How to get your toddler to sleep independently in 4 easy steps

how to get a toddler to sleep on their own

Well, hey you, over there in the dark, lying next to your kid again – and wondering if they’re finally asleep and you can dare to move?

Even if you’re not there right now, mom-or-dad, you probably know what I’m talking about. See, not so long ago that was me lying on the floor – probably googling ‘how to get a toddler to go to sleep alone’ while holding my phone under the bed so the light wouldn’t distract him.

And if you’ve also made the decision NOT to sleep train your baby – and ended up spending hours each night settling them even though they’re not a baby now – I want to give you some hope.

Because bedtime used to be such hard work in our house – but it’s not now. 

A little over a year ago, we made some simple changes to how we did bedtime and since then he has gone to bed each night without a fuss and fallen happily asleep on his own. Sure, there are nights when he doesn’t want to go but his bed time is pretty easy nowadays.

But it wasn’t always this way. Until he was past 2 and a half, his dad or I lay beside his bed night after night in the dark until he fell asleep.

Now I want to tell you the exact changes we made that got us here.

I’m so confident I can help you make the same change – and it’s going to make such a difference to you and your family. You’ll have more me-time, more couple-time and you’ll be just so darned proud of your Big Kid who goes to sleep alone.

Never wanted to sleep train your baby? That’s okay

If you’re reading this then you probably didn’t sleep train your baby – or if you did, that system’s just not working for you anymore .

You’ve probably had a lot of long evenings when it felt like your kid would never settle and you would be in that darkened room for the rest of your natural life. Maybe you even wondered whether crying it out was really so bad? But here you are, still giving your child your love and presence every night to soothe them to sleep and that’s an amazing gift. 

If it’s still working for you and you’re happy with it,  keep going. But maybe, like me, you’re finding the whole thing heavy going now. You’d like some peace and time to yourself – even if it’s just time to sit on the sofa and scroll Facebook with the light on.

And maybe, like me, you have a nagging feeling that your child needs to learn how to go to sleep alone and you need to teach them but HOW?

Well, that was us – and we got past it fast once we knew a few strategies to support and encourage our son to go to sleep alone.

teach preschooler to fall asleep alone
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So you can kiss them goodnight, pat yourself on the back and head for the sofa.

Now, let’s talk about how old your child needs to be for this to work and then we’ll dig into the plan itself.

Who is this toddler sleep plan suitable for?

This way of getting a child to go to sleep alone is suitable for slightly older toddlers. It’s for kids that you can talk to and they talk back in a meaningful way. If you can hold a conversation with your child on a simple level – reason with them, even – this plan is ideal.

It’s not suitable for toddlers who are only just beginning to talk – and you’ll see why I say that when we get into the strategies below. It also work great for kids anywhere up to five years old and maybe older – but five is the oldest success I know of so far. 

getting your toddler to sleep on their own
how to get toddler to fall asleep alone

How DO you get a toddler to sleep in their own bed alone?

So, it’s story time – before I got round to figuring out how to get my toddler to fall asleep alone, we had friends come to stay.

What I learned from the mom (let’s call her Karen) in a couple of days – without even trying – turned out to be the key to getting our toddler son going to sleep by himself EASILY. It’s been a breeze ever since.

how to get toddler to sleep by themselves

We just jumped right in one night

One evening when we had another family staying with us, my partner took our eldest to football practice as usual. This left me with our toddler son and baby daughter to settle for the night.

On football nights I typically took both little ones into bed and lay there nursing the baby to sleep while my boy went to sleep beside us. And lying with my child at bedtime worked but I was sure my son was ready to go to bed like a big boy i.e. by himself. I just didn’t know how to get him there.

So when Karen offered to put my son to bed for me since she was settling her own two kids anyway, I was sceptical. I worried that he would cry and I wouldn’t be able to go to him because I’d be busy with the baby.

Also, I knew that she  would put him in his bed and say good night to him and that would be that. Could she really get my toddler to go to sleep alone?

This was going to be a huge routine shift but I decided it was worth a try so I kissed him goodnight and took the baby off to bed.

Getting your toddler to sleep on their own  – PEDS

What happened next has become my PEDS method of teaching toddlers to fall asleep without mom or dad. Let’s talk about those steps now. 

What’s PEDS?

Okay, let’s not pretend this is fancy or scientific. These are simple steps that any parent can learn and the whole idea is that you can ease your child into going to sleep alone –  because if you’ve had mom or dad there at night your entire life, it’s a pretty big change. ‘PEDS’ is just a way of remembering what to do.

PEDS stands for

P repare

E ncourage / explain

D istract

S upport

Each of these four strategies will help you build a bedtime system where you don’t have to stick around until you’re asleep yourself with carpet marks on your face and ANOTHER cold cup of coffee waiting downstairs.

It’s all about guiding your child and giving them the support they need to make this change. And you might sucker them a little (my favourite parenting hack!) – but mostly it’s about, love, support and encouragement. See what I mean about feeling good about what you’re doing??

Okay, so first you prepare your child to go to bed. (Back to my story…)

training toddler to sleep alone
how to get a toddler to sleep
teach preschooler to fall asleep alone

Prepare your child for sleep with a consistent bedtime routine

As I lay in my room nursing the baby to sleep, I could hear everything that was happening elsewhere in the house. I heard the three little ones getting ready for bed. They put their pyjamas on, brushed their teeth and then settled down to listen to stories with Karen.

We were already in a routine for bedtime which we found really helped us get the little ones off to bed earlier – even though they were not going to sleep independently. 

Even a routine as simple as:

  • bath
  • pyjamas
  • drink / snack
  • story & songs
  • bed

will really help your child wind down from the day and be ready to go to bed. 

Encourage / explain – talk to your child about bedtime 

Next, Karen tucked her children in in their room and took my son along to his room. She talked to my little boy gently about what was going to happen, telling him that she would read him a story and then tuck him in and say goodnight, as she had done with her own son and daughter.

And as I expected, he wasn’t very happy about it and began to get upset. It was now that Karen did something really smart – she tapped into what mattered to him. Speaking very calmly and confidently, she encouraged him and made him feel big and tough, which calmed him right down.

Distract – let your child have a toy in bed

The next step in the plan is to distract your child from the elephant in the room – that they’re about to be left alone to go to sleep for the first time. Let them take a small, non-noisy toy to bed with them. I know it might seem like a pain – because you want them to sleep, not play – but when I thought about it, I knew it was a good idea.

It’s like when you drop your kid at daycare and they start to cry when you leave so the staff take them straight to an activity and then they’re fine. Distract, distract, distract!

Once he was calm and accepting of the idea of going to sleep alone, my little dude got into bed and Karen told him he could play with his toy until he was ready to sleep.

 

how to get toddler to sleep on her own

Support – come back and see them

Yep – you are actually going to leave the room now! I bet you’ve waited for this moment for a long time – and you’ve probably got some mixed feelings going on about it too. Don’t worry, you’re not just leaving and never going back because this is a loving and supportive plan so you’re going to support your child now.

Finally, she said goodnight to him and I could hear him begin to get upset again. Once more, she repeated that he could do this and that he should play with his toys. Then she told him that she would come back in ten minutes. 

This was the clincher with my little boy. From where I was, I could hear him whine a little but there was no real distress – nothing to make me feel I had to get up and go to him.

The ten minutes passed and I heard the door open again.

He was awake but quiet and she resettled him using the same techniques. Then she left again with a promise to come back in 10 minutes. This time when she came back he was asleep.

So he went to sleep by himself in less than 20 minutes after 18 months of us lying next to him in the dark! I don’t want to think how many hours that was lying on the floor.

If, when you return to your child after 10 minutes there is complete silence and you think they are asleep, wait five minutes more before checking. There’s no point waking a sleepy toddler!

I heard all this from where I was lying with my baby and wondered why I’d never actually tried – really tried – to get him to go to bed independently.  Looking back now it’s obvious –  I lacked confidence because I didn’t know what to say and do to help my son relax and go to sleep on his own.

It seemed impossible – but turned out to be easy once I knew the right things to say and the right feelings of my son’s that I could tap into.

Night 2

What happened next with our boy?

The next night, it was over to us.  I told my other half what happened and he was excited but a little sceptical that we could make this work. So the next night he put our little boy bed exactly the same way that Karen had done. I had explained the strategies to use to keep him content in his room.

He cried for a minute so we went back to him and comforted him again just as before. Ten minutes later, he was asleep. We have continued every night since and it still works. He no longer needs toys in bed and doesn’t get upset at all – or need return visits. I’d go so far as to say that bed has become his happy place.

It’s been a revelation.

I can’t promise that it will go so swimmingly for you and your little one – but I’ve heard enough great feedback from moms and dads who’ve tried to feel sure you can make it work. 

Would you like a little more help with the HOW? 

Ready to stop lying in the dark?

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toddler sleep plan

Your guide to putting your child to bed and then leaving them to go to sleep alone.

How this system can help you teach your toddler to sleep alone

Getting your child to sleep by themselves is tough but just imagine how you’ll feel when you’re done. You’ll be so proud of your big kid and of yourself for the supportive, loving way you handled changing up bedtime.

Plus, I bet you’ll also be confident to handle any other sleep issues that’ll ever come along (hello, early wakings!) because you handled this and it’s a BIGGIE!

If you are struggling to get a toddler to sleep alone, I really believe my PEDS method will help you. 

Prepare – embed a consistent bedtime routine

Explain and Encourage – talk to your child about bedtime, tapping into what matters to them

Distract – leave them with a toy to play with

Support – promise to return and do it

Let’s do this!

Additional reading

Need more info? Try this post about getting a toddler to stay in their own bed or this one on toddler sleep associations.

Check out more of my baby and toddler sleep posts here:

Create a simple but effective bedtime routine for your toddler

What to do when your toddler gets up in the night

Troubleshooting baby and toddler sleep –  13 things to try

Yes, you can just breastfeed your baby to sleep

12 thoughts on “How to get your toddler to sleep independently in 4 easy steps”

  1. Glad I stumble on your site. It gives me new insight as I’ve always need to lay next to my 15 months old until he fall asleep and repeat it each time he wakes up in the middle of the night. Your idea sounds good, however, i can’t say to a 15 months that i will come back in 10 minutes. He doesn’t understand that yet! Any idea what I can do before he burst into tears when I close the door? I’ve tried so many lovey, toys but he has held my boobs as his comforter. Even if it’s not for feeding, he still likes to touch it until he fall asleep. Nothing seems to replace it. Any recommendations?

    • Hi Tracy
      You’re right – the age of the toddler really matters! I feel your pain because I’m currently experiencing something similar with my daughter who’s 14 months old and has nursed to sleep all her life.
      I’d love to get her sleeping independently too but it’s tough at this age so I’m trying a very gentle approach.
      Currently, I’ve stopped lying beside her and instead I’m feeding her till she’s sleepy then taking her off the boob and rocking her. Then I put her in her cot when she’s very drowsy and usually she then goes off to sleep while I shush her. It’s not perfect – tonight she was NOT keen! – so I may try a more structured approach once Christmas is over.
      I hope that’s helpful.

  2. Great ideas! My daughter is two and I have a separate pillow for her baby doll so now I tuck her and her baby doll in, give them both kisses, etc and it really seems to work well! ? Good luck everyone! It’s soo hard.

  3. What do you do if the child gets out of bed? This worked for 2 nights but on the 3rd night he got out of bed and came to the living room. I put him back to bed and explained he needed to stay in bed using his motivator saying that Batman would stay in bed when his Mommy told him to. But he has been getting up every night since and this will be day seven.

    • That’s a whole ‘nother post! (which I will get around to) but for right now, if he’s not upset about going to bed alone, I would switch “another story in ten minutes if you are quiet” for “another story in ten minutes if you stay in bed.” And hang around outside the door to catch him and return him ‘like batman’ real quick. Do you think that might work?

  4. This is such an ongoing thing for us! We get into a groove and then a day or weekend off feels like backsliding. We had a very dependent toddler sleeper for over 2 years and he has just recently gained some independence.. much of that is probably the arrival of his baby sister and the need for a bit more self-direction. Thanks for addressing this tough topic!

  5. I just wanted to let you know that this post changed our lives. We had the same problem and this method totally worked when everything else didn’t! Thank you so much for sharing your story!

  6. You’re advice was seriously a god send for us! Our 3 year old fell asleep the first night trying these steps. Seriously, thank you!!

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