You’d think we’d get it by now: As soon as you’re feeling all confident, totally nailing this parenting thing – BOOM! – kid turns on a dime and the wheels. fall. off.
It recently happened to us: Our easy-peasy 15-minute bedtime routine and good sleeper turned into an all-night-long two-week sleepless battle with a 2-year-old. At our wits end, we called Kimberly Walker, founder of Parenting Unlimited. With a background in psychology and social work, she’s been successfully teaching parents how to implement healthy sleep habits for more than 15 years.
She’s based in NYC but willing to travel – Kimberly does phone consults and/or home visits. We thought we needed the full-on overnight treatment and are here to tell you she solved our sleep problems in one 45-minute phone call. We call her the sleep whisperer.
We polled our inner-circle for the biggest toddler sleep challenges they’re facing and put Kimberly to the test. And she nailed it.
Ahhhhhh… my child climbed out of the crib, and we are so not ready for a toddler bed. What to do?
If he’s climbing out of the crib, the only safe thing to do is put him in a bed. Yes, he may start roaming the house in the middle of the night at first, but you can teach toddlers to sleep in their beds:
1. Start by writing down a bedtime routine and being very firm about it.
2. Do not cave to all the things they pretend to need. If you have a toddler that is crying because she “can’t fix her blankets”, yet she was able to climb out of the crib, that is quite suspicious!
My daughter has decided she’s afraid of the dark/monsters/a wolf coming in her room. She refuses to go to bed and wants one of us to stay in her room until she falls asleep with the lights on. Dying here.
Sometimes children this age really are scared. And sometimes they are using the word “scared” because they know it works. Let’s assume honesty here and move towards validating your child’s feelings.
1. Tell him everyone gets scared sometimes and it’s okay to feel that way. Have him repeat after you many times… “I feel scared, but I’m okay.” Throughout the day and before bed, ask him over and over, “What do you say to yourself if you are feeling scared at night?”
2. If the above isn’t cutting it, get a special “monster” spray bottle, fill it with water, and keep it by his bed. Anytime he “sees” a monster, he can spray it and say “shoo shoo, monster” and the monster will go away. Some kids need to physically feel they have control.
3. No matter how much they beg, do NOT stay in the room until your child falls asleep (unless you are okay with that becoming part of your bedtime routine every night). Repeat the mantra, “I know you feel scared, but you are safe in here, and everything is going to be okay.” By leaving the room, you show them that you know they are safe, and kids are likely to absorb this certainty from you and internalize it. Sitting with him night after night sends the message that you don’t think they are okay without you.
We transitioned to a big kid bed, and our son gets out and comes in our room all. night. long. We don’t engage and walk him back and put him in bed, only for this to be repeated pretty much until morning. This zombie needs help.
There are some kids who will actually stop with this behavior if you go with the plan of walking them back to their room over and over. However, there are the other kids who will come in JUST so you can walk them back to their room and do not care if you do it 100 times a night. If you are the parent to one of those spirited kids (lucky you!), it’s time to put up an extra tall gate at their door so they can’t get out. Some kids this age are not psychologically developed enough to have self-discipline at 2am when they are half asleep and want mommy and daddy. Think of the gate as an extension of the crib – a boundary that both reminds and commands them to stay in bed. You may have a few nights of tantrums, but stay strong. It’s no different than throwing a tantrum because they want out of their carseat, another cookie, or one of the 1,000 things toddlers throw tantrums over!
My child was recently moved to a toddler bed, and he goes down fine and stays in his bed until… 4:30am, when he comes in our room ready to party. We walk him back, but there’s really no sleep for anyone once that happens because he’s back every 5 minutes. Help!
The easiest and best solution for this is an “okay to wake” clock. I like this one for it’s simplicity (red means stay in bed, green means okay to get up). It gives them a sense of empowerment, control, and pride – which is the ultimate emotional trifecta for a toddler.
My bedtime routine takes HOURS. She wants one more book, one more hug, anything she can think of to procrastinate. How can I stop the madness?
Your bedtime routine needs to be short, sweet, and EXACTLY the same every night. Choose how many books you are going to read: 1, 2 or 3 but always the same. If you choose 2, then read ONLY 2 books every single night. It’s helpful to write out a routine, and here is an example:
Climb in bed
Read 2 books
Give hugs/ kisses/ tuck in
Say goodnight and turn the lights off
When she starts to ask for one more book, one more hug… look at your routine. If it’s not on the routine, the answer is NO. You can respond with “It’s sleep time, and you can have _____ in the morning.”
If the above is not working, take pictures of every step of the routine and post them in a chart. This drives home visually the bedtime routine for your child, and as long as you don’t cave or deviate, she will stop asking when her asks never work!