Toddler Sleeping – What to do when they quit!

Are you almost to the point of wishing it was acceptable to give your child a heavy dose of Benadryl to sleep? Are you about to pull your hair out over lack of sleep and frustration? Are you tired of bargaining with your toddler, just to have them NEVER hold up their end of the deal? If so, you’ve come to the right spot.

My toddler was an amazing sleeper as a baby! We had a schedule, a solid bedtime routine, and an 11-12 hour sleeper. Once he turned about 3.5 years old, he started waking up in the middle of the night and coming in to my room – WHAT?! He said he was thirsty – so I made him water and put him back in bed. The next night, he woke up and came in our room – WHAT?! He said he needed to pee – so we went potty and back to bed. The third night, woke up and came in our room – OK THIS IS GETTING CRAZY?! He said he was scared this time. I felt bad for him and I didn’t want him alone & afraid, so he slept in our room that night. And that was possibly the worst decision… it almost killed our perfect bedtime routine we’d had for 3.5 years. This went on for MONTHS – he would come in our room, say he was scared, and we’d let him stay.

I tried shutting his door, bribing him with candy, threatening a punishment, early bed time, later bed time, no snacks past 6:00, no water past 6:00, a sticker chart, a reward system, a guilt trip (your baby sister sleeps in her own room!), and everything else under the sun. Finally, I made up my OWN method. And it WORKED.


We followed our regular nighttime routine of bath around 6:30pm, story-time around 7:00pm, and bedtime by 7:30pm. I turned on the sound machine and nightlight and I told him I was going to be leave his door cracked open (like he always asks for) but here’s the kicker – I SHUT MY OWN DOOR. And I locked it. (We have a monitor and a “doorbell” alarm that sounds in my room when he walks out his door – so I wasn’t scared about this situation at all).

Here’s the AMAZING SURPRISED that happened on this WONDERFUL, WONDERFUL NIGHT. He woke up around 10:00pm and walked out of his room (after he hollered for 2 minutes towards the baby monitor, saying that he was thirsty, then hungry, then scared, then bored, then thirsty) and I watched him walk towards my door. He saw my closed door, and started to reach for the door knob, but he STOPPED – TURNED AROUND – AND WENT BACK TO HIS BED! I watched on the monitor as he got back in bed, covered himself back up, and happily went to sleep. There were no tears, no hollering, no crying, no whining, no pleading, no bribing, no begging, no compromises, and no threats.

It worked.

If you need more help with implementing something like this, let me know! We’ve tried a lot of different things, and some things will work for you that didn’t work for me – and vice versa. Something a lot of moms realize in regards to sleeping problems is that they’re just providing too much sugar towards bedtime (such as a fruit snack, apple juice,  or a PB & J) and that really amps up a child, causing problems falling asleep. Also, going to bed over-tired. When you’re TOO tired your body won’t let you fall asleep very easily. (more on schedules here & problems here).

Another important thing with us was to be very to-the-point with him when we’d put him to sleep. Tell them the rules and don’t make ANY negotiations. Don’t ask how bright they want their light, or how big they want their door cracked, or if they want the music off or on, etc. Come up with the rules that have worked in the past and stick with them. Say, “this is how we do bed time, and there are no negotiations – good night!” and then that’s it. Don’t make an acceptation once you’ve set your rules, or you’ll never be able to quit making accessions (and you know they’ll change every night!)

**Before trying any sleep solutions, rule out the possibility that your child is sick, such as an ear infection or a tummy bug.**


Other Methods:

I wanted to let you know of some other methods that we tried that did not work long-term for us, but they may work for you (some worked, but just weren’t enough for us):

  1. Get a “green light” or “wake up alarm” clock for their room! We have a green light for our son and a “scooter girl” clock for our daughter. The lights come on at 6:00am and when they wake up they know that they can come out IF green light/scooter girl is on.
  2. Start a reward system. Each night, tell your child that if they stay in their room until  morning then they will get to put a star on their chart – at the end of the week or whenever they fill up their chart, they get a toy or something else special!
  3. Make a “rules” chart and go over it with your child each night. (A child’s rule chart might include things like (1) staying in bed, (2) staying quiet, (3) thinking about *something special* when they wake up and feel like getting out of bed, (4) closing their eyes and laying down quietly if they wake up before their green light).
  4. Lock the child’s door (we didn’t like this option, it felt weird, we didn’t try it).

Some Other Tips:

  1. Have a sleep routine, and stick to it! Children love routine. They don’t get to make too many decisions in their lives but having a schedule makes them feel like they do a little bit because they know what is coming next so they can prepare for it, and they ALWAYS know what to expect. So when you start doing baths they know it’s almost story-time.
  2. Utilize a sound machine and black-out curtains, even for a toddler. Creating a peaceful environment can go a long way!
  3. Set an appropriate bedtime for your child. I know a lot of toddlers that go to bed at 9:00 and 10:00 and their parents are wondering why they won’t sleep. I know it sounds like the later you go to bed the later you’ll sleep, but that isn’t true with children, oddly enough!
  4. Keep the air down low. The best temperature for a child’s room is 65-70 degrees F.
  5. Provide a “lovey” that your child really likes, and is ONLY for bedtime, such as a special teddy bear or a stuffed dinosaur, etc.

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