It can be so hard when your toddler wants you to be there with them every night as they fall asleep. At the end of the day when you are exhausted and your reserves are low and you are looking forward to flopping down in the living room and relaxing. But, your toddler needs you to be there with them, which can make bedtime take longer. By the time you leave the room you are exhausted and ready for bed because you know you’ll be in that room again in the middle of the night?

Does this sound familiar? It is such a common scenario, and one we often get calls from parents to help fix it.

For toddlers sleep is the final separation of the day and it is also the longest separation. Day care often only lasts up to 8 hours, whereas sleep overnight can be as much as 12, or for some long sleepers 13 hours. Many sleep related challenges, like wanting a parent near them as they sleep, are to do with separation anxiety.

Bedtime also happens at a time when young children are tired and have the least resources, so they have a hard time separating.

In saying all this, it is absolutely okay to want to make a change. To have your toddler learn how to fall asleep independently at bedtime and be able to remain independent throughout the night. And once you give your child the gift of newfound independence you’ll notice how proud they are that they can do it on their own.

  • Institute a consistent bedtime routine that starts a half hour before bedtime. There is no right or wrong bedtime routine, it is what works for you and your family. It could include a warm bath, snuggles in bed, dim lights, brushing teeth, a bedtime story etc. A good bedtime routine helps cue the brain to sleep and even has the potential to reduce night wakings, according to research.
  • Make sure that they go to bed at a time that is inline with their circadian rhythm. Not too late that they are overtired and getting a second wind as this will make it harder for them to fall asleep. A later bedtime will likely make teaching independent sleep skills harder.
  • Be clear about what your limits and rules are around sleep times. If you will sit with them for a minute or two – be clear and consistent with that rule. If you won’t sit at all, let them know and follow through. This may need to be coupled with a sleep training method as they cry and protest that change. Toddlers can be left to cry, if you are comfortable. By being left to cry they gain trust in their parents and learn that it is okay to cry even at night and their parents will still love and cherish them the next day. The first night you do this will be the hardest but each day your toddler gains confidence in their sleep skills the easier it will be. Remember that whatever method you use as they fall asleep should be used during any night waking as well.
  • As you leave the room each night it is a good idea to tell them that it is okay if they miss you at night and that you’ll be excited to see them in the morning. Project confidence that they can fall asleep independently. If you feel confident in them it will help them feel confident in themselves.
  • Give them a token item that can remind them of you. It could be a photo or a teddy wearing a piece of your clothing.
  • Replace being with them at bedtime with focussed 1:1 time during the day. This helps fill up their attention bucket and therefore makes separation easier at bedtime.
  • Give them strategies they can use while they are waiting for sleep to come e.g. saying goodnight to their body parts, hugging their stuffed animals or deep breathing.
  • If a night light makes them feel more confident sleeping alone then that is ok, but we recommend it be as dim as possible and a red or orange hue. However, I would only use one if your toddler asks because a dark room is always important to maximize their ability to sleep.
  • Celebrate success both big and small in their road to falling asleep without you in the room.

Please note that if you are having the same struggles at nap time you can use the advice above. Older children that no longer need a nap can have quiet time in place of their afternoon nap. Quiet time gives them the opportunity to rest their body and give you a bit of a break too. Daytime naps are still common for many toddlers up until at least 3 years of age.

You will see many sleep consultants suggest rewards or a sticker chart for sleep. We don’t suggest these. We want the only “reward” to be how proud your toddler feels about their sleep successes. This is really what encourages lasting results.

Good luck! The good news is that if you follow these tips you should have an independent sleeper in a couple weeks.

If you’d like more in-depth info and advice on working on your toddler’s sleep, keep watch for our soon to be launched sleep course. Better sleep is truly possible.

child behavior coach