I’m a nationally published sleep expert, journalist, and the mom of three young kids. I’ve been helping tired families sleep since 2007 (more about me here). Subscribe to The Well Rested Family for fresh news and tips on keeping your bunch happy and healthy. Thanks for stopping by!

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Entries in standing and screaming in crib (1)

Monday
Oct012012

Tough Stuff: Standing, Screaming, and Crying at Bedtime

Most kids—at least, my kids and most kids I encounter—go through a phase of “extreme sleep resistance.” After you lay him down in his bed, he’ll pop up and scream his little head off for the whole neighborhood to hear. Lovely, isn’t it?

Although you may be über-frustrated at this point, I urge you not to just walk out and close the door behind you. Take a moment if you need it, but remain committed to supporting your child’s need to sleep.

Your little yodeler isn’t trying to ruin your night. He’s trying to tell you something the only way he can—by screaming. So ask yourself: what does he need that he isn’t getting, sleep-wise? An earlier bedtime? A longer wind-down period? A more consistent bedtime routine that cues sleep? Read my other tips in my e-book Ready, Set, Sleep to help you discover those solutions.

But, for the moment, let’s go back to your little screamer. Walk back into his (very, very dark) room and very gently lay him down on his bed. He will get back up, of course. But if you lay him down over and over again, eventually he will stay down. It may only take a minute or two (my own stubborn daughter liked to hang out on her hands and knees for a bit before actually staying down).

Then, soothe him by patting his back (or upper shoulder, if he sleeps on his back) until he is asleep. Patting can be extremely powerful—the heartbeat-like rhythm is soothing to babies and young children, and it reassures them of your presence and support. Some children prefer having you pat the mattress next to them, instead of patting their bodies.

Over the next few nights, make corrections to your bedtime routine, bedtime, and sleep environment, if needed. Continue your ritual of laying your child down gently when he stands up and yells. And once he stays down, pat until you are able to leave the room (he may be all the way asleep; he may not be).

If you would prefer to avoid this whole scenario in the first place (and really, who wouldn’t?) you can aim to lay your child down to sleep very, very drowsy or even asleep. This minimizes “extreme sleep resistance” because your child is already dozing off or zonked out when they hit the mattress.

"But what about independent sleep—aren’t we supposed to put them down and let them fall asleep on their own?" I can hear you ask. Ideally, yes. But let’s live in the real world for a moment. All babies and children go through phases where they need more sleep support from you. For some kids, this means that independent sleep gets pushed to the back burner for a short time while you return to soothing to sleep.

Is this permanent? Heck, no. Think of it as a temporary stopover in the land of extra sleep support. Once you get over this speed bump (whether it stems from separation anxiety, teething, a spurt in physical or neurocognitive growth, it is temporary) you can work your way back to putting your child down awake (aka independent sleep) with the technique described in this post. It takes a bit of patience, a dose of steely willpower, a basic digital clock—and an unswerving desire to do right by your kiddo. If I can do it, you can.  

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Need more sleep? My e-book Ready, Set, Sleep: 50 Ways to Help Your Child Sleep So You Can Sleep Too is chock-full of mom-tested solutions to help babies and toddlers start sleeping well, tonight!