Helping Your Toddler to Sleep Alone

We can't get our 14-month-old son to sleep in his own bed. When we put him down to sleep, he screams until we give in. Then he stays up until one in the morning. This is putting a strain on our marriage. Please help.

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Gayle Peterson

Gayle Peterson, PhD, is a family therapist specializing in prenatal and family development. She is a clinical member of the Association... Read more

Here are 9 suggestions to help get your son to sleep:

1. Make sure you spend enough time together during the day, or in the evening after you return home from work. If he is crying because he misses you, consider spending close time with him each evening before putting him to bed. He will learn to count on this period of time as his and be more willing to relinquish you at bedtime.

2. Initiate a bedtime ritual. This will allow him to adjust to a nightly separation from you.Talk to him when you put him down to bed. Review his activities, rub his back, read a book or two and sing a goodnight song. You might also want to give him a cuddly toy animal. Explain to him where mommy and daddy are sleeping.

3. Consider decreasing his daytime naps. This should make him more tired at the end of the day. If he is sleepy enough, he will be more likely to succumb to your reassuring voice and gentle, but firm, persistence.

4. Take turns putting him to bed. This way he can experience both mom and dad as his primary nurturers at bedtime.

5. Be prepared to stay in his room up to 30 minutes the first night. It may take that long before his crying truly subsides. Patiently be with him and give him your persistent reassurances.

Next: More tips to help get your toddler to sleep

6. Remember that crying is a sign that your toddler is attached to you. It is your toddler's job to cry (survival instinct), and yours to establish limits that you can live with, and help him adjust to, over time.

7. Stay calm. It is important that you do not let your son's crying disrupt you. Repeatedly tell him he will be fine. Absorb his screams, neutrally and calmly. It is important for your child to sense that he is indeed secure in separating from you at night. Sensitive children often "pick up" their parents' inner calm -- or inner exasperation.

8. Consider returning in the night to reassure him with your presence. He will eventually learn that his own bed is a safe and secure place. But do not underestimate the quality of your own internal state in calming him.

9. Don't hesitate to contact your child's health care provider. If your child remains highly upset despite your repeated and persistent efforts, consult your pediatrician.

Keep in mind that your most effective allies in parenthood are patience, calm and determination. Learn to answer his tears with these qualities, and you will develop the skills you need to help him "let go" and trust the guidelines you establish for him, now and in the future.

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