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I've posted here before asking for advice for getting our toddler (2 yrs 5 mths) to sleep, as he's going through a very difficult phase. Once put to bed, he constantly gets out of bed and/or screams. Falling asleep generally takes at least an hour and is very stressful, and unless I sleep in the room with him, he generally wakes and cries out for me every couple of hours.

I did carry out Supernanny's "Stay in Bed" technique. But after 3 weeks of following it to the letter it became apparent that this was not the solution. He was still needing to be put back 40 or 50 times, and had started to see it as a game.

So, out of desperation, I've started using my own method that I've not heard suggested anywhere, but which seems to be more effective than anything else:

Basically, I put my child back in bed a few times when he gets out. Then I tell him that if he gets out of bed again "Daddy's going to go outside and shut the door". And then- most importantly- carry it out if he does. I only leave the door shut for less than a minute each time, and I stand outside the whole time.

I've also done the same thing to stop him from shouting out, which he will do for minutes or hours on end. "If you shout again Daddy's going to go outside and shut the door".

Do you think this sounds like it could be too traumatic for him? I don't like doing it and it doesn't make me feel good about myself, but the kid's got to sleep. (My wife won't even try it- it's too upsetting for her.) And, as yet, this is the only method that actually gets him lying in his bed quietly.

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Our approach to stay in bed is totally different, but our son can open his door himself (since 2 years old) and always sleep with a closed door. Can you clarify if you leave the door totally open normally and that he cant open the door himself? Secondly - as I said our approach was different as he gets a choice as to where he sleeps, (his bed, floor, our bed). However, 2 and a half is really an age of independence, and maybe you could give him some bedtime choices? Blanket on or off? Sleep on pillow on floor? As long as he stays in bedroom. –  Ida Jul 21 at 18:12

8 Answers 8

up vote 13 down vote accepted

I don't think there's anything traumatic about the way you're handling the situation. You're not locking him in his room for hours on end and ignoring him, you're removing yourself from a situation so as not to prolong it.

When my son was 2 we had a similar situation of him getting out of bed multiple times before falling asleep. The Supernanny technique was a little more effective for us, but not 100% until he was older (about 3 probably), and he would still get up in the middle of the night and climb into bed with us. There were a few times when I had to put a tension gate in his doorway because after the 20th time of him climbing out of bed for the seventh night in a row, neither myself nor my husband could handle it anymore. Like your wife, I couldn't handle shutting the door on him, but putting up the tension gate allowed me to leave the door open and prevented him from physically leaving his room. I finally accepted that I didn't care if he slept so much as he stayed in his room, and he'd eventually crawl into bed and go to sleep. If he really needed us, he could yell for us and we would hear him. Sometimes he'd cry or be upset or he'd stand at the gate and throw toys into the hallway, but that I could deal with.

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If closing his door actually gets your son to stay in bed quietly and fall asleep and he's not screaming bloody murder, then it sounds like an appropriate solution to me.

My youngest child sleeps best when his door is closed, so we just leave it closed all night long. Our oldest will tantrum for hours if her bedroom door is closed, so it stays open. Our middle child often doesn't care, but occasionally wants her door one way or the other.

I think the important thing is that you break him out of the cycle he's developed. Once you get him used to a new bedtime rhythm that you both find acceptable, then you can look at perhaps leaving his door open as long as he behaves.

One other thing to look for is something else during the day you can change to make going to bed easier. Maybe put him to bed a bit later or a bit earlier. Skip the last nap, or make sure he gets it. There may be some relatively low-impact changes you can make in the day to make bedtime smoother.

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I think there are two questions that actually need to be answered here:

  1. Is it traumatic for a toddler's bedroom door to be closed at all?
  2. Is it traumatic for a toddler's bedroom door to be closed as discipline?

To the first one, I say, no, it's not. At two, kids are generally old enough to understand that even though you're not around and they can't get to you right away, you're not gone. For example, we close my (2 year old) son's bedroom door when he sleeps, and he's just fine. He can't open it yet, so when he needs something, or is ready to get up, he simply knocks on the door until we respond.

To the second one, I say, no, if you're reasonable about it. In my opinion, "reasonable" is going to vary, depending on the behavior. Locking him in his room for an hour because he spilled some water on the floor is unreasonable. Letting him cry in his room for an hour at bedtime as part of sleep training isn't necessarily unreasonable.

One of the keys I've found with "sleep training" is to learn the difference between a "real" (aka - "I genuinely need something") cry and a "fake" or tantrum cry. Respond to the real ones, don't respond to the tantrums (for example, when my son throws a tantrum in the day time, my general response is along the lines of "are you finished?", as I proceed to do my own stuff). You really have to force yourself to not respond in any way to the tantrums, or you'll never get anywhere.

One thing I found that worked to get the message across to stay in bed without feeling like total garbage (I don't think any sane person really likes locking their child in their room, even if they fully believe it's for the best in the long run), is to be a living wall. Sit at the side of the bed, and any time he tries getting out, as soon as he starts, block him and tell him "no, it's time for bed." He will still very likely throw a tantrum and it will likely take a while for it to sink in, but I found it to be effective, without as much anxiety over locking him in his room.

On a side note, what are his eating habits during the day, especially right before going to bed? I found that my son will get up many times, if he's hungry, even if he didn't show an interest in food at dinner time. I've come to the conclusion that he's too distracted during the day to realize he's hungry. Let him have a good snack a little before bed - some veggies, yogurt, or a granola bar work well. I also make sure to keep a sippy cup of water in his room, too, since the air tends to be dry in our house. These two things have gone a long way in keeping him in bed.

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The method you describe about being a "living wall" is more or less the same as the "Stay in bed" technique I mentioned. It just doesn't seem to be effective enough for me. He normally has his tea at about 5-5.30pm. Generally he eats ok, and I certainly haven't noticed an obvious correlation between bad mealtimes and bad nights. –  Urbycoz Apr 10 '12 at 20:10
    
@Urbycoz - Have you checked out the book The No-Cry Sleep Solution? It might be worth trying. On the other end, there is, of course, Ferber's and Weissbluth's "cry it out" methods, as well, though I don't know how much use they would be, given the lack of effect the Supernanny one has been (might be worth trying, though). –  Shauna Apr 10 '12 at 20:19
    
One of the keys I've found with parenting is to learn the difference between a "real" (aka - "I genuinely need something") cry and a "fake" or tantrum cry. Respond to the real ones, don't respond to the tantrums (for example, when my son throws a tantrum in the day time, my general response is along the lines of "are you finished?", as I proceed to do my own stuff). You really have to force yourself to not respond in any way to the tantrums, or you'll never get anywhere. –  Konerak Apr 14 '12 at 16:32

I don't think that this is traumatic at all.

We had to do same with my 19 month old after she moved to a toddler bed (she was climbing out of her cot and it was dangerous so we moved to the bed). The Stay in bed technique just didn't work and I followed it religiously. As I understand it that is recommended for children over 3 years old.

I invented my own technique. We did our normal bed time routine then I put her in her bed gave her a pat and left the room firmly closing the door behind me. When she got up (and howled at the door trying to get it open) I went back and put her back in the bed once and told her it was bed time and the door would stay closed until morning as she needed to sleep.

When she got up again I repeated this. I then left 5 mins the next time, 10 mins the time after that then 20 mins before returning and putting her back into bed. I could hear the tantrum in her screams and as she was warm, well fed, well watered, clean and tired so I kept at it. After 45 mins total the first night she got back into bed herself and went to sleep.

It took less time the second night and less still the third night.

I used the same approach at naptime and that was far easier.

Now I put her to bed and close the door and she stays in her room and makes no attempt to leave. At bedtime she drops off quietly in about 5 or 10 minutes. I then open her door a crack when I go to bed so she can get out in the morning (which she does every morning and comes into my room about 7am to find me :) ).

At naptime she used to go off to sleep pretty quick but is starting not to need a nap so much now. If she is not tired enough to sleep she will mess with her books / empty her drawers and generally be a pickle but she is content doing it and stays in her room for her hour nap time. I then go in and let her out after nap time is over (obviously if she was to get upset I'd go to her - it isn't prison; just wind-down time!)

She seems the same happy and contented toddler she always was. She can now talk and I am sure if she was very unhappy about things she'd let me know.

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Thumbs up to Kathrine's approach! I am doing something similar with my 19 month old daughter. It seems to be working. New parents: Don't let your baby sleep with you from the beginning, or you'll pay later.

I never went through this with my four boys because they always slept in their own bed or crib. when I had my daughter I breast fed to 14 months, so it was more convenient to keep her in the bed with us. Big mistake. It was very hard to get her to transition to sleeping alone.

With my 6th and last baby, I'm still going to breastfeed but the baby will definitely be in her bassinet. She won't miss what she doesn't know.

There really is no difference with the door being closed in the toddler bed and when they are still in the crib, with the door closed. Either way they are confined to their sleeping space. Note: My daughter's room is right next to mine with paper thin walls. I just peek my head in when I wake up to use the bathroom, and crack the door around sunrise.

There's no one answer for every family; find out what works for you. For my child it's not traumatizing, she screamed much more the other way. My hubby ended up sleeping on the hard floor all night when we tried that. After she knew the door was closed, she just sort of accepted it, and went to sleep within 5 minutes.

Toddlers just want their way. Make sure all their needs are met and routine, routine, routine! I just put her down for a short nap, while typing this! It takes time though, don't give up parents, good luck!

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"New parents: Don't let your baby sleep with you from the beginning, or you'll pay later." It all depends on your perspective, I guess. Both of my children slept with us until they were preschoolers. We had no trouble transitioning them out of our room at that point, and I wouldn't have missed that time with them for anything. It worked out well for our family. –  michelle Jul 16 at 17:32

My son was 15 months when I switched to the todler bed. He did great with it. He rarely tried to get out of bed. He used to cry for about thirty minutes but he went to sleep. With time the crying stopped. I have always shut his bedroom door and had to stop using a night light. When my son had a night light he could see his toys more clearly and wanted to play when it was bedtime. So he goes to bed every night with the door closed and no night light and he goes to sleep in 10 minutes. I do have a radio in his room that I play lullabye music with every night for him. He also sleeps with a favorite blanket.

my struggle is that now that he is 2, I don't know if I should close his door as usual for bedtime but open it before I go to bed so he can come out in the morning on his own. Or is he still a little to young to be trusted to come out on his own in the mornings. Right now it stays closed till I get up at 755 hearing him knock on the door. Baby gates don't work, my son climbs over and squeezes under them being that he's a skinny 23 pound two year old.

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Welcome to the community Emily! Unfortunately, this looks to me like its own question, rather than an answer. Can you please re-post this as a question. I look forward to responding when you do. –  balanced mama Dec 10 '13 at 6:26

Is it traumatic? No. You're doing the right thing.

Some important points. First, make bedtime a ritual. At the same time each night, put him in bed, tuck him in, read him a story, say your nightly prayers, and kiss him goodnight. Then turn out the lights and shut the door and leave it shut. This teaches him that play time is over, it's now sleepy time. Be as consistent as possible. I would wait until he falls asleep, then open the door.

At this age, it is a test of wills. You two have to be firm, loving, but united. If children see a crack between you and your wife, they will exploit it. Consistency and unity works wonders.

Remember, you're the adults. You know better than he does. DO NOT YIELD and do not give in. If he cries and you give in, you've taught him that crying is what it takes to get what he wants.

Just remember that the battles get harder not easier. Wills become stronger not weaker. Consequences get progressively worse. Winning the battles now saves everyone pain later. Giving in to your children hurts them. It doesn't help them.

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Leaving your child alone crying with the bedroom door shut is considered trauma, abandonment. After working for years as a Mindfulness counselor with adults who were left unattended in childhood, I see much pain and many problems. As a result of being left alone, crying unattended as children, adult clients commonly complain of intense feelings of abandonment of being left alone with intense feelings as a child. Many of them spend years trying to heal and learning to reparent themselves. PLEASE do not leave your child alone when they are crying. Yes, they will learn to stop crying overtime, but that doesn't mean that their stress hormones have quieted down; it often means that they have learned that the adults in their lives will not come when they are needed.

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Did you read the line "I only leave the door shut for less than a minute each time, and I stand outside the whole time."? –  Urbycoz Jun 10 at 8:21

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