How I Got My Toddler to Fall Asleep Alone

If you remember many months ago I was writing out my co-sleeping woes. I had a toddler who slept with me most of the night.  I was pregnant and needed space, plus I knew a new baby was going to be bedsharing with us so I wanted to get the toddler into his own bed.

We were able to do this successfully in a very gentle way. I slept next to my son’s bed on the floor for a week.  Eventually he stopped waking at night.  When he did, he came to our room and let me put him back in his bed.  It was a HUGE accomplishment.

He backslid towards the end of my pregnancy.  He wanted mama cuddles.  I’m sure he knew something big was up.  2 weeks after the baby was born we got things back to normal and he was napping and sleeping in his bed.

Well…. almost back to normal.  My well meaning husband started laying next to my son in his bed for him to fall asleep after I gave birth to Everett.  We used to sit in a chair in the room, but not lay with him.  Our hope was that we could start just laying him in his bed and say “Nite, Nite” then leave.  Having hubby lay with him really put us backwards.  Eventually I was going to use the “walking chair” method to ease him into falling asleep alone.

In December we drove to North Carolina to visit family.  Christmas Day I had bought tickets for my husband to watch a movie, a special gift to get him out of the house and give him some time alone.  Unfortunately, Fletcher stayed up later than usual and I was faced with a problem.  How to get him to sleep while Everett was awake.  Both kids needed me at the same time.  Everett was crying without me, even with my Mother-in-law, and Fletcher needed to be put to bed.

Steven laid him in bed and left for the movies but he was still awake.  My husband swore he thought he would fall asleep.  I laughed because he has never fallen asleep without one of us with him.  Then I had a lightbulb moment!

I started talking to Fletcher, from downstairs, through our Summer Sleek and Secure Video Monitor (which I reviewed for this site). I told him to go Nite Nites, go to sleep, that I loved him, etc.  He was talking to himself.  Then…….. silence. I heard the tell tale deep breathing.  He was asleep.  I was in another room, downstairs even.  It was truly a Christmas Miracle!

We tried again the next night.  It worked.  The following night we tried again and it didn’t work.  Eventually we stopped trying at home because he was sick and I felt better cuddling with him before bed.

A few weeks ago my husband informed me he had to go out of town, twice, in February.  Cue Mommy Freak out.  I had no idea what I was going to do at bedtime.  Naps are hard enough here but I manage.  I still have to lay with Fletcher so Everett has to be happy or asleep.  That can be hard to make happen around nap time for Fletcher.

2 weeks ago I decided to give the monitor another shot.  I put Fletcher in his bed after reading a few books.  I laid him down, tucked him in, handed him his Robot, and told him to take a nap.  I left the room and he started yelling for Mommy.  Quickly, I pushed the button to talk to him.  “Mommy is in the other room taking care of the baby.  Put your head on your pillow, close your eyes, and take a nap.”  “OK” he said.

He talked to himself.  Then called out for me again. “I love you, take a nap.  We will play when you wake up.”  “Yeah!” He chattered a minute.  Then fell asleep.  He never even tried to get out of bed.

That night I did the same thing.  This time we turned on his Twilight Turtle (godsend because he wants to lay in bed to look at the stars on his ceiling.  He loves it!) and tucked him in.  Lots of kisses, love you’s, goodnights.  Then I left.

As expected he asked for us.  No crying though.  My husband took the monitor and told him “Count the stars on the ceiling.  Go to sleep.  Goodnight.” Then we hear “boo, bah, boo, pour, figh….” It wasn’t long and he was asleep.  Celebrations occurred in the living room!

Every day since I have successfully used this technique. It is to the point that I don’t even have to use the monitor often, if at all.  I still like him to know I didn’t just leave him.  But he doesn’t need it anymore.

I feel like we are at the stage where he is a true independent sleeper.  We have gone through the tiniest baby steps to get here.  Co-sleeping, to part time co-sleeping, to night weaning which lead to the end of co-sleeping, then laying with him for sleep, to a simple “Good night.”  A part of me is dying a little inside knowing how fast he is growing up.  I marvel at him every day and the little boy things he does.  When I tell him something, he understands.  That is why this method works.  He knows we are right next door.  He knows his brother needs Mommy for milkies so I can’t stay in his room.

While he is sick I still lay with him if he needs me.  I am happy to do it.  Knowing I avoided having a huge dilemma while my husband is gone is a huge weight off of my shoulders.  I am so proud of my Fletcher-man.  I am also so proud of my husband and I for doing the best for him, even when his sleep habits had us in tears.

Just to give you an idea of the benefits of learning to fall asleep on your own, before this I rocked him to sleep or laid next to him in his bed for every nap.  He would go down for a nap anywhere from 11:30-3:30.  He would sleep 1-3 hours, but usually around 2 hours.  At night he needed someone laying next to him.  His bedtime was usually 9:30-10:30.  We waited until he was tired, otherwise he would fight sleep and we would be in his room for an hour or more.  He would wake around 7:30-8:30.

Now, he naps almost every day at 12:00 -12:30.  He doesn’t have to look tired.  I put him in whether he is playing and happy or already drowsy.  His naps are almost always over 2 hours, one day he took a 4 hour nap!  No matter how long his nap, he gets put in bed around 8:30, sometimes even 8!  And he wakes for the day at 7:30.  I get no real protests, and he has even asked or agreed to nap or go to bed. How is that for most improved sleeper of the year?!

Maybe this method will work for some of you in the same situation.  I used the Summer Infant Sleek and Secure Handheld Color Video Monitor (Amazon Affiliate link) I received to review. If anyone knows of a cheaper alternative, maybe just a regular, non video monitor that you can talk through, please let us know in the comments.  I didn’t have a lot of luck with that.

Have your babies always fallen asleep alone?  If not, how did you make the transition?

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  • Allison

    Hi Kim, This is so fabulous! Congratulations and good for you for sticking with it. I know how tough it can be to go through this. I never even thought to use the talk back feature in an instance like this, but what a great idea. Again, congratulations!

  • Congratulations!! I have the same problem with mine.. we just switch the crib for the big boy bed and I have to lay with him till he falls asleep so I can leave.. Thank for the tip.. I do not own one of those monitors though..

  • Rebecca Plyler

    I have a two-way monitor by The First Years that doesn’t have video, but I can talk to my daughter. It was $50 and I’ve seen it at Babies R Us and Target. We love it!

    • Anonymous

      Wonderful, thanks for that! You don’t have to have video so that would be a
      less expensive alternative.

  • Luitze

    Thanks for some ideas… My 3 yo still doesn’t sleep through the night. Did the same thing you did- rocked or laid next to him. Now hubby does it, but it is still VERY frustrating trying to get 3 yo down when trying to take care of the 5 month old. Mine is always getting up out of bed throughout the night, so maybe sleeping in his room for a week and trying the rocking chair slowly moving from his bed is a start! Thanks again!

  • Kate

    Just reading this I feel so happy for you! Congrats!!

    My son stopped falling asleep when being nursed at 8 months. For a while my husband was the only one who could get him to sleep by holding and walking him. That lasted a month before it started to fail too. 

    I knew I wasn’t going to leave him alone to cry it out. I read a few books on gentle methods of getting babies to sleep better. The Sleep Lady book seemed like an approach that would work best for us. Following all the guidelines in that book (I even took notes to remember the key strategies she suggested), it took 3 days to get him to fall asleep on his own (with me in the room with him, sitting nearby and consoling him at times). By the 3rd night he stopped crying at all. In about a week I didn’t need to be in the room w him anymore. This helped him to fall back to sleep on his own if he woke up at night too. I was in shock at how easy it was and how he never had to be left alone to cry or worry. He is 15 months now and goes down for naps and bedtime like a pro, and it still amazes me!!!

  • Alyssa

    Thanks for posting about this. A couple months ago we moved our (just turned) 2 year old to a twin bed in his room (leaving the crib up) and it didn’t go so well. He’s been able to put himself to bed since he was around 3.5 months. Our normal bedtime routine is to read to him in the rocking chair (also in his room) then to put him in his bed and he would go to sleep on his own. But when I moved him to the twin bed I laid next to him and read (cutting out the chair). That started something. Then, he wanted me to lay next to him as he went to bed. So, I would turn out the light and continue to lay there next to him till he went to sleep. After a couple days I was able to sit at the bottom of his bed till he was nearly asleep then I would leave. The trouble was his bedroom door was hung wrong by the guy that built our house and there is no possible way to open/close it quietly. So as soon as I would open the door my son would start crying out for me. I felt like things were moving in a positive direction – then I had his dad put him to bed one night and it took him an hour and my husband just ended up putting him back in his crib. My husband was so frustrated with his experience (which had been nothing like the times I put our son to bed) that my husband told me I was babying him and that he wasn’t ready to sleep in a “big-boy-bed”. So our 2 year old is back in the crib. But he is a very tall kid for his age and is quickly outgrowing the crib. So, I know sooner than later we’re gonna have to face this issue again and it was helpful to read how it worked for you. We don’t have a monitor like yours, but I think it sounds like a great idea.

  • ClimbingMama

    You’re giving me hope woman. Our son is nearly 21 months old and still sleeps with us. He has a toddler bed but we never use it. I keep trying to make his room HIS room rather than the storage room (in a tiny 2 bedroom apartment it’s kinda hard not to use it to store stuff. As he’s gotten bigger he’s become much more of a bed hog and I’m thinking we’re going to have to work this thing out soon. You’re giving me hope because he sleeps just like you describe Fletcher BEFORE you got him to sleep in his own bed nap schedule and all (you’re making me feel normal too). Thank you for the hope that someday he’ll just go to bed when I say it’s bedtime, and that he’ll sleep in his own bed in his own room. I love my bug, I do but I kind of miss having a little extra room in my bed.