Just when it seemed like we had bedtime for my toddler figured out, he threw us a curveball. Once content to snuggle into his covers and fall asleep after our bedtime routine with minor protests, he suddenly begged my husband and me to stay with him until he fell asleep.
Initially, we gave in to his requests. The change took us by surprise, and seeing as he’d recently moved into a big boy bed, we wanted to be as supportive of him as possible. We knew we didn’t want to set this up as a long-term solution, but also found ourselves having to decide between enjoying a peaceful few hours to ourselves after both kids fell asleep, or listening to a consistent cry of “Mommy! Daddy! Come lay with me!” through the monitor all evening.
Just when it seemed like we had bedtime for my toddler figured out, he threw us a curveball.
In the short-term, the trade-off was worth it for our sanity, as having a toddler and a baby gave us little time to ourselves. But in the long-term, it simply was not sustainable and something had to give.
“Your child might fall asleep easily with you next to them, but it’s really hard as the kid gets older if they wake up a lot at night and always need your help to get back to sleep,” said Dr. Lynelle Schneeberg, a psychologist at Yale Medicine who specializes in behavioral sleep medicine and has written a book on sleep coaching. “You want your child to learn how to ride a bike; you don’t want to run alongside the bike forever—sleep is so similar.”
You want your child to learn how to ride a bike; you don’t want to run alongside the bike forever—sleep is so similar.
It was time for us to stop running alongside the bike.
After an unsuccessful attempt at going cold turkey, which I can confidently say was miserable for everyone involved, we opted for a gentler approach: lay, sit, stand. After books are read and covers are tucked—and when the begging to stay starts—whoever is on bedtime duty that night (yes, we trade off nights, and yes, I highly recommend) has an agreement with our toddler that they will first lay with him for a few minutes, then sit on the side of his bed, followed by standing inside his door and onto standing outside his door “until he falls asleep.”
After an unsuccessful attempt at going cold turkey… we opted for a gentler approach: lay, sit, stand.
The whole process takes about five minutes and gives my toddler the feeling of security he’s looking for, while allowing us to carry on with our evening after we step outside his door. No, we don’t wait until he falls asleep, and no, he doesn’t open the door to check. That’s part of the agreement, and he seems to take his side of the deal pretty seriously.
Of course, most nights we’re still begged to stay for “five more minutes,” but the lay, sit, stand approach has alleviated the worst of our bedtime struggles. And sure, we get a wandering toddler in our bed from time-to-time after a bad dream, but the approach still works even when returning a toddler to his bed in the middle of the night.
When it comes to sleep, all kids are different, so the best advice I’ve received is to listen to your gut and do what feels right for your family regardless of what anyone else says. Will we have another transition that throws our routine off-kilter once again? Probably. Will this work for our daughter when she reaches that age? Who knows.
But for right now, this is what’s right for us.