Have a Great Sleeper

Help Toddlers to Fall Asleep Faster

Bedtime was frustrating for a dad I know named Aaron because his 2-year-old, Emma, would make him sing "Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star" over and over, until she fell asleep. "She insists that I sing 'Twinkle' to her about 10 gazillion times!" he said. "Sometimes she seems to be asleep and I'll try to ease myself off her bed, but if I make any sound, she'll immediately stir and demand, 'Twinkle!!' Then I'm stuck there for another 20 minutes."

To save Aaron's sanity, I taught him a simple trick that I called Twinkle Interruptus. For a week, I had him use a white-noise CD for all of Emma's naps and night sleep. About an hour before bedtime, he quietly played a rain track and continued it from lights-out until morning, increasing the sound night by night until it was as loud as a shower.

Five times a day, Aaron also practiced patience-stretching, which means when Emma asked for something he'd almost give it to her, but had her wait for brief (and increasingly longer) periods of time before he gave it to her. She was soon able to wait a whole minute without complaining. Now Aaron was ready to start. On the first night, he put on the white noise, snuggled with Emma, and sang to her for a few minutes. Then he shot a finger into the air as if he'd just remembered something important, and said, "Wait! I forgot to kiss Mommy. Here, hold your teddy bear. I'll be right back." He left the room for five seconds. Emma's practice with patience-stretching during the week gave her the confidence to wait. Soon he came back in, whispering, "Good waiting!" He cuddled up with her and started singing again. After a few more minutes, he did the same "Wait!" routine, but this time he left for 15 seconds. Again, Emma tolerated it fine, and when he returned, he said, "Good waiting!" and sang to her until she fell asleep.

The next night, Aaron repeated the same actions -- but his first exit lasted for 30 seconds and his second for a full minute. When he tiptoed in at the end of the second time, Emma was fast asleep. And she stayed asleep!

If you try this with your child and she cries when you leave, immediately return to comfort her -- she may be experiencing some particular stress or fear. Over the next few days, continue patience-stretching during the day, use white noise for sleeping, and make sure she has a lovey to hold when you go away. But when you do Twinkle Interruptus, don't leave the room. After saying, "Wait!" simply go to the other side of the room and pretend to search for something. Then return to the bed and say, "Good waiting!" Gradually increase the amount of time you spend on the other side of the room. If she tolerates that well after a couple of days, try briefly leaving the room again.

You'll actually have fun with this approach. I've seen it work about 75 percent of the time with kids older than 18 months. I've even had parents report success using it to help sleep-train their 12-month-old without tears!

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