“My toddler won’t sleep without me, I’ve tried everything and I’m exhausted! What do I do?” … I’ve heard it over and over again.
In fact, I’ve experienced it first hand. And believe me, I know how you feel…
Now, I’m going to be honest, this is not an easy road. Teaching your toddler to sleep alone requires persistence and determination…
BUT within just 3 weeks, your toddler will be a blissful solo sleeper, I promise!
So what are the reasons why your toddler won’t sleep alone? And how can we help them become independent nighttime sleepers?
Well, from first hand experience and decades of nannying experience, here are all my tips and tricks you need to get your precious evening back!
The 2 Key Differences About Sleeping Alone You Need To Identify
Having issues with getting your toddler to sleep is VERY common.
Unfortunately, this can manifest itself in one of two ways with your toddler either wanting you to physically lie next to them while they fall asleep, or them wanting you to be in the room with them as they nod off.
How you handle these two situations is very different… so it’s important to know which one you and your little one are experiencing!
1. Toddler Won’t Sleep Unless I’m In The Room
Some children will fall asleep as long as you are in the room with them. This may mean you have to sit on the edge of the bed, sit on the floor or in a chair in their room until they are asleep.
Typically, if you attempt to move out of the room before they are asleep your toddler will cry out and beg for you to come back or they will try to follow you.
If this is happening to you, then keep on reading the rest of the article! If not, then check out the next paragraph for more information about sleeping with a toddler who wants to be held.
2. Toddler Won’t Sleep Unless Touching Me
As mentioned earlier, some toddlers will not fall asleep unless they are physically in contact with a parent. This may mean holding their hand, stroking their forehead, resting a hand on their tummy or even lying next to them.
And if this is you, the be warned… The desire for your toddler to be in physical contact with you is a trickier problem to solve and needs a slightly different approach to handle.
But, whatever the reason that this habit has formed from, you can find loads of tips on how to help fix this situation by checking out my post on ‘Baby Won’t Sleep Unless Held!’ to help you get through this phase! Then come back to this post afterwards!
5 Reasons Why Your Toddler Does Not Want To Sleep Alone
So now we know we’re working with a toddler who simply wants you to be in the room with them whilst they fall asleep, here are some of the most common reasons why your toddler may not want to sleep alone:
- The lack of a regular and healthy bedtime routine.
- You have rocked them to sleep and then stayed with them until they go to sleep up until now.
- They are experiencing separation anxiety.
- They have a fear of the dark.
- They have just moved from a crib to a bed.
So what can we do about these triggers to get back into a healthy nighttime routine?
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7 Genius Ways To Help Your Toddler Learn To Sleep Alone
It is important to remember that falling asleep alone is a learnt skill.
If babies and young children had a choice, they would happily fall asleep next to you every evening and be happy to find you there when they wake up! Why wouldn’t they!
So, unless you ACTUALLY teach them to self settle, they will struggle to sleep without help.
Now… toddlers are extremely emotional and it’s perfectly normal for them to push the boundaries and experiment with their new found independence to see how much they can get away with!
Combine this with their desire to be with you all of the time, bedtime can easily turn into a battle ground if not handled correctly.
1. Gradually Break The Habit
If you have been staying with your little one until they fall asleep and are suddenly expecting them to fall asleep alone, just because they have reached an age when you would expect them to do so, it’s not going to go smoothly.
What makes teaching a toddler to fall asleep alone more difficult than teaching a baby is that they now have a will of their own and are more mobile.
Therefore you need to adjust your evening routine and nighttime antics gradually.
This will take a lot of patience and consistency, but by addressing the next 5 issues you will have a happy, self settling toddler in no time!
2. Address The Bedtime Routine
I know. I am always going on about the bedtime routine… but it is EXTREMELY IMPORTANT.
Getting your children into bed in a calm and timely manner will be your lifesaver and as I have said on many occasions aiming for child free evenings is your investment in your parenting for the following day.
If you have not had a regular and healthy bedtime routine NOW is the time!
Children love routine and following the same steps at the end of every day will give them all the right signals that bedtime is on the way.
Go to my post on ‘Hacking the Bedtime Routine’ to see what makes a great bedtime routine!
3. Reduce Any Fears Of The Dark
Many toddlers will develop a fear of the dark and this is very easily remedied by having a night light. And you can have a night light in the bedroom itself or in the hallway with the door ajar.
In fact, I would always suggest that you leave the bedroom door ajar as very few toddlers want to sleep in a room with a door shut.
If your toddler does not want to sleep in the dark then don’t try and persuade them otherwise, it’s not worth the stress!
Check out my Parenting Toolbox for more of my favourites products and toddler must-haves all hand picked by me to save you time and money without compromising on safety, style and practicality.
4. Recognise Any Separation Anxiety
It is also very normal for your toddler to not want you to leave when they have to go to sleep.
Your toddler’s love for you is HUGE and they love nothing more than being with you!
However, it is your job to help them learn to fall asleep alone and reduce their fears of being left.
Handling Separation Anxiety
Here are some handy tips to help you handle separation anxiety:
- Offer your little one a favourite soft toy that they can fall asleep with and keep them company.
- Talk to your toddler about the fact that they need to learn to fall asleep alone. Tell them that you are not going far and that you will just be in the kitchen/ living room and that you will pop back in a little while.
- Make sure that you do come back after a short while and gradually lengthen the time that you stay away until they are falling asleep before you come back.
If your toddler wants you to lie with them you may have to wean them off this before you can even start leaving the room.
- Start by sitting on the bed (not lying) and holding their hand until they fall asleep.
- Next, take away holding their hand and just sit on the bed. Once this is established then move to the floor or a chair next to the bed. Then over the next few nights move closer and closer to the door.
- Once you have reached this stage you can move to the ‘I’m just down the hall and will pop back in a minute’ routine as already explained.
TOP TIP: Playing an audio book or some favourite music to lull your toddler to sleep can help with separation anxiety and fear of the dark too.
This process will take several nights depending on the level of clinginess your toddler is currently at and you will need to be very patient and consistent!
It is important that you DO NOT vary from this routine because if your toddler detects any opportunity to take advantage of you they will jump at the chance to persuade you to let them get out of bed or have you stay with them!
5. Are They Over-Tired Or Not Tired Enough?
Another reason your toddler may be struggling to sleep on their own is because they’re either overtired or not tired enough.
As weird as it sounds… needing sleep can result in children fighting sleep.
Simply put, overtired toddlers experience an increase in cortisol and adrenaline that will make them hyper and over emotional before bedtime. Equally a toddler that is not tired enough will struggle to fall asleep.
I’ve explained more here -> Why do babies fight sleep? so be sure to give that post a read to learn more!
If your toddler does not appear to be tired enough, then consider cutting down on any daytime sleep. But, if your toddler appears to be overtired at the end of the day, then make sure that they are getting sufficient daytime sleep.
It’s a TOUGH BALANCE, but you can find out more about how to master this balance of day and night sleep in my post Why does my toddler get hyper before bed?!
6. Have They Moved From A Cot To A Bed Recently?
As minor as it may seem to us, moving from a cot to a bed is a big deal for toddlers and it’s often the trigger for bedtime settling issues.
It may also be the point at which you are tempted to stay with your toddler to settle them to sleep because they refuse to stay in the bed without you there.
It will help if you have a bedtime routine ↑ in place, but even so, your toddler may realise that from a bed they can get up and leave the bedroom with you… and they will certainly try and see if this is an option!
Preparing For Big Bed Transitions
Here are a few handy ways to prepare your toddler for moving into a big bed:
- Set the bed up in the same room as the crib BEFORE you make the transition.
- Get them to help choose the bedding and put their favourite dolls or stuffed toys in the new bed too.
- Be enthusiastic about the new bed to encourage your little one to be too!
- Offer them the choice of sleeping in the crib or bed at night.
- If you have a crib that gradually turns into a bed then this is even better as they will not feel that removing the side of the crib is such a big deal compared to changing bed completely.
Whichever option you have then keep things positive and once the move to the bed is made then stay the course.
TOP TIP: Do not try to move your toddler into a big bed just before the arrival of a new sibling or after moving house as they will probably have a hard time handling 2 big changes at once.
7. Be Patient, Calm And Consistent
Finally (and most importantly!) when it comes to teaching your toddler the all important skill of falling asleep alone, you need to stay calm, be patient and consistent.
It is so important that you maintain boundaries and routines around bedtimes.
Toddlers understand a lot more from your tone of voice than they do from your words so staying calm and not getting angry is essential to your success when dealing with a toddler who won’t sleep alone.
Once this has been settled, then you will need to be patient, as fixing bedtime issues is NEVER quick. Realistically most toddler sleep issues can take several weeks to fix.
How To Handle A Toddler Who KEEPS Getting Out Of Bed
If your toddler gets out of bed it is important that you are firm but kind, by saying very clearly that they need to go back to bed and stay there.
You may have to repeatedly return them to bed but it is very important that you do NOT give in even if they cry and complain. Do not regress to old habits like lying with them.
If your toddler does become very distressed then you may have to revert to staying in the room near their bed, but do not engage in unnecessary conversation. Keep your voice low and calm but preferably stay as silent as you can.
TOP TIP: Pre-empt any attempts to get you to return to the bedroom by making sure that the night light is on and they have had that last kiss and last sip of water before you leave.
My Toddler Won’t Sleep Without Me RECAP
In conclusion, when it comes to solving the issue of your toddler not wanting to sleep alone you need to be determined and committed to the task at hand.
However, a few weeks of consistency will reap great rewards and lay the foundations to healthy sleep in your growing child.
Never forget the importance of establishing a regular bedtime routine, don’t feel guilty about wanting your toddler to fall asleep without you and remember that this is a developmental skill that your toddler needs to learn.
Consider a nightlight, a favourite soft toy to keep your toddler company and do not be tempted to revert to old habits once you have moved forward.
Most importantly stick with the programme and remember that even if your toddler gets upset then you still need to remain firm but kind, loving and consistent.
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As I mentioned in this post, if you’re looking for products for your little one and you’re not sure where to begin, be sure to check out my Parenting Toolbox.
It is full of all my favourite products which I’ve tried to ensure are all non-toxic, eco friendly, sustainable and, of course, they’re all baby proof!
Do you have any blog recommendations that you’d like me to write about? Drop me an email [email protected] and let me know! I love hearing from you!
Thank you for your continued support and until next time, Happy Parenting!
Paula McLarenPaul Mclaren - Norland Nurse NNEB RSH is the founder of Teething to Tantrums and has been in the child care industry as a Norland Nanny since 1982. Since then, her mission has been to help parents become the best they can possibly be. And each year, she continues to help more families understand their child's development, the trials and joys of parenting and of course, how to care for their little ones.
Download this daily routine template to take back control and get out of perpetual survival mode!
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