With this easy positive parenting method, there are four steps to teaching a child to fall asleep alone.
Well, depending on your starting point there might be more – if your child already falls asleep in their bed but you’re there too, then there’s only four steps.
Four steps that I originally learned by watching my friend Karen put my son to bed without having to lie beside him till he fell asleep. (Read that bit here if you didn’t already)
I’m going to share those exact steps below but first let’s talk about the difference between babies and toddlers or preschoolers.
You think that crying’s the problem
A lot of little kids cry when their parents leave them in bed at night.
But that’s not the real problem.
The real problem is WHY they cry at night.
If you can get past the reason why your child gets upset, you’ll be home and dry with a kid who goes to sleep happy.
So why do little kids cry when we leave them in bed?
There’s a few things.
It could be…
…because they don’t want to be alone.
…because they miss you.
…because they’re scared.
…because they need their teddy.
Maybe all of those things.
Fear, anxiety, loneliness.
Not really things that help anyone sleep better.
…or maybe it’s just because it’s Thursday.
When it comes to little kids, not everything makes sense – but you can still help them through if you know the right things to say.
This is the difference between sleep training a baby and teaching a preschooler to fall asleep without you
Your child’s big enough to talk – big enough to tell you what’s wrong and what they need.
Even if sometimes it doesn’t make sense.
This is so huge.
It’s huge because if you can influence your child by talking to them now, then there’s no reason to do any kind of crying approach when you teach them to fall asleep without you.
You don’t need to sleep train them or ‘train’ them in any way.
All you need to do is the kind of parenting that probably comes naturally to you anyway.
Showing, explaining, guiding and reassuring.
Stuff you do all the time during the day, right?
A different approach to getting your preschooler to sleep
But back when I was lying beside my son every night to get him to sleep, I hadn’t figured that out yet.
I still thought it was either his needs or my needs.
Let him cry so I could get my evening – or lie with him so he could fall asleep without crying.
Which is where I was at when my friend Karen kindly offered to put him to bed for me one night when she was visiting.
So I was nervous as I kissed him goodnight and let him go to bed with Karen and her kids.
What if he cried and I was still nursing the baby and couldn’t go to him?
Would it really work?
Well, I didn’t need to worry.
From where I was lying with his little sister, I could hear everything that happened that evening.
And I realised a lot of things, beginning with the fact that I really could get my evenings back without making my child miserable.
This is how:
The 4 step method to teach a child to fall asleep alone
Remember this is a plan for preschoolers and older – because you have to be able to talk to your child and influence them with your words to make it work.
I recommend 2 years old as a minimum – two and a half is better.
You need them to be talking and holding conversations before you can do this.
Okay, so Karen took him and she supported and encouraged him to go to bed by himself with these 4 simple steps.
I call it the BEAR method.
B – Bedtime routine – a calming ritual to set them up for sleep
E – Explain what’s happening and encourage them
A – Amuse – give them something to amuse and distract them
R – Return – go back and see them again
Karen talked to him the whole time, staying calm and speaking in a quiet voice.
She got past all his fears – and all his objections.
She never left him alone to cry.
And he didn’t really want to go to sleep like a big boy – but he did it.
1. Bedtime routine
Karen prepared him for bed and for sleep so he was calm and ready – and the bedtime routine wasn’t much different to what we did already.
Bath, pajamas, brush teeth, books – and no noisy play after dinner.
Evening’s a calm time.
If your kid’s bouncing on the bed, they’re not gonna be ready to fall asleep any time soon.
2. Explain and encourage
She let him know what was happening and what she was going to do – because this was a whole new way of doing bedtime and he needed help to understand.
And when he needed a little reassurance, Karen let him know she’d be close by.
Because he was a big kid already, he understood what was going on and though he didn’t like it, Karen was able to encourage him through.
3. Amused – distract your child for success
That moment when you walk out the door’s the tough bit.
That’s when it gets real – and when your little one’s most likely to cry – so make sure they’ve got something to help them through.
Karen took my son’s mind off what was happening and the huge change he was making by letting him take toys to bed.
That meant that when he was left alone in bed, he wasn’t lying there thinking about how he was alone and didn’t like it – so he didn’t cry.
4. Return – go back and see them
And then she supported him through the whole thing – but without staying in the room with him until he fell asleep.
She was never far away and went back into the room to see him after a few minutes – even though he wasn’t upset.
Because going back to see your child in bed after a few minutes is a great idea – they’ll love it and look forward to it.
Soon after Karen left him again, my little boy was fast asleep.
I heard it all happen from where I was lying with her baby.
It’s so simple
I wondered how it could actually be working – and how I hadn’t thought of this myself?
I could hear that he was in bed and alone and he was okay with that.
This was new.
Over to you, mom
And it turned out that I could do it too.
The next night it was my turn.
Yes, he objected a little, resisted a little – he wanted mommy to lie down like she always did.
But I knew what to say and do now so that he would feel okay and content.
It was amazing.
In a couple of nights, this not-yet-3-year-old had gone from needing a parent there until he was fast asleep to going to sleep like a big kid in his own bed alone.
All by knowing the right things to say and do to influence him.
What a difference
Can you imagine? It was a revelation!
We had evenings again. (Well, there was the baby too so we weren’t totally out of the woods but still…)
No more lying in the dark with the preschooler.
No more bedtimes that lasted until 10:30 pm.
No more feeling helpless to move him forward – in fact, we felt so proud of him (and ourselves).
From desperate to fixed in a few days.
It’s hard to describe how great it felt.