Even if your little one was a great sleeper as a baby, toddlerhood can provide special challenges when it comes to sleep. Because it’s basically a toddler’s job to assert her independence, bedtime can feel like a battleground.  Your toddler may only, finally, get into bed after long negotiations and multiple demands.  They may settle down for a bit, only to reappear for “curtain calls”. A glass of water, a misplaced lovey, a peek under the bed for monsters, a trip to the potty, another glass of water, and the list goes on. Some may require you to sit next them or get into their bed until they fall asleep. Later, in the middle of the night, they might magically appear at your bedside, or even sneak into your bed while you’re asleep.

If you find yourself fatigued from nighttime dramas with your toddler, you’re not alone: in my practice, I’ve helped countless parents find the right method to teach their toddlers and preschoolers how to fall asleep (and stay asleep) safely and happily on their own. Today, I’ll share three popular methods for getting toddlers to stay in their own bed so everyone in your family sleep can restfully through the night.

Before choosing a method, be sure of the following:

First, make sure you have a regular bedtime routine.  This will help make going to sleep easier for your little one. Focus on spending this time with your child as free from distractions and time pressure as possible. The more you can give your toddler your calm, loving attention and focus while preparing for bed, the less likely they are to fight saying goodnight at lights-out.

Next, right before starting whatever method you choose, have a “family meeting” to explain and establish the rules: at bedtime everyone’s job is to stay in his or her bed. This includes parents and everyone else in the family, so your toddler doesn’t feel singled out as a “problem”.

The Chair Method

Also called “fading,” this method starts with you or your partner sitting in a comfortable chair right next to the bed or crib and staying there until your toddler falls asleep. Avoid picking up your child, but do console them with a low murmur and reassuring touch. Every time your toddler wakes up during the night and gets out of bed or calls for you, go back and sit in the chair until they fall asleep again. Over the next several nights, you’ll place the chair a little further from the bed, gradually moving towards the door every few nights. Do this until you are eventually out of the room and out of your toddler’s sight.

If you were to compare the process of learning to sleep independently to riding a bike, this method would be akin to starting with large training wheels, then gradually replacing them with smaller and smaller wheels.  Over time you’ll end up with no wheels altogether.

This method requires the longest amount of time to complete and takes the most patience.  When it works right, it allows your toddler to slowly adjust to the idea of falling asleep without your being right next to them, usually with minimal tears or fuss. However, some toddlers find it frustrating or distracting to have you in the room but not talking or interacting with them.

Check And Console

A version of this method was popularized by child psychologist Dr. Richard Ferber. It involves periodically checking in on your toddler while they practice getting themselves to sleep. When you put your toddler to bed, reassure them that you will come back and check on them soon, and then do so after a few minutes. If they haven’t fallen asleep, go to them briefly to provide reassurance, tell them that you will be back to check on them shortly, and leave the room with a calm and confident attitude. Each time you do this, you will wait a little longer to return. On each successive night, you gradually increase the time periods between checks.

Going back to the bicycle analogy, this method is like running alongside your child as they practice riding the bike, alternating between grabbing onto the bicycle to steady it, then letting go for a bit, then grabbing again, and so on.

This method may involve some protest, especially if your little one is attached to falling asleep with your or your partner in bed next to him. However, it usually works fairly quickly and most toddlers begin falling asleep on their own within the first week of using this method.

Silent Return

Once used by Jo Frost of SuperNanny TV fame, this method involves no gradual fading or periodic checks. Instead, you complete a good soothing routine with lots of cuddles and togetherness. Then you say goodnight and leave the room with the expectation that your child will fall asleep on their own. If (or when) your toddler leaves their bed to look for you, gently take them by the hand and lead them back to bed again, without talking. Your child might get out of bed multiple times, especially on the first night. But each time, return them to bed calmly and silently.

Initially, this method might feel harsh or difficult—which is perfectly normal! Like any loving parent, you are used to comforting your toddler when they are upset. However, this method also demonstrates your confidence in your child’s ability to sleep independently. As such, it can be very empowering and drama-free, as long as you can muster the calm and supreme confidence required in order to pull it off.

To continue with the bike analogy, this method is akin to letting go of the bike and trusting that your child can best find her balance on her own. If you think you and your child are ready, this method generally proves to be the quickest in terms of teaching young children how to fall asleep on their own.

Which Method is Best for Getting Toddlers to Stay in their Own Bed?

Each of these methods has proven to work. Many parents ask, “which method is best?”. My answer is always that the best method is the one which you, the parents, are most comfortable with. Usually this is the one you most likely will be able to follow. That’s why I always review the pros and cons of each method in detail. I encourage parents to share their own thoughts and feelings about the process so that we can find the best match for their family.

And sometimes, we may start with one method and then decide that another would be better, based on how the child and the parents respond during the first night or two. This is when the follow-up support I provide for parents really comes in handy. It’s natural for doubts to come up when following any new sleep regimen, so it’s useful to have someone help you figure out when to change direction and when to stay the course.

Finally, if you want your toddler to stay in their own bed, please be sure to never, under any circumstances, introduce your little angel to Honest Toddler.

If you have questions or would like to know more about Off to Dreamland’s sleep coaching services, please reach out to learn more about we can resolve your child’s sleep problems and start your family on the path to peaceful bedtimes and relaxed, rested mornings.

Sasha Carr

Dr. Sasha Carr is a psychologist and child sleep expert who has helped over 1000 families get healthier sleep. Dr. Carr serves as a faculty member of the Family Sleep Institute and is the author of Putting Bungee to Bed, a bedtime picture book aimed at helping children be better sleepers. You can learn more about her services here.

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