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My son is nearly two years old. We have had a solid bedtime routine forever, and we make sure to wind him down before bedtime. Lately though, he doesn't want to go to sleep.

He follows the bedtime routine just fine and without objections, but the moment we leave the room he starts crying until we come back. He doesn't want to get out and play, but he acts as if he's not tired, even though we can tell that he is.

One thing that seems to work (not always) is to stay with him, but we don't want to encourage that because we need those last few hours of the day to ourselves. If we let him direct us, it takes more than an hour.

Suggestions?

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What bed time routine do you have? Do you read a book for him? Or tell a story or sing something and stay after that some time with him, so that he can feel save and cosy? Not only adults want to cuddle. Who wants to sleep alone if he has a partner? The same is true for a child. –  erik Mar 9 '13 at 5:03
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3 Answers

My son is 2 as well, and he also wants me to lay next to him when he falls asleep... I have found that when I lay next to him reading a story tale from the children's bible he sleeps better and more restful the night than when I let him go to sleep on his own. So I'd rather take the 20min and spend the time with him while he falls asleep (it easier, better and more relaxing than having to wake up in the middel of the night for a bad dream or something that wakes him)..... Just my opinion, and he really loves it, gives him peace at night.....

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up vote 9 down vote accepted

I don't like answering my own questions, but the only other answer didn't really apply, so here goes:

"Letting him cry" didn't work for us. We discovered that the cause was discomfort rather than defiance, although not in a very obvious way. Our son's bedtime unrest and crying has been increasing recently, and it now turns out that he didn't want the sleeping sack anymore so we "upgraded" him to a blanket.

We found out by coincidence really: One evening we didn't put him in his sleeping sack but just covered him with the blanket (it's familiar to him, it has been in his crib for a long time already) and he was fine. The next evening he was restless again but not crying; my wife explained to him plainly that he's a big boy and can sleep with the blanket but he has to stay under the blanket and keep his legs and feet under it too. I'm amazed that this simple explanation did the trick, but it did. He just needed operating instructions for the tool we call blanket.

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The important part is finding out what was the correct answer for you, not necessarily from where it came. :-) FWIW, I wouldn't worry too much about staying under the blanket. If he's cold, he'll cover up, and if he's hot he'll kick the blanket off. My oldest uses blankets even in 90° F heat, my middle child sleeps in her underwear all year around. My youngest isn't old enough to have made his preferences yet, but seems to be gravitating towards "keep a blanket, but only across the belly". –  afrazier Jul 26 '11 at 14:20
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If we let him direct us ..

That is the key concept, who is in charge. This isn't about being sleepy, or about the routine, it is about testing, limits, and defiance. This is the age when they begin doing that.

My wife and I didn't care if our daughter actually SLEPT, as long as she left us alone after bedtime. If she wasn't that tired and wanted to play in her room, that was fine as long as she did so in her room without bothering us.

You need to let him cry. If he leaves his room, put him back, telling him that after bedtime he needs to stay in his room. If he gets out again, put him back again, and take his favorite toy with you. Eventually, he may need to be locked in. I flipped the lock on my daughter's bedroom door to allow us to lock her in. If you use corporal punishment, it can be effective in this situation.

Finally, don't allow this drill to become an extended routine. After the first few days, go directly to confining him in the room. He isn't stupid, he should have learned the rule, even if he is choosing not to follow it.

You need to be patient, persistent and consistent, and you need to not yell or act out yourself. Just do what you need to do and get on with your evening.

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+1 for a good suggestion. In hindsight defiance wasn't the issue, so I can't truthfully accept your answer - sorry! –  Torben Gundtofte-Bruun Jul 26 '11 at 8:20
    
Leaving somebody crying is a way of teaching him to give up hope. And in blank despair he will do so. Can’t you understand, that most people (adults and children) don’t want to fall asleep alone? Especially when you are still baby (2 years old). If he learns/sees that he is not alone, he will soon fall asleep faster. –  erik Mar 9 '13 at 5:07
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@erik Seriously .. "blank despair" after 5 minutes of crying? I think you are being a bit over-dramatic. Until you get a grip on reality, your kid is going to have you wrapped around his/her finger. Even an hour or two a night or crying for a week isn't going to scar the kid for life or destroy any hope of happiness. –  tomjedrz Mar 10 '13 at 0:09
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