My toddler just won’t sleep

Three mums explain their bedtime strategies for dealing with common toddler sleep issues.

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There may be many reasons why your child won’t sleep – and as many ways of helping her get into good habits. It’s important for you to choose an option that not only suits you and your partner, but also your child.

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THE 1 YEAR OLD

‘She always wants to know I’m there’

Maria Sava, 31, from Basildon, has three children, Amy, 6 months, Eloise, 3 and Matthew, 7

‘Eloise slept in a crib in my room for the first year and woke once or twice a night, but it wasn’t that bad. She goes to sleep now with a bottle of milk, drinks half of it and wakes in the night for the other half. But I can handle that – I don’t find her waking in the night too much of a problem.’

Kate says: ‘This approach means sitting it out. It won’t speed up the process of good sleep habits, so if you’re on your knees you may want a more direct approach. But this is a good option if you don’t mind being disturbed in the night. Don’t feel you have to change your child’s sleep habits because everyone else thinks you should.’

THE 14 MONTH OLD

‘He couldn’t fall asleep on his own’ 

Mary Holden, 30, from London, has one son, Jonah, 14 months

‘Jonah never fell asleep alone. We tried controlled crying but he kept screaming. We were told to take him straight from the bathroom to the bedroom at night, not back downstairs. We would put him in the cot, sit on the floor, read him a story, say “Night, night” and turn out the light. He’d cry, but when he had calmed down I’d move away. If he was upset I’d go back, say “Shhh” and stroke him – but I’d avoid eye contact. When he was settled, I’d move away again and do this until he fell asleep. It took nearly two hours the first two nights. Now, by the time I have finished his story, he’s asleep.’

Kate says: ‘The “elastic band” method was developed by Dr Olwen Wilson, a child psychologist. Once your baby’s in his cot you can reassure him by touching, but you can’t make eye contact. It’s like an elastic band being stretched. When he’s calm you leave and return to him before she’s distressed.

‘Many parents say it’s a kind method as their child’s not afraid of being left alone, just cross at the lack of attention. It is labour intensive for the first night, but by the end of the first week, most children will fall asleep quickly.’

THE 16 MONTH OLD

‘Her bedtime dramas became routine’

Jeni Cohen, 27, from Walsall, has two children, Annie, 8 months, and Tabitha, 2

‘When Tabitha was 16 months old her sleeping problems came to a head. I talked to my health visitor and she advised us to put her in her cot to sleep, then visit her every five minutes to reassure her until she fell asleep. We had to be so disciplined even though she was screaming. I was sceptical and didn’t think it would work, but we were amazed when it only took five days.’

Kate says: ‘Checking is like controlled crying, but instead of stretching the time between visits, you return at regular short intervals – two minutes for a baby and five for a toddler. Say goodnight, leave the room, wait the allotted time, return to your child and then like a broken record repeat “goodnight” until your child falls asleep. If you stick to this method like glue, she will be enjoying a good night’s sleep within six nights.’

Don’t take it personally

All children have periods when they don’t sleep well. But try not to worry about whether you are the cause of it.

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  • Imagine what you can do differently that will help your child to learn to sleep well.
  • A second opinion might help make it easier to pinpoint the root of your child’s sleeping problem, so do ask your health visitor for advice.
  • Once you have decided on the approach that best suits you both, stick to your plan. It won’t be long before you start coming out with phrases like, ‘It’s changed my life, no honestly – you should try it.’

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