I often get emails from moms who can't get their toddlers to go to sleep independently, they try everything! The following mom has spent up to TWO hours getting her toddler to sleep!
He has been using his toys to beat down the door to his room. Now this is after about 20 min of cuddle time, rocking, me patting his back and singing to him. It's not like we are just throwing him in his bed. It can take on the upwards to 2 hrs. to get him to sleep.... I'll take any suggestions that you may have!
Here's my advice (and you can start as young as six months). We also used this method for our own son.
When you put your toddler in his crib/bed, leave for five minutes. He will cry. Let him cry for five minutes, then check in on him. Place him back down, pat him once or twice, then leave for ten minutes.
He will cry. Let him cry for ten minutes, then check on him. Place him back down, pat him once or twice, then leave the room for 15 minutes.
He will cry. Let him cry for 15 minutes, then check on him. Place him back down and pat him once or twice, then leave the room for 20 minutes.
He will cry but by now will be so tired he will fall asleep, hopefully, within 20 minutes. (And no talking when you go back into the room each time! It leads to him responding to what you say and prolonging the process.)
You will need to repeat this "five minute method" for three to seven nights. That's how long it usually takes.
It will be hard for the family. But it will help him to relearn to fall asleep in his room without feeling totally abandoned.
And the reason for checking in on him after the given time is to: see if he is poopy, has a fever, has fallen down, to reassure him with your presence with a pat or two.
I don't think it is safe (or necessary) to leave a child/infant and let him "cry it out." I also think it is easier on the parents if they can go in at certain intervals.
During this time, let him have his attachment object(s) in his crib/bed. Soon he will use them for comfort and depend less on you.
Some parents leave the light on, but a nightlight should suffice. You might play music but you don't want to keep going back in the room to replay it! So I always recommend a white noise machine that will play continuously throughout the night. (We use a child-safe fan.)
Know this: the longer you wait to wean him off you at bedtime the harder it will be! But don't start the process unless YOU are ready! And don't start if you are moving, going on vacation, changing day cares or babysitters... start the process after all known "life changes" have occurred.
Another trick to help with bedtime is to allow some books in the crib or bed so if he is not "tired" he can look at books. Another trick is to have a crib-side musical aquarium for them to play.
It is also OK if a child is not tired and wants to play in their room rather than go right to sleep, (and let them pass out on the floor if necessary). Although it takes some getting used to by the parents! And it presents its own issues, but is better than a crying, hysterical child!
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