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 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.
After you put your toddler to sleep in his or her bed and leave the room, when he or she cries, wait for a few minutes, then check in on him or her: place your child back down, pat him or her once or twice, then leave again. When he or she cries again, wait for a few minutes longer, then check in on him or her: place your child back down, pat him or her once or twice, then leave again. Some parents can prolong the amount of time they wait before going back in (that is what I did), and some cannot.
It will be hard for the family when their toddler cries but it will help him or her to learn to fall asleep independently in his or her own room.
And the reason for checking in on your toddler after some time has passed is to: see if he or she is poopy, has a fever, has fallen down, and or to reassure your child of your presence with a pat or two.
I don't think it is safe (or necessary) to leave a toddler/infant and let him or her "cry it out" all night. I also think it is easier for the parents if they can go in at certain intervals. How long you can wait between intervals is up to you and your comfort level. (I did the five, ten, and fifteen-minute method.)
During this time in bed, you want your toddler to have an attachment object. Soon he or she will use it 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 used a child-safe fan.)
Know this: the longer you wait to wean him or her 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 daycares or babysitters... start the process after all known "life changes" have occurred.
Another trick to help with bedtime is to allow some toddler-friendly soft books in the bed so if your toddler is not "tired" he or she can look at books. Another trick is to have a crib-side musical aquarium for them to play with (or you can try attaching it to the toddler bed frame if you have one).
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 toddler!
Photo by Lisa Nolan