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I Successfully “Sleep Trained” the Manipulation Out of My Toddler’s Bedtime Routine

Sleep Training isn't just for babies. Toddlers need it too

We have been lucky beyond our wildest dreams to have two toddlers who, by and large, have been great about going down for a twelve hour stretch at night. Both kids have been sleep trained since around the age of five or six months, and I sing the praises of the “cry it out” method to every new mom looking for sleep training advice (ask me if you want to know more!). That’s why I was surprised when my husband pointed out that I needed to revisit our old “cry it out” methods with our three-and-a-half year old. How had I strayed so far?

 The fact is that I got so used to having a relaxed bedtime ritual that I didn’t even realize it when my daughter started manipulating her way into a longer and longer “final” goodnight. What started out as one book, a lullaby, and a kiss had grown into a three-headed monster involving hopping over hot lava to get to the bed, reading several books using funny voices, multiple rounds of improvisational storytelling, a lullaby sung while laying down next to her “just for a minute,” at least 5 kisses, 5 hugs, a high five, and prolonged farewells to each of three separate stuffed animal sleep companions.  

I emerged from my daughter’s room a couple weeks ago and realized I had been in there for nearly an hour.  And then came the excuses to open the door and stretch things out even longer: “I’m thirsty!” “I have to pee!” “My poop’s coming out!” “I have a wedgie!” “I can’t find my [insert random unnecessary item here]!” “My pajamas came off!” “I touched my butt and need hand sanitizer!” (Yes, really.)

I blame myself. I fully admit that I’m a bit indulgent with my kids, and I usually rationalize bending the rules by reminding myself that this time is so fleeting. I know I’ll miss it, years from now, when the last thing my kids will want is for me to lay next to them, singing a lullaby and snuggling for a minute (or ten) before bed.  That’s still true, but, right now, for everyone’s sanity and well-being, I need to draw a line in the sand. Otherwise my kid won’t sleep until 10 P.M. and my “me” time will be cut to a half hour of brushing my teeth and turning off lights before I hit the hay.

So, I’ve taken a page from my husband’s book, which, to his credit, has remained largely unchanged since the days of sleep training. Read one book.  Sing one song. Give a short snuggle. Evacuate! 

Exceptions to the “stay in bed” rule are made for bathroom breaks only, and any false alarms are not tolerated. My daughter demands very little from my husband at bedtime, and that’s not a bad thing. She just knows that he won’t be manipulated by pleas for “one more hug!”

A few weeks ago, I put the plan into action. It didn’t go well at first. My daughter wailed and yelled from her bed for twenty minutes. Part of me missed our elongated time together, and I felt horrible hearing “I want mommy! Just one more hug! One kiss!” What kind of monster begrudges her child that kind of affection? 

Well, it’s the kind of monster who knows that “one more” has no meaning to her kid and who just wants to pour a glass of wine and turn on the Bachelor. I let my girl cry for a while, then I went in to explain that she needed to go to bed and that I would not keep hanging out with her. I promised we’d spend time together again in the morning. The tears stopped, and she begrudgingly cozied up under her sheets.

The funny thing is, after about a week of this each night, it clicked. The sleep training methodology indeed translated to dealing with a toddler who knows just which strings to pull! My guilt has gone away. My daughter is better rested, and I’m all caught up on trashy T.V.  More wine, please!

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