Training a Toddler to Sleep Like a Baby

Perhaps you used to fantasize about being a rock star or owning a beautiful home on the beach. Your high aspirations may have changed as you aged. Suddenly, you are the parent of an adorable toddler who refuses to sleep.

Now, your greatest dream is to sleep without a miniature person occupying your bed. It takes time, discipline, frayed nerves, and the right equipment to finally crack the code to tranquility at bedtime.

Here's how one mom regained her sanity and got her toddler to sleep at night.

Break any bad habits

I admit we created our own problem. It was so easy to snuggle and cuddle with our little one, but when we realized the only person getting enough sleep was "the baby" who was now a toddler, it was too late.

We never intended to let her sleep in our bed forever. When she transitioned out of her crib, we designed a whimsical room with an appropriately sized toddler bed that we thought she would love. And she did - but only to play on, not to SLEEP in.

Somehow, she claimed property rights in the middle of mom and dad's bed, where you can't imagine how much damage a tiny little girl can do to two adults in the course of one night. I'm sure there's a black belt in her future because she's used delivered painful jabs, punches, and kicks while in a deep sleep.

Something had to be done (if only to save my ribs).

A Doctor's Advice

Our pediatrician understood perfectly, but he had no sympathy for our predicament. He reminded me of his warning when I told him I was nursing her in our bed. We had established a pattern that my daughter understandably come to regard as normal.

So I asked my mother, my mother-in-law, friends, consulted many toddler sleep books, and even joined a support group online. There were so many contradictory theories that it made my head spin! But my husband and I decided to weed through them and choose the ones that suited our parenting philosophy, personalities, and the temperament of our precious girl.

The Battle

And it was exactly that. A battle with someone you love more than anything; would gladly give your life for and who must be defeated truly for her own good as well as yours. We decided to reason with her.

We devised a routine for bedtime: snack, bath, book, bed, buddy bear, tuck in, lights out. Perfect plan. Not so much. It was asking too much of her to be reasonable. She's two; what does she know about "reasonable"?

Shakespeare was talking about our daughter when he wrote, "And though she be but little, she is fierce." The cry-it-out method was not for us. I just couldn't take that. So we decided to patiently put her back in her bed every time she ventured into ours. Up we go, back to bed, repeat, and repeat and repeat. It was a matter of who could hold out the longest and it was usually our beautiful daughter; as hard as it was, we had agreed not to give into temptation.

So instead of allowing her back into our bed, one of us spent the rest of the night in hers. Not that we intended to, we were just too pooped to pop back and forth.


Two physical "props" proved to be immensely helpful. First a bedrail gave our wee one an added sense of security and provided a gentle psychological barrier. We encouraged her to think of it as the wall of her "castle" and she soon came to regard it as her idea (YEA!) and accepted it as part of her sleep environment.

Coupled with the snack, bath, book ritual, we saw some small success. The little princess actually fell asleep and we hoped we were home free. We thought wrong.

Getting her to fall asleep didn't mean she would stay in her bed. By two in the morning she was back in our room scrambling up to claim her place between us. Back to the drawing board. A new purchase, a "baby gate"  proved to be a useful addition to our toolbox of toddler containment. We got the higher one since she'd already proven that she could scale anything she could hook her foot over.

Although this resulted in renewed crying in the night, we resolved that we would continue to take her back to her own bed every time. It was exhausting.We were on the verge of total surrender. Then one morning I woke up and realized that we had all slept the whole night in our own beds!  Eureka.

Persistence + praise = progress

It wasn't all smooth sailing. I'd like to say the first night led to an unbroken string of unbroken sleep for us all, but alas, it was a process with stops and starts.

Persevernce paid dividends. Praise goes a long way. A whole night in her own bed warranted accolades. We let her know how proud we were, how wonderful she was, what a big girl thing to do!

A successful night in her own bed should bring rewards - not a trip to the toy store reward, at least not every time, but a small treat of some kind. I wondered if this were bribery and decided not to overanalyze - sleep was our reward.

Persistence and praise do lead to progress. Now our wee one sleeps through the night in her own bed like the angel we always knew she was. We still get and give oodles of cuddles and hugs, but we have our own sleep spaces.

It wasn't easy, but it was worth it. Somehow we understood that this was more than just the battle of bedtime. This was also about establishing a healthy family dynamic where discipline and boundaries now will lead to respect and expanding boundaries as she matures.

Next Article