Be a good boy and go to, really...back to bed...AAAHHH!
January 12, 2011 6:09 AM   Subscribe

In search of hacks/tricks/secrets and/or simple ways that you have successfully trained your two year old to go to sleep on their own.

My 4.5 year old and 2.5 year old boys share a bedroom (separate beds). No problems with the older one, but the younger one refuses to go to sleep at night without me or my wife lying down with him on his little toy car bed. Typically, we have to wait until he is asleep and then sneak out of the room without waking him up. All attempts to put him down, assure him everything is OK, tell him he is a big boy and needs to sleep by himself have proven futile. He always gets up - knowing this is not what he should be doing - and comes after us. I know we have to be steadfast and keep putting him back in bed, but with our schedules our sleep hours are already short enough - so we usually end up putting him in our bed to avoid being up for an extra hour or two. Any tips on ending this routine will be appreciated. Thanks in advance.
posted by joyride to Human Relations (19 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
30 minutes of quiet time before bed... just sitting on someone's lap, reading him a story or something. No TV or music. You need to unwind him before bed. It has to be consistent.
posted by Leon at 6:32 AM on January 12, 2011

I have 2- and 4-year old girls who share a room. The two year old sometimes gets up right after we put her down, opens the door and demands to sleep in our bed. The only solution I've found is to hold the door closed while she does this (no, not for hours!). Within a minute or two she settles herself down and gets back in her bed. Earlier on she sometimes fell asleep on the floor. I wouldn't let her cry more than a few minutes without coming in and comforting her. It is basically the Ferber method, but since she isn't in a crib we have to hold the door shut. My 4 year old falls asleep pretty easily and isn't bothered by it. It might take a few long nights (worse for you than him), but it's worth a try.
posted by ellenaim at 6:36 AM on January 12, 2011

Have you tried a reward system? This is one problem I've never really had, but I have friends who have been really successful by doing some kind of sticker chart--in some cases just getting a sticker for staying in bed can be its own reward especially for a kid that young, but if not you can offer an appropriate reward in exchange for so many nights of good bedtime behavior.

We've always had an airtight, every night bedtime routine, which helps--everything in the same order every time, even when we travel, and I think that helps in general, but when my kids are particularly restless I won't hesitate to just let them read books until they fall asleep rather than holding to a hard-and-fast lights out time. Each of my kids has a reading light near their beds that provides enough light to look at a book without disturbing the sibling across the room.

If music will not bother your older child, you might try that. That was our special naptime thing when my kids were that age, a soft CD.

He really isn't a big boy, he's a little dude and you're trying to get him to stop doing something that he believes he needs, so have some sympathy for him and try to work with him, rather than against him, as best you can.
posted by padraigin at 6:39 AM on January 12, 2011 [1 favorite]

Our two-and-a-half year old suddenly started having a big issue going to sleep at night. We tried the whole sticker-chart-reward thing, but she was just too young to be able to plan for a long-term reward and modify her behavior accordingly.

So, on the suggestion of my mother-in-law, we started leaving the door open when we left after kissing her good night, and that seems to have done the trick.

I think it worked for two reasons:

1. It made her feel like she could get up and go if she wanted to, so she didn't feel trapped.

2. It gave us an immediate and concrete incentive; we told her that we would keep the door open as long as we could trust her to stay in bed at bedtime. (I know this kind of contradicts #1-- but as long as she knew she COULD follow us, she didn't seem to need to actually DO it.)

You might also want to look at The No-Cry Sleep Solution, by Elizabeth Pantley-- which, despite its title is less a cohesive method, and more a collection of tips to try. (It's mainly about dealing with babies, but it does have some tips that apply to older children.) It didn't work for us, but some friends of ours have had better luck.

From your question, it sounds like you don't want to go the whole sleep-training, graduated-extinction method. If you do decide to go that route, you may want to read Solve Your Child's Sleep Problems, by Richard Ferber. When our daughter was little and having serious sleep problems (much worse than what you're describing), we found it very helpful. After a really difficult first few months, we got her into some very good sleeping habits that lasted until she reached 2-and-a-half and we started having the issues I mentioned. (And, since we started leaving her door open, things have settled right back down.)
posted by yankeefog at 6:45 AM on January 12, 2011

Can the boys share a bed?
posted by Sassyfras at 6:51 AM on January 12, 2011

I just read about The Tape Trick this week, which sounds like a variation on yankeefog's suggestion.
posted by Lyn Never at 6:55 AM on January 12, 2011 [1 favorite]

I recently read about a method involving placing three pieces of tape on the floor to mark levels of door closure: one fully open, one about half way closed, one nearly closed. Explain to the child that each time he gets up the door will move to the next tape marking, the forth time the door will be closed. I guess the concrete visual is helpful for some children.
I don't know if this will work with the shared room, but it is a pretty simple method to try.
On preview, what lyn said.
posted by deadcrow at 6:58 AM on January 12, 2011 [1 favorite]

Yankeefog recommended the Elizabeth Pantley book. I second that and will note she has one for babies and one for toddlers and preschoolers. It was a huge help for us.
posted by bluedaisy at 7:07 AM on January 12, 2011

My wife's parents used tell here that she should lie in bed for 15 minutes and after that they will check if she still wanted to come into their room. She says she always fell asleep during the 15 minutes.
posted by srboisvert at 7:15 AM on January 12, 2011

When our daughter was this age, I asked her what she needed, and she said (and asserts to this day) that she needs something "alive" to keep her company while she gets to sleep. She has always been a kid who loves and needs lots of contact, and I could see why she'd say this. So, you could ask him what it would take.

So, and we still do this, after we tuck her in and read to her, either the dog or cat comes in for a cuddle if the humans need to get up and do something. Also, according to her, having her pet gecko in her room helps her feel secure if she wakes up in the middle of the night. Looking back to when I was a kid - I have to agree! It's dark and weird and there are noises and stuff at night, and that's all freaky to little kids who don't sleep the whole night through. She never has, and she may never do so. So, the rule is she needs to go to sleep in her own bed so that I can get things done and get some good sleep myself, but she can crawl in if she needs to (and she has to go to the bathroom before she crawls in - her bad dreams and wakefulness seem to tie in with a full bladder).

I still wake up a few times during the night as an adult, and it's hard enough for me to re-settle. Those are simple things that she needs, and she's only little for a while. I imagine when she's fifteen I'll be grateful if she still does that too.

That said - to get her to stay in bed all those years ago, we had to do it incrementally, and create a smaller picture in her mind. Instead of presenting her with something huge like "You must stay in your bed and sleep all night there by yourself!" we learned to break it down in smaller steps. "Okay, I read your story to you and tucked you in - I'll be back to cuddle in a minute, but I need to go and shut the bathroom light" (come back and have a quick cuddle - but no talking) then "put a load of laundry in" (come back and a quick kiss, but no talking) or "make a cup of tea for Daddy". The time increments got longer and longer, so that she'd fall asleep waiting for me, knowing that I'd be coming back to check on her, and knowing where I was and what I was doing and what the funny noises were. It only took a week or so for her to get that new process of disengaging, but she wanted the comfort of knowing I was around. Now she's old enough and understanding if we have to make it a discipline thing, but back then, it was more about rewarding the good behaviour, and the rule is and was always mostly "no talking after goodnights", because that's what keeps her awake - so she's essentially bored to sleep.

Facing the prospect of a whole night alone may be too much - but having to stay there while parents do "just this one thing" is much easier to digest for such a little kid, and the affectionate rewards are immediate for them, if they're firm but loving.
posted by peagood at 7:25 AM on January 12, 2011 [8 favorites]

Ooh, seconding Sassyfrass. My two year old loves sleeping with her sister. It's a twin-sized bed and we have the two year old sleep against the wall. The downside is that this only works when the 4 year old agrees.

Also, both my girls love sleeping bags. They have matching ones ($10 plain red ones from Target), and even better than getting some character on them, they are VERY EXCITED that we wrote their names on the inside with Sharpies. They sleep in them on the floor or in their beds.

Something else that worked for my older one was that we got her Tinkerbell sheets at a time when she stopped wanting to sleep in her own bed (use the appropriate bribe for your own child).

A night light also helps.

My 4 year old used to negotiate and I would leave the door open, just a crack, for her.

Sometimes when my two year old refuses to stay in her room I just ignore her when she comes out. She wanders for a few minutes, and heads back to her room. That started a few weeks ago when she figured out how to use door knobs.
posted by ellenaim at 7:25 AM on January 12, 2011

I used to read the books, do the tucking, and before they could beg me to get in bed with them I would come up with a reason to leave the room. "I have to go down and do the laundry real quick or we won't have any clothes for tomorrow. "I need to empty the dishwasher fast so we have clean breakfast dishes." "I forgot to pack up the bag we need tomorrow for the pool/babysitters/playground." After that I always said that when I was finished I would come back and check on them (never that I would get in bed with them). The things I needed to do seemed important to them for the next day so they never really had an issue with me leaving. If I said I wanted to watch TV it would not have worked!

I did always go back and check, but 99% of the time they would be asleep. In the morning, if they said that I didn't come back I let them know I did but they fell asleep all by themselves and that I was so proud of them. Eventually, it was no longer needed. This acually worked with the one kid who had already gotten used to one of us laying down with him for nearly a year!
posted by maxg94 at 8:40 AM on January 12, 2011

Honestly, at his age he should be able to understand he has to stay in his bed.

What do you do to enforce other rules? Do this for staying in bed. Because "obey mommy and daddy" is a really important rule for a little one to follow and it really is okay for you to enforce it.

Does he have a "lovey" of some kind? A favorite stuffed animal? A blanket or piece of one? These kinds of transitional objects help quite a bit.

But it really is okay for you to let the little fellow know that getting out of bed is NOT an option and neither is having mom or dad stay in there the whole time. Now, it is a good thing to, say, read him a story and have some other transitional time with Mama or Daddy right as you put him to bed but-yep, he is quite old enough to play you and also old enough to get his bluff called for it.
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 9:05 AM on January 12, 2011

One thing that helped my son is having an extra pillow that I would put lengthwise against his back when he curled on his side. It made him feel "held", I think.
posted by lemniskate at 9:26 AM on January 12, 2011

Carrot and stick (2.5yr old and 4.5yr old).

The carrot is a chart I made up. It shows the bedtime routine in pictograms (play/bath/brush teeth/book/song/sleep) so that I can refer to it when things go off the rails (ie child says "I want to go downstairs" and I say "oh, no, no. Look at the schedule. Now it is time to brush your teeth". They argue with me but not with the chart for some reason). Below that is a chart with numbers. Each morning if the child went to bed "properly" in their bed the night before (no whining or yelling, no getting out of bed except for the bathroom, no asking to sleep in Mummy's bed) they get a number crossed off. At regular intervals on the chart are stars. They start out close together (3 days, then 5, then 7 then 10 and so on) and represent "surprises". The first one is something highly desirable. After a month or so I am able to retire the chart, but I bring it back from time to time as needed.

The stick is door being open &/or nightlight.

Pantley was not a success in our house. Putting the two of them in the same bed to sleep just makes for yelling and tears. YMMV of course.
posted by Cuke at 9:27 AM on January 12, 2011 [1 favorite]

Do you have a child you can negotiate with? From the OP it's not clear which way his personality goes. If you have a child you can reason with, the tape trick works. I have a friend who recruited her older ones to keep the younger ones in bed, and sometimes that works.

I can only speak from my experience; every child is different. For my son, I made it a rule that if he was getting up, he's getting up to use the washroom. It helped that the washroom is right outside his room. After trying to pee for the 3rd time, he got sick of it and stayed in bed.

Whatever method you use, just make sure you're consistent. At a set time, an alarm goes off so he knows it's time for bed. We go through the bed time rituals - brushing of teeth, wiping of face etc - then story (just one), pick a stuffed animal, tuck-in, lights off, door closes. If he comes out, it's washroom, then ushered back in his room and straight to the tuck in. If you change things up in any way (i.e. let him have a snack in the kitchen if he says he's hungry) he'll find a way to stall.
posted by Sallysings at 9:33 AM on January 12, 2011

After our bedtime routine (books and songs), if our two year old is still wound up, we ask him to help his stuffed animals to go to sleep. Sometimes it works and he tucks them up and sings to them until all are asleep. Other times, it doesn't.
posted by rube goldberg at 9:54 AM on January 12, 2011

Run him. We race around the outside of the house. We race to the park. I time him from this tree to that tree and back, and have him try over and over to improve his time until he tells me his legs are tired.

Then we'll read books until he tells me he's tired. Then... he sleeps.
posted by csmason at 11:13 AM on January 12, 2011

Glow-in-the-dark stars on the roof.
posted by obiwanwasabi at 4:51 PM on January 12, 2011

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