Sleep Training the Two Year Old

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Dylan decided during the holiday break that along with wearing “big boy underwear” he was no longer going to sleep in his crib. At 27 months, he is both my youngest to potty train and my youngest to reject the crib.

He thought that he wanted to sleep in Will and Luke’s room and we put a mattress on the floor between his brothers’ beds. The freedom of no crib, though, was challenging because suddenly Dylan realized that there were other places he could sleep. At naptime he’d start in his new room and then say that he’d want to go to mom and dad’s bed. I just wanted him to sleep so I’d accommodate the change. A few minutes later, he’d decide that it was back to Will and Luke’s. In the process, he announced “I’m not tired” and refused to lay down at all.

This went on for a few days. . .a few days too many.

Finally, with an over tired two year old constantly on my hands, I turned to my baby sleep bible, Healthy Sleep Habits, Healthy Child, by Marc Weissbluth, M.D.

1. Establish sleep rules:

  • Stay in bed,
  • Close your eyes
  • Stay very quiet, go to sleep.

He suggests writing out these rules and posting them with your child’s name on his/her bedroom wall. Reward the child both verbally and with something tangible like stickers or special privileges for following the “sleep rules”. While Dylan is still too young to read or even know these are the rules, I needed a clear reminder of what the child needed to do–the rules established my objective and guided me in enforcing him to nap. The sleep rules are actually behaviors that we as parents are trying to encourage in order for the child to get rest.

2. When the child gets out of the crib or bed, SILENTLY and WITHOUT EMOTION or EYE CONTACT put the child back.
The first time I practiced this with Dylan, he climbed out of bed 46 times. Each time I would put him in bed and close the door. He would get out of bed and open the door crying, “I want to sleep in Mommy’s bed.” It was exasperating! Finally after putting him in bed, I left the door open and stood in the doorway with my back turned towards him. He tried to get out a couple of times, but I SILENTLY put him back. I wanted so bad to scream, “YOU NEED TO NAP HERE!” But, every one of those 46 times I returned him to the bed. Finally, he was so tired that he stayed in and fell asleep.

Dr. Weissbluth says that any attention, whether positive or negative will encourage a child to continue the behavior. Do not explain to the child why he has to nap or what you are trying to do. Just put him/her back into bed.

3. Expect the problem to resurface or get worse until it gets better. Your job is to remain calm, consistent–and quiet.

4. A well-rested child sleeps better. Make sure your child has a sleep routine and that he or she gets enough sleep at night. Keep with a routine: same time to bed and to nap. If your child is not well-rested, expect the sleep training to take a few more days.

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I am a mother of two sets of twins and a singleton. I explore the wild world of multiples and provide resources for other parents of multiples.
1 comment
  1. Thank you for this guide. I expect this change to happen for us in about 3 months. As of now, both Fannie and Bee CAN climb out of their cribs, they just, apparently, choose not to. Fingers crossed for a few more months!

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