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So my wife and I got our 2 year old daughter her own bed because we moved the crib to new/future baby boys room. We've found that trying to get her to go to sleep is MUCH more difficult than we imagined.

Right now, if she's awake and we leave the room because it's "night time", she starts wailing and chases after us.

Our first thought was to sit in the rocker in her room until she falls asleep. But if she's napped during the day (which is 95% of days), then she could sit there for up to 2 hours without falling asleep. That's obviously not a very fun scenario. Even last night, my wife sat in there for an hour, then got up to sleep and she freaked out and chased after her.

Our second thought was to lock her in her room. But she again wails and pounds on the door.

Any thoughts on how to get control of this attachment/separation anxiety for night time? I really hate locking her in (we have to hold the door handle on the other side), and sitting in her room for that long doesn't seem like a good option to us.

One thing we WON'T give in to, is letting her sleep with us. Our bed is off-limits for sleep time.

Edit: to the commenter below...

Our crib night time routine was very easy. We'd read 2 to 3 books in the rocker. Then she shuts off the lights, turns on humidifier, turns on the sound machine, then we'd snuggle in the rocker for about 5 or 10 minutes. At that time, she'd willingly go to the crib. I'd put her down, say goodnights/I love you's, then walk out of the room. As soon as we'd get out of the room, she'd cry for about 3 to 5 minutes (but obviously couldn't get out of the crib). After that, she's out like a light until 6:00/6:30 in the morning.

Edit 2: sorry forgot to mention, along the lines of locking the door, we tried putting up a gate in the doorway. That backfired as she bulldozed her way straight through the gate.

  • How was your nighttime / evening routine before the transition? – Stephie Jul 21 '15 at 19:51
  • Have you tried using a baby/toddler gate on the doorway instead of closing the door? Whether this helps at all probably depends on the layout of your rooms, but it's an idea I've had some limited success with. – R.. Jul 21 '15 at 23:27
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Locking her in is one thing I would never try; this is very traumatizing, and will very likely reinforce any separation anxiety and attachment. I know this from experience (unfortunately), and will not try it again.

Your daughter expects you to be there to comfort and reassure her when she is scared, and locking her in her room when she is expressing these fears by running to you is, in effect, withholding this comfort and reassurance - the reason, however justified, makes no difference to her.

Transitioning to sleeping in her own bed is tough, and if you are not willing to let her continue sleeping with you until she wants to start sleeping in her own bed, then you are going to have to convince her that she is safe when she is alone in her own room, and this can be a difficult process for the parents.

What worked/works for us, is to spend a defined amount of time in the room, and it should not be enough time for the child to fall asleep since this will condition her to expect you to wait for her to be asleep and could cause her to expect you to be there when she wakes up. When the time is up (you can guess at the amount if you can be relatively consistent about it, since a timer would likely be very counter-productive with ringing, buzzing, flashing lights, etc.), leave the room but stay close by. Quietly respond if she calls you, reassuring her that she is safe, that you will keep her safe, and that it is time to stay in bed and fall asleep. Return periodically (I tell my son I will check every 5 minutes, though the actual time varies slightly, as he falls asleep faster with fewer check-ins) to check on her and tell her she is safe (if she is awake and responds to your presence).

Most nights our son is asleep by the second 5 minute check.

EDIT: Refining and expanding answer in response to additional info

Our son did not even start sleeping on his own until ~3 years old (6-9 months ago). We co-slept with him for a very long time before moving him to his own bed (in our room), which was just a toddler mattress on the floor. When we were ready to move him out, we set up his bed and some personal space in the upstairs bedroom (previously dedicated to his older brother), and began making a big deal about it and how great it would be when he got to sleep there. It didn't take long for him to be interested in it, but getting him to fall asleep and stay in bed has been an on-going challenge, and he still ends up sleeping with us several nights of the week (usually after waking up sometime between 2~4 AM, and coming downstairs, possibly feeling scared since his big brother is away visiting relatives). He always falls asleep in his bed, though, which is an improvement we hope to build on.

Strategies that might help with the chasing after you when you leave would include anything that enables her to feel comfortable alone in her room near/at bedtime, and once the lights go off. Something we have tried that seemed to work fairly well include quiet, alone time before bed (reading, puzzles, drawing, coloring, putting all the stuffed animals to bed. Another, is convincing her that you will be right back - get her a sip of water, get her dad/mom to come in and check on her (and get a break for yourself). Really, anything that will get her to stay in bed even for a moment while you are out will help make strides toward falling asleep on her own.

  • Thanks for the feedback. I'm in 100% agreement about the locking her in part. I'm all for the "leave the room but stay close by", but as soon as we start to motion that we are going to leave the room, she hops out of bed to either stop us, or beat us to the door. That's what were having trouble with. She'll willingly go to bed, as long as we're in the chair and not going to leave. – ganders Jul 21 '15 at 20:19
  • We tried something like this (5 minutes in 5 minutes out etc.), and while it didn't work for us, I could see it working with our youngest. The oldest is just too clingy. But, I would say there's nothing wrong with a timer that's reasonably quiet: there are kid timers that are light-based for example. That helps her know when you're coming back! – Joe Jul 21 '15 at 20:30
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    Got an update on this after a couple months. We would stay in her room, in the rocker until she would fall asleep for the first 2 or 3 weeks. Then, we'd just sit in her room for about 5 or 10 minutes once the lights were off, then we'd tell her we were going into the other room, but we'd be right next door. She was ok with it by then, and it's not a problem anymore. Thanks everyone! – ganders Sep 8 '15 at 12:05
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  • Can you use the crib with one side removed? Our crib had one side you can take off, and it really helped with the transition. They still get the familiar crib, while getting used to getting in and out of the bed on their own. (We started with this by 1 year of age, though).
  • Some kids need parents in their room while they fall asleep. (Our youngest at 2 shows no sign of being ready for us to leave, unlike his big brother at that age)
  • Some kids might need some help to fall asleep if they are not really tired. We let our oldest play with a car, or read a book by himself in his bed (NO electronics, though!). Rule was he had to put his head and feet on the bed, and we would check on him: I will be back in 10 min and then you have to have stopped playing.
  • Some kids might like a choice, making the bed 'empowering'. They can now get in and out on their own, can they choose their blanket? their favorite stuffed toy?
  • Some times we had to sit there and ask them to go back to bed again, and again and again... when he went to the door instead of his bed. It took a couple of weeks.
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First off: welcome to having a two year old! This is something a lot of people go through at around this age, and certainly the crib going away at this point is a lot of the reason.

Different approaches work for different children, and if you look around the and tags, you'll see a lot of different solutions. The most important thing is to be consistent: once you find something that seems to work for you to some extent, stick with it. Changing the bedtime routine frequently will be difficult for the child.

I think you'll find a lot of parents end up doing what we do: stay with them until they fall asleep. Some kids just need that. Our oldest (about to turn 4) does; our youngest probably doesn't (but they sleep in the same room, so he gets it for now - though if he is still awake when older brother is asleep, sometimes we'll leave while he's still drowsy).

If it's taking 2+ hours for her to fall asleep, though, perhaps you're going to bed too early? Obviously it's possible the parent in the room has some impact on that, but in my experience a tired kid will fall asleep within a half hour or less usually. We had to move bedtime back an hour or so at about this age, and that's the only thing that worked for us overall: if we try to start bedtime too early, it's a disaster (even if we're in the room!).

I would recommend trying a few things that might help, if you haven't already: white noise, or non-verbal music, in particular. If you have it available, a great tool at around this age is an iPod or old iPhone that you don't mind risking damage to, either with built-in speaker or an older one with a small speaker that can attach directly to it. Giving him some control over music was a great thing for us for a few months - it ended up not working well in the long run, but it helped get through the hardest time. Kids at that age really crave some control, and letting him shuffle through a bunch of music he liked (we actually used Thomas songs, which are verbal, but that's all we could get him to listen to) let him be less stressed out about bedtime.

  • Thanks Joe, regarding the tiredness, 2+ hours to fall asleep. She's awake from 6:00am till 2:00pm. Naps from 2:00 till 4:00/4:30. Then bedtime at 8:00pm. I guess we could start getting rid of the nap time, because she'll definitely be tired then. It sounds like I may have to give in to the idea that I'll sit in her room for awhile. – ganders Jul 21 '15 at 20:22
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    Some kids do need to get rid of naps at that age; my two year old still needs his, but it varies. That seems like a late nap to me: our usual nap is 12-2, and he's mostly ready for bed by 8:30. When he does nap that late (awake at 4:30) he's usually hard to get to bed even at 8:30 - so maybe moving it up some would do the trick. – Joe Jul 21 '15 at 20:23
  • Yeah, I guess when she did two naps, the other was around 9 - 11 or so (don't remember beacuse it seems like an eternity ago) and we never changed the time of the 2nd one. We can try moving it up. It seems the days that she doesn't nap, she's a trainwreck by the end of the night. – ganders Jul 21 '15 at 20:26
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We had this problem with our daughter. Due to her febrile seizures, a few times during high fevers we had her sleep in our bed so we'd know if she had a seizure. Before we knew what happened, she would only sleep in our bed.

It took persistence on our part to get her to sleep in her own bed again. She didn't want to. (And honestly, who could blame her? It's natural to want others close by at that age.) We explained to her that she had to sleep in her own bed. We ended up going through several stages, successfully getting her to sleep in her own bed. These stages weren't as sequential as it sounds here. There was a lot of back and forth. But it worked.

  1. We'd let her fall asleep in our bed, and then move her to her bed. Sometimes she would wake up and come back into our bed. As soon as she fell asleep, we'd move her again.

  2. One parent went with her in her bed, only until she fell asleep. That parent then came back to bed.

  3. One parent sat on the floor right next to her bed until she fell asleep.

  4. One parent stayed in the room until she fell asleep. (Usually me. I'd bring a book and read. Just being present was all she needed.)

  5. One parent stayed for a few minutes, and then left the room, but leaving the door open, "So we'd hear if she yelled."

There were a lot of tears during this process. It did take some weeks from beginning to end, as she had gotten used to sleeping in our bed. This took an investment of our time, and there were nights where we didn't get a lot of sleep because she cried for a few hours in the middle of the night, wanting to be in our bed. But ultimately, it worked.

Good luck.

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