My 13 month old  will not fall asleep on his own. If I put him in his cot and leave him he will get up and scream, shout, cry until I come back to him. I end up having to rock/hold him to sleep and then put him in his cot once he sleeps in my arms! It is getting very tiring now because he is much heavier and so I really want to teach him to fall asleep in his cot on his own ... your advice please. Jake’s mum

The reason your toddler reacts in such a way to being placed in his cot to sleep is as you probably know that this is what you have done since he was a newborn baby.  You would have rocked him in your arms for him to sleep either because you had the time, loved doing this (it is a special time to share),  or in desperation to get him to sleep.  The problem is  that within a very short time his brain totally believes that this is the only way that he can get to sleep.  It is part of his sleeping routine.  To change his reaction you need to change the association in his brain that this is what he needs to sleep.  He truly believes this.

This is a very common problem at around 10 months onwards because as you said, your baby just becomes too heavy to hold, your arms ache and you have hoped that by now he would learn to go to sleep on his own.  I see a lot of parents at about this time or when they are pregnant and can’t physically do this anymore.

The next step is to change this association in his brain.  There are basically two ways to do this.  Firstly simply not to re- enter his room, once you say ‘it’s time to sleep’ leave and don’t go back.  Put your hands in your pockets and walk away.  Yes, he will scream, shout and cry as you have seen, however to change his association between you and going to sleep you need to take yourself out of the picture.  It is the most difficult thing I can ask a parent to do, however in 99% of children by the end of a week, he will be self settling.  The first time is the worst and then there is rapid improvement.  How does this work?  Well, by default the first few times, ie. by removing yourself he will fall asleep by exhaustion however this is the first piece of relearning.  Each time he does this without you his brain starts to believe he can sleep without you rocking and then becomes confident with this and rapidly uses this new skill. This will take about 1 week.

The second way to do this if you struggle with first, is to start mixing up the cues he now has.  That is, rock him until he’s sleepy but awake, once his eyes start to close put him in his cot, he will wake straight away and protest, but then do the same again, rock, sleepy but still awake, place in cot, keep doing this for about 3 or 4 times then rock him to sleep as usual.  Do the same tomorrow and the next day.  You get the idea.  I am getting you to mix up his cues, keep doing this until he stops protesting and allows you to do this and place him in his cot, put your hand on him till he sleeps.  Then you have to do the same with your hand. On and off. On and off. Etc.  Keep in mind where you want to be.  Have a cuddle, put him down, say goodnight and walk out.  This will take about 3 months.  Be patient.

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Nicole Pierotti

Written by Nicole Pierotti

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