We have a 2 year old son. He's wonderful and we love him very much. There are two problems that we have...

1 - I am his father. I have very rarely put him to sleep by myself. I'd like to help my wife by putting him to bed. The thing is, whenever I try, he throws a tantrum and calls for mom. How can I learn to better put him to sleep and have him be OK with it and fall asleep?

2 - At least 3 to 5 times a night, he wakes up in the middle of the night and goes to my wife to nurse. This disturbs our sleep and wears my wife out. How can we put him to sleep (preferably I would do it half the time) and have him continue to sleep?

Honestly, if we were to fall asleep and wake up just once to snuggle, that wouldn't be so bad (as long as we can put him back into his bed and he can continue to sleep there.)

Thoughts? Suggestions? Ideas?

  • When your wife puts him to bed, is he nursing to sleep at that point?
    – threetimes
    Commented Aug 14, 2017 at 22:32
  • @threetimes, no, only when he wakes up and we need to put him back to sleep.
    – gp443
    Commented Aug 15, 2017 at 16:32
  • Actually solving problem 2 might help very well with solving problem 1. If he wakes up mum and she does not want to nurse him, dad is going to take him to his bed and put him to sleep. Dad does not nurse him, so it is clear there is nothing to get. Yes, there will be tantrums and it will be hard on you, but with consistency your son will get accustomed to both the idea there is no nursing at night (or only once, whatever you would like to achieve) and it is okay to be put to sleep by dad.
    – skymningen
    Commented Aug 17, 2017 at 7:45
  • If you give him a glass of water or just some dim lighting and lay him down and just do whatever works usually at least that's what i used to do for my daughter. Commented Aug 24, 2017 at 22:27

2 Answers 2

  1. This will only come with practice. You may have to wait out a few tantrums (not an easy task, but a necessary one) while gently reminding him that it's OK, Mommy and Daddy both love him, and he's safe in his bed; once he has actually fallen asleep with your help a couple of times (even if crying himself to sleep), he'll feel more confident in it. I'd also make sure you're following the bedtime routine your wife has established as closely as possible (i.e. the particular order of bath, story, song, whatever) to minimize his confusion. One thing to consider -- when you're doing this, is your wife home? It's counterintuitive but he might be much more cooperative if he knows Mommy isn't around, and thus has no incentive to holler for her (which is why toddlers often sleep much more readily for babysitters/grandparents than parents, infuriatingly).
  2. At two, most children should not physically need anything to eat at night, nor anything to drink other than water. Let's assume what he's looking for is the comfort of nursing. Try to redirect that desire for comfort into something else -- does he have an attachment object (perfectly appropriate at this age), for example? You could, when he wakes and asks for Mommy, give him a hug and gently tell him "it's time for sleeping in your bed now, but you and Mr. Bear can cuddle together," then keep rubbing his back and speaking softly/calmly; ideally, you'll be able to calm him down sufficiently that you can leave his room and he'll return to sleep on his own, which is an essential skill for him. Repeating something like that consistently -- and I recommend going cold turkey (intermittently letting him come out and nurse will only teach him that if he keeps asking, he'll eventually get what he wants) -- should help him grow more comfortable staying in his bed.
  • thing is, the three of us share one bedroom. We live in a very small condo. Could this be a problem?
    – gp443
    Commented Aug 15, 2017 at 16:34
  • @gp443 I can see how that would make things more difficult, given that Mommy is right there within reach, tempting him. But the basic principle still applies -- his sleeping space is his own, separate in some way (even if only conceptually, within the same bed) from yours, and his job at night is to stay there. Try to make that clear to him through consistency and repetition. You also, as unpleasant/disruptive as this will be, might want to ask your wife to sleep on the couch for a few nights and see if it helps.
    – mrtk
    Commented Aug 15, 2017 at 19:47

With the additional info I think I can offer insight on what has worked with my children. I am mom, all have nursed well past this age & all were night weaned around now. We also opted to bed share, so I can promise you, you can work with sharing a room. I have with all my kids at 2. So onto actual advice.

It is firstly nice that he isn't nursing to sleep to start. That will help you in that you already know he has sorted out that he is able to fall asleep without being latched onto mom. This is really the starting point before you should attempt to get them to go all night without nursing, but you have that part settled, so you are already partway there.

Secondly, it is okay for him to tantrum & cry when you put him to bed as dad. It may not feel okay or look okay, but it is okay. All research indicates that a child that is treated with love & kindness during upset is not actually under the same stresses as say being alone in a room crying. I mean think about that in general for yourself too, we are all humans, tiny to old, when you are upset and being consoled, it feels different, even if you are acting amuck. So as dad, this can be a very good bonding experience. Your child is allowed to have feelings about changes & transitions, just like we do. He doesn't particularly want this change, but that doesn't make it a bad change, just one he would prefer not to have. As such, at these early ages of limited ability to reason, he will show his upset quite literally. If you can maintain not taking it personally, realize that his feelings are about change not about you and just help him settle, he will grow to accept this likely faster than you think. With all my kids this was a few upsetting days, then a few unhappy days, then acceptance. My husband gained a real sense of accomplishment in doing something so monumental for all of us (helping us all get better sleep) and I know it helped him in bonding with them, which is really human nature. Those people that help us through the hardest things in life tend to garner some extra love from us after the event passes. So for us (my family) we didn't do the half & half wakings, to end night nursing, we did dad handled bedtime & all wakings after that until we were done with asking to nurse. Once that phase passed, I went back to handling wakings, just never nursing during the night. Overall, the wakings stopped though. I don't think my kid stopped waking (I believe we all wake based on research) I just think they learned to roll over & go back to sleep. Once in a while I'd hear "mommmma, mommmmma" and I'd say "What?" and they would say "Just checking"...and that was that.

I mostly followed Dr Jay Gordon's theories & methods & they worked well for us. I HOPE you also find them useful in your situation. There is no "right" answer here because every child & family is different & what works awesome on one case might not work at all for another, that has been my experience with multiple kids. That said, THIS did work for all of mine for night nursing & waking. If I had another, perhaps that child would be the exception though. http://drjaygordon.com/attachment/sleeppattern.html

  • I also want to add, watching my husband, on camera helped me not have such a strong urge to go rescue them both. When all I could hear was the screaming, it made me feel bad to have them both suffer when I could easily resolve it by coming in. Seeing on camera that my spouse seemed okay, and that he was sweet & nothing awful was really happening helped me realize that I was overreacting to the upset internally & that the situation was absolutely well in hand by dad & no help was needed. It also meant dad could signal me if he did have enough.
    – threetimes
    Commented Aug 15, 2017 at 17:05

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