by Ann Douglas
"I have a two-year-old who will not go to bed unless he is being rocked."
Does this sound familiar? You'd really like to end this routine, but your child has been rocked every night since birth. What is the best way to get your tot to go to bed on his own?
It's hard for any of us -- kids or grownups -- to break long-standing habits, which is what you are asking your son to do. So it's important to think of this change in routine as a process that you're working towards as a family over a period of time as opposed to something that's likely to happen overnight (literally).
Based on what I learned from talking to other parents while researching my sleep book, "Sleep Solutions for Your Baby, Toddler, and Preschooler," most parents find it helpful to take a problem-solving approach when they're dealing with any type of sleep problem.
Start out by thinking about what you want for your child. In your case, you'd like him to be able to fall asleep in his bed on his own without needing to be rocked to asleep by a parent or something to that effect. You should work out the exact definition yourself so that it sounds right to you.
Now come up with a sentence that describes where you are right now (e.g., "Our son needs to be rocked until he falls asleep in a parent's arms").
Next, start mapping out the steps in between, showing signs of progress. Falling asleep in a parent's arms (or next to a parent) without being rocked would be progress.
Falling asleep with a parent sleeping in a sleeping bag on the floor (or on an inflatable bed) would be progress. Falling asleep with a parent sleeping in a chair by the door, offering verbal reassurance would be progress -- and so on.
Basically, you want to figure out the steps that would be required to ease your son into falling asleep on his own.
Children with a very sensitive temperament respond well to a "go slow" approach. Other kids who easily adjust to routines might find it easier to adjust to more of a "cold turkey" approach where you switch from one routine to another routine overnight. Of course, those kids are less likely to have trouble getting themselves to sleep as toddlers because these easy, go-with-the-flow kind of kids adjust to changes in routines so easily.
I hope these tips help to ease your toddler into an easier bedtime routine. Good luck.
Ann Douglas is the author of numerous books about pregnancy and parenting including the bestselling "The Mother of All Pregnancy Books." She regularly contributes to a number of print and online publications, is frequently quoted in the media on a range of parenting-related topics, and has appeared as a guest on a number of television and radio shows. Ann and her husband Neil live in Peterborough, Ontario. with the youngest of their four children. Learn more at her site, having-a-baby.com.
Copyright © Ann Douglas. Permission to publish granted to Pregnancy.org.