get her used to someone besides Mom putting her to sleep (without breast milk). In other words, to pave the way for babysitters.
1. First Night: I sit outside her doorway — with the door open — and wait. Miss sits up in her bed and cries for a good 30 minutes, but I remain calm because she can see me and I know she is safe. Every 5 or 10 minutes I remind her to lie down, stay in bed and go to sleep. I am really lucky she doesn’t try leaving her mattress. She eventually puts her head down and lets sleep take her.
2. Second Night: Miss cries for 10 minutes before deciding to sleep. When she cries, I verbally comfort her a little, but mostly I let her cry. When she asks for “Mama,” I tell her Mama has gone to sleep.
3. Third Night: I sit at the foot of my bed in my bedroom — directly across the hall from Little Miss. She can see the light in my room, know I am in there, but not see me. She tries everything to entice me into the room. She calls for “Mama!” She calls for “Papa!” She yells, “Book!” She
The poo trick is a good one because I am compelled to enter the room once to check her diaper. After that, I listen to President Bush (Youtube.com video).
“There’s an old saying in Tennessee — I know it’s in Texas, probably in Tennessee — that says, fool me once … shame on … shame on you. Fool me — you can’t get fooled again.” — George W. Bush
OK, so maybe Scotty was more concise.
Anyhow, Miss cries for 5 minutes, then just sits in bed for a good half hour before lying down. There is nothing more freaky than looking into a dark room and seeing a toddler sitting silently in the middle of a big mattress staring back at you. Demon child.
As I sit in my bedroom I watch Band of Brothers, tilting the TV screen away from the doorway, plugging in headphones and enjoying the next hour. Daytime naps (one per day) work the same way.
4. Many Nights, Maybe Eight. I do as before, putting Little Miss to bed, watching a different episode of Band of Brothers in the next room for each sleep period. Before I leave her room she tries to drum up things to delay me, reciting the names of the people she knows, mainly “Mama” and our two cats. I tell her they have all gone to bed because it’s their bedtime. Sometimes one of the cats walks by the doorway and reveals my lie. Little Miss sits quietly in bed for 15 to 30 minutes before lying down.
At this point I am happy. This situation is 100 times better than what we’ve been doing every night for the last 12 months.
5. Maybe Eight More Nights. Before leaving Miss’ room, I close her door halfway to assure she cannot sit in bed and watch for movement in my bedroom across the hall. She cries only the first time I do that, and only because of my timing. If I close her door halfway when we enter her room together for the first time, she is oblivious to the whole door situation when I leave.
6. Two Nights Ago. After reading her a book, Miss asks for her blankets to be tucked around her — a first. She doesn’t sit up. She doesn’t cry. She knows it is bedtime and wants to sleep. So, I chance closing her door when I leave, and it works! The next night works the same way, too.
Whew! Now that Little Miss is not dependent on her parents to fall asleep, we can finally get a babysitter and go out once in a while in the early evening. Hallelujah!
Footnote: If you did the math, you may be wondering how I watched episodes of the 10 hour miniseries Band of Brothers twice a day (at nap and bedtime) over at least 18 days. Well, sure, sometimes I watched half an episode. Truth be told, I’ve watched the entire miniseries numerous times, each time seeing new layers of detail. It’s a masterpiece and I highly recommend watching it twice.