Question: My 14 month old son used to sleep 10-12 hrs a night in his crib. Ever since he turned 9 months old I have been sleeping with him on the floor! He refuses to sleep in his crib. Recently we have gotten a toddler bed, same reaction. I even sleep on the floor in his room so he knows that I am there but it isn’t good enough, he has to be right next to me on the floor. Ann
Answer: My wish for all parents is sleepful nights! There are times in children’s lives when this is easier said than done but there are ways to get your children to sleep on their own. You may have heard of “ferberizing,” a phrase adapted from Richard Ferber’s book How To Solve Your Child’s Sleep Problems. The book is a classic because it explains why children learn certain sleep habits and how to slowly teach them new alternatives. It is one way that has worked for many families.
Before you begin, you must believe that you are ready. You will be asked to change something that is “easy” to do, namely to be a comfort to your child. The “new” strategy is to comfort your child in shorter doses, help him learn new ways to feel safe and secure, and know that it will take time to transition from what he now “knows.” When you begin, pick a time when you can devote 1-2 weeks to the sleep transition. Pick a time when work stress is low, when siblings will survive distractions, and when grandparents aren’t arriving. Now, rally your support system to encourage you!
Keep your bedtime routine predictable and wonderful. This is the time to put a “ribbon” on the day and wrap it in a package for your child. Read a few favorite books (Now is not the time to stretch routines. Watch out for requests for “one more” anything). End in the same way each night: with a prayer or a “don’t let the bed bugs bite” and one-two-three kisses on the forehead (any sweet thing you can do for years to come). Tell your child you will be back to check on him but he needs to stay in his special bed. Leave!
As promised, you will be back to remind him that he needs to be in his bed. If you are “ferberizing”, you will check back at increasingly longer intervals (2 minutes, 4 minutes, etc. up to 2 hours). Stay as calm and as emotionally neutral as possible. If he needs you or asks you to stay, tell him as briefly as possible that you are here and that it is time to be in his bed. If he comes out of his room, you can add a baby gate to the doorway as a reminder. It would not be terrible if he slept on the floor by the baby gate until he accepts the new routine. You may also sit outside his door until he realizes he may not leave the room. The slower you remove yourself, the longer the transition time because he must go through a transition with each minor transition you make. But the quicker you remove yourself, the more intense your child’s reaction will be because he may feel like the carpet just got pulled out from under him. There is no right way; only the best match to you and your child’s personality. The only wrong way is to doubt your actions because then your child will doubt them too.
Should you want to lay with your child for a little while, it is imperative that you leave the room while your child is still awake. That gives your child the experience of getting himself to sleep. If he doesn’t already have one, I would give your son a “lovey” (a special toy, stuffed animal or blanket). Each time you check on him remind him he is safe and “bear” is with him. Sleep issues are challenging but are a necessary part of parenting life as children go through different stages of emotional and intellectual development. Take care of your stress levels and you will be amazing at responding to child’s changing needs!
Karen Deerwester, Ed.S.