The toddler who won’t go to sleep

Ella was around 18 months when I first met her and her parents. Ella was a great sleeper overnight and during the day once she went to sleep but it was the getting to sleep that was the problem. It could  take her parents anywhere from 20 minutes to two hours to get her to go off to sleep and the longer it went on the longer it was taking.

Ella was using all the stalling techniques in the book and would stand up and cry once she had been put down. This meant her parents had to sit in her room beside the cot until she went to sleep. They didn’t have to touch her but as soon as they went to leave the room she was up on her feet, clutching onto the side of the cot and screaming!

So ultimately they had to sit there until she went to sleep, often taking hours and meaning that their evening was completely disrupted.

Older babies can be very attached to someone being in the room with them while they go off to sleep. This is known as separation anxiety and can start around the ten month mark, and then escalate as a child is about 18 months. So what we were going to do for the first night was to put Ella to bed after the night time ritual and then we were going to leave the room for a few minutes. We did that and she immediately stood up as soon as mum turned to leave.

We let her protest for a few minutes, not long enough for her to get very distressed, and then mum went back in and lay her down. She stayed with her, rubbing her back until she was calm which took about two minutes and then she left the room again. When she left she said “good night Ella” as she was walking out the door. Ella’s mum then repeated this process about four times each time it was taking less and less time for her to calm down.

After the fourth time going in Ella didn’t protest at all when her mum left the room. She did make a couple of whingy, sleepy sounds but after a couple of minutes there was silence.

This process took a total of 25 minutes and after another ten minutes of silence I popped my head in to see what was happening and Ella was sound asleep!

Ella’s parents could not quite believe it as it hadn’t taken that fast to get her to sleep in a very long time. The second night was even better with it taking her mum only three times of going in the room to lie her down and calm her and on the third night they didn’t have to go back in again at all!

Each child is obviously different and for some children this process can take a while longer. It is very important that you be consistent in your approach to the process as that is how your child will learn. Be gentle. Stay with your child until they are calm. But try to leave the room before they are sound asleep. I also find for older toddlers, after about 18 months, that telling them you are leaving, and you can say something like “I am just going to check on my dinner but I will be back to see how you are in five minutes”, is a good ritual. If you do tell them you are coming back to check then you must always go back. This also increases their trust and security in the whole process.

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