Toddler Sleep Question: My Toddler Needs to Be Rocked to Sleep All the Time!

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  • December 07, 2010

This week’s Toddler Sleep Question for The Sleep Lady:

“I have made the mistake of rocking my now 13 month old to sleep. If I attempt to put him in his crib sleepy but awake he will stand and start crying. If I try to lie him back down or soothe him without picking him up he only gets madder. Any advice on breaking the habit of rocking to sleep? He wakes several times a night and will not go back to sleep unless he is rocked to sleep and will often wake when I try to put him back down. My husband and I get about 4 hours of sleep a night. I can’t do this anymore and need your help!!”


Dear Seneca-

It sounds like your son is finally on to you!  You can no longer trick him by rocking him and putting him in to the crib asleep. This day was going to come and now it’s time to address it head on!

Start on a day of good naps (any way you can get them) which for his age means a total of 2.5 hrs. Then plan on an early enough bedtime – usually between 7-7:30pm at his age.

Make sure you have a nice, long and comforting bedtime routine. You can incorporate a wee bit of walking or rocking in it; just don’t let it be the sleep crutch. A few minutes in the rocking chair while you read a book, or a brief stroll around the room saying good night to favorite toys is fine. Then put him down awake.  Sit by his crib (don’t stand) and offer physical and verbal reassurance. Review the rules of the first three nights of the Shuffle on page 122 of “Good Night, Sleep Tight” (GNST). Stay sitting next to the crib until he is asleep.  If he wakes up during the night, go to him quickly but don’t walk or rock him. Sit by his crib and pat him, stroke him, whisper soothing words, but leave him in his crib.  Whichever parent is least likely to cave in and rock him should be the one to do the crib-side duty the first few nights. The next day you will need to begin the nap coaching. Move your chair every three nights as outlined in his age related chapter in GNST.

Remember to review the rules of consistency which are outlined on page 21. All of your lives will transform for the better in under two weeks!

Sweet dreams,


The Sleep Lady

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Kim West
Kim is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker who has been a practicing child and family therapist for more than 24 years, and the creator of the original gentle, proven method to get a good night’s sleep for you and your child. She is the author of The Sleep Lady's Good Night Sleep Tight, its companion Workbook and 52 Sleep Secrets for Babies. Click here to read more about her.

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  • Cathy says:

    my son is 15 months old and we have a same problem, he has improved greatly just by not rocking him, just holding him until he is asleep and putting him in the crib. Next step will be getting him to fall alseep by himslef.

  • leigh says:

    My now 15 month old went through the SLS at 10 months and was a “champion” sleeper. Until she learned to walk. We can no longer put her down at her usual time without a full out blood curdling cry, and she wakes nightly at different times (luckily only once) with the same awful cry, reaching for the door. Then she “must” be put back to sleep in our arms as we can not re-enter her room or go near her crib. Nightmares? New developmental milestone? She is so tired in the morning (wakes at the usual time) that her naps are now longer (still takes 2). When will this stop?!

    • KimWest says:

      I find that of all the developmental milestones walking is the biggest sleep wrecker! Each time you re-sleep train the crying or shrieking in this case gets worse :-(. I am worried that you may have trained her to scream until you hold her to sleep…yikes. I would pick the big night when you decide you are not going to hold her back to sleep and instead sit next to her crib to soothe her. Let me know if you want to talk about this in more detail over the phone. Best, Kim

  • Catherine says:

    My 10 month old has been waking up in the middle of the night and I was caving and rocking him back to sleep as well. Two nights ago he woke up at 1:30a so I went in there, laid him down and sat next to his crib and just laid my hand on his chest and tummy and the other on top of his head and did soothing, slow “shushes”. He cried hard for about 15 minutes, and reached out for me to pick him up. That was really hard, but I kept with it and he started to show signs that he was falling asleep. He would do intermittent cries – stop, roll to his side, cry 1 minute later, etc etc. (he was probably realizing he was calming down and cry to wake himself up!) Once he finally settled and rolled over, stayed put and he fell asleep, I left. This was my first time to do this and I cannot believe it worked – but it did. I don’t like to see him be so upset and reach out for me, but sitting by the crib with my hand on his chest and “shushing” him made me feel so much better. and it worked!!! just don’t give up. when you’re about to give in, just tell yourself to give him 10 more minutes and keep doing it. he will start to settle. Thank you, Thank you to Kim for this method. I am so grateful.

    • KimWest says:

      Good job Catherine! Its not easy but you are seeing progress and he is learning to fall asleep more independently while you are there offering reassurance. Make sure not to get stuck with your hand on his chest!

  • Kudzai says:

    My 9month old is the same. And I started the shuffle but how long am I supposed to let her cry for? The first night she cried for more than 3hours! And the next few nights as soon as she knew it was bed time she would cry. I had to give up but I am willing to try again.


    • KimWest says:

      Three hours is unusual!!!!! Make sure she is well napped and her bedtime is early enough. Finally, make sure you are not overstimulating her with lots of picking up and touching which can lengthen the time to get to sleep. Hang in there!

  • rosie says:

    Help my 5 1/2 month old needs to nurse to sleep! She used to go to sleep when we put her down drowsy but awake, but when she started teething and I went back to work things changed. I don’t want to make nursing a crutch.

  • Kay says:

    Help! My 3 year old son who has slept through the night on his own for the last 2 years is now waking at night – every 2-3 hours. He has developed a fear of the dark. I have sat by his crib until he is asleep. I have laid outside his dorr until he is asleep. In the middle of the night I go to him reassure him and leave – he goes back to sleep, but the cycle continues through the night every 2-3 hours. What else can I do? It is going on 3 weeks now of little or no sleep (he will not nap either) – he is exhausted, but willing himself to stay awake – he is afraid to sleep – he says the dark is “crowded”. I feel so sad for him and want to help him but I am not sure what else to do for him. Any ideas would be GREATLY appreciated!


    • KimWest says:

      I would ask him more about the dark is “crowded”. See if you can draw about it with him or play with stuffed animals and talk and “act” it out with him conquering the crowdedness. Check page 263-264 about helping your child change their thoughts and fears and “replace”the scary thoughts. Reassure him during the day of what a good job you do keeping him safe during the day and the night. If what was initially a real bad dream has now taken on a “conditioned” response you may need to talk to your pediatrician about giving him melatonin to help him temporarily. Make sure his bedtime is earlier enough also.

  • Dana says:

    I have a very similar problem with my 2.5 year old. She loves sleeping in her bed, but will wake throughout the night needing us to pat her back to sleep. It gets very tiring (literally)and at almost 8 months pregnant with our second, I am starting to worry. She will go to sleep without us helping if she is in our bed, but that is too uncomfortable for my husband and me. Also, she will sometimes wake up as soon as I stop patting her back, and start asking me to continue. On a couple of occasions it has taken her over an hour to finally go to real sleep.
    I tried just telling her gently it is bedtime, and she needs to sleep, but she goes from zero to two-year-old-tantrum as soon as I don’t give in. We have actually tried for over an hour in the middle of the night to make her lay down and go back to sleep without us patting her back. It was useless and all that resulted was a very tired family in the am.
    I recently got her a calendar and a treasure box filled with individually wrapped gifts. (similar to the sleep fairy from no cry sleep solution) She has received one sticker and one gift, but both were from the day I started this system, so the night she slept through with no intervention was before she knew about the prizes. I remind her in the night of the prizes, and she really wants to get them, but when I tell her that means she needs to stay in her bed and not have momma or daddy pat her she cries and carries on and says she doesn’t want the prizes.
    Last night was our first peaceful night in a week. But, I just patted her back each time and she eventually ended up in our bed, since it was 4am and she had not gone to sleep with the patting in 45 min. It was the third time I’d gotten up with her and I was very tired and needed to get comfortable at that point. (31 weeks preg!) And so I didn’t get more sleep, I just wasn’t stressed out by my toddler acting possessed.
    She naps most days for 1 to 1.5 hours, and we have a fairly consistent bedtime routine. Her final go to sleep time is around 8:30pm. I wouldn’t mind this being earlier, but my husband doesn’t get home from work until 6:30-7pm some nights, so that would only mean she got a few minutes with him.
    Please, if anyone has experienced the same, or has any ideas they are WELCOME! We are desperately needing sleep in our home!
    One more thing, she was sleeping fine (only one nightly waking that ended in a very short patting of her back and she was out for the rest of the night) until her daddy recently returned from his 4mo deployment. I understand this could have caused the problem, but, he has now been home a month and has no plans of leaving again soon…so I find it hard to believe this could still be the problem.

  • Kelly Becker says:

    I’ve read all of your book faithfully, and incorporated everything to the extent possible. We’ve tried on two separate occasions to do the shuffle and it seems to upset our 17 month old to see us there. He screams and cries. We’ve got a consistent routine, he gets enough sleep during the day but won’t go down without a hand on the back and will NOT go back to sleep when he wakes up 2-3 times a night…even when we hold him. We’ve taken to bringing him to bed with us out of desperation. Please help, we want him to sleep through the night and get the rest he needs to develop well.

  • Mary Shapiro says:


    My 2 year old is delaying his bedtime and waking up in the middle of the night to say he has to poop on the potty. Naturally, we are torn between risking a dirty diaper and letting him get out of bed only to sit on the potty for a while and declare, “I’ll poop later”. Sometimes he will poop on the second curtain call, sometimes not. How should we approach this problem? He is getting less and less sleep with these shenanigans. I have not seen this problem addressed anywhere and would love some advice.



  • KRISTA says:

    We start our bedtime routine at 7:30 and my son is usually asleep before 8:00. He wakes up at 5:30 though. His pediatrician says it’s fine, but I need more sleep and I know he does too. He’s cranky usually about an hour and a half after he wakes, yawning and ready for a nap. I’ve left him in his crib till 6:15-6:30. Sometimes he’ll go back to sleep, but it’s restless. Other times, like today, he’ll just talk and coo until we go and get him at his “wake-up time.”

    I’m not sure what to do. He used to get up at 4:30 and thankfully now it’s anywhere from 5:30-6:30. If I go in there at this time he’ll freak out and get himself all worked up and there’s no way he’s going back to sleep.

  • Rachel Martin says:

    My daughter is 21 months old. She has been able to sleep wide awake on her own since she was 3 months old. She also sleeps through the nights and can sleep on her own wide awake during naps. A few weeks ago, she started to wake up at night because she was sick and my husband was out of town. She went back to her normal sleep habit but now will wake up randomly at night and have a hard time going back to sleep on her own. I started to shuffle with her but it doesn’t seem to be working (already on day 7). She will do this one night then be good for the next 3 nights. Do you have any thoughts for a child that has always had good sleep habits? Thanks.

  • Lauren Ownbey says:

    I thought that when toddlers transition to one nap a day, the nap would get LONGER! However, that is not the case with my 19 month old. She falls asleep on her own like a champ for nap time–only to wake up 1 hour later. One one-hour nap just isn’t going to cut it until bed time! I sleep with her at night, but she has always napped independently. I need advice!

    • KimWest says:

      Not sure how old your child is and when the one nap is but slowly push it to 12:30 or 1pm. If she wakes cranky from the one hour nap, go to her and reassure her and tell her that it is not time to wake up. Give it 30mins (you can do one check in between) every day. It takes some time and dedication but the nap will slowly lengthen. Make sure bedtime is early enough during this transition time!

  • Lorianne says:

    I had the same problem and tried the Sleep Lady Shuffle at 9 months and did not work with my son. If I was in the room he would cry, scream, and kick the crib. Unfortunately the only that worked for naps and night time sleep was to leave him cry for 15 minutes, check on him, lay him down and repeat until he went to sleep on his own. The first night it took 45 minutes, the second night 20 minutes, and the third 10 minutes. After that it was smooth sailing.

    • KimWest says:

      What is so important about what you wrote is that you found the method that is the right method for your son and that you would follow thru with consistently! Thats the key to success! Good work!

  • Jen says:

    My 10 month old still sleeps with a pacifier and sometimes he’ll wake up in the middle of the night and cry because it fell out. If I get in there quick enough and put it back in his mouth he’ll sometimes go right back to sleep but often times he won’t and it takes giving him a bottle and then his pacifier to get him back down. Please – how do we break this cycle?

  • Leanne Guglielmi says:

    Hi Kim,

    I”m having trouble with my 11 month old. He sleeps 10-6am at night but the days are horrible. I have tried sitting next to the cot but after 2 hours of him standing up in the cot and crying on and off (with the occasional laugh when he throws his muslin or dummy down) I cave and put him in the stroller. I have put him down according to eye rubbing and also tried leaving him up 2, 3, 4 hours to get the right sleeping time but nothing is working.

    What is the longest you’ve experienced a bub standing up for and fighting it? I can’t face all these hours especially with a 3 y.o. to look after!

    The other day I gave up and got him out after 2 hours and left him up till the next allocated sleep time thinking he would crash but another 1.5hrs into the cot crying I caved and put him in the stroller again!

    Help! thanks
    Leanne x

  • Terri says:

    My son generally gets up between 4:00 and 5:00 a.m. but wake up time is 6:00. I’ve tried various things to try to get him back to sleep – sitting by his crib, comforting him then leaving him, and rocking him. Often I can’t get him back to sleep before 6:00 a.m. If I start using the process for early risers and he doesn’t go back to sleep, when should I put him down for his first nap. For example, if he wakes up at 4:30 should I put him down for his first nap at 6:30 or wait until 7:30 when he should go down for his nap.

  • Tram says:

    Our 9 month old also needs to be rocked to the point of deep sleep for him to be put into his crib. We just purchased the SLS and are still in the observation phase. We plan on implementing soon, however, we are not sure what to do when our son keeps getting up and standing and crying to be picked up. I’ve tried putting him back down on his back, and then backing off, but he is quite persistent and gets quite upset too. He still gets up at least 2 times per night and needs rocking to go back to sleep. His naps total about 4 or 5 hours during the day. His bedtime is 8:30 (we’ve tried earlier, doesn’t seem to take). His wake time has been inconsistent lately (5, 6, sometimes 7). I need a really good plan.

  • Christine Sheehy says:

    Hi Kim I need your assistance with my 7month old who wakes up at least three times a night. He usually wakes up at 12:00, 2:00, and again at 4:00am when he wakes up I try to sooth him but end up nursing him. i know he doesn’t need to nurse but I am so tired because I am up all day with his 5 yr old sister when not in school. My husband has tried to get him back to sleep but, after so long he brings him to me. I have a very good routine with him during the day, he naps an hour and a half in am and afternoon and takes a 45 min snooze in evening. The naps are at the same times everyday. The last couple nights I cut out his last nap and he was down by 8:00pm but, up every hour after that. Help please, you helped me with my daughter when she was 2 or 3. Thanks from mom who needs sleep.

  • Jessica says:

    HELP! My 11 month old will only fall asleep and back to sleep while nursing and/or “comfort” nursing. I don’t feel comfortable letting him CIO but I KNOW he needs to stop this. If this keeps up I’m not sure what to do when he weans. We’ll be in trouble then 🙁
    With his constant waking to latch on, I’m getting no sleep whatsoever!

  • Rosemary Calligaris says:

    My daughter started sleeping through the night at 13 months. She would sleep from 6:30p-5:00am. After reading one of your newsletters, I started making her nap later, and she would sleep from 6:30p-6:00a. About a month ago (just before she turned 3) she started climbing out of the crib, so we put her in a twin size bed. Since that time she refuses to nap, she won’t go to sleep unless I lay at the edge of the bed, and she will often wake 1-2 times a night wanting me to lay with her again. I’m not sure what to do because she easily gets out of the bed, there is no option to leave her in the crib. Her bedtime hasn’t changed, she still goes down at 6:30p, but because she won’t nap she is back to her 5:00a waking. Please help!

  • Anna Kucera says:

    Dear Sleep Lady,

    I have 10-month-old twins and their night sleep is going well. They go down between 6/6:30 PM and wake up 6/6:30 AM. Because they are not up to the weight they need to be, we still give them a “dream feeding” around 10PM.

    My trouble is with naps. I have a 4-year-old who goes to preschool. We get in the car for drop off around 8:50 AM and return around 9:20. Then, we get in the car for pick up around 11:50 and return around 12:20 PM. In both instances, the babies usually fall asleep in the car and wake up when I pull their car sear/carriers out of the car. Occasionally, they will stay asleep and I have allowed them to sleep in their room in the seat, but usually they awaken and will not return to sleep when I place them in their crib. Ideally, I would have a neighbor stay with the babies during these times so they could sleep or be in a carpool with another family, but neither of these options are currently available to me. Weekend naps usually are fine – 9 AM and 1PM for about an hour each.

    Do you have any advice for weekday naps? I could really use your help.

    Thanks so much!

  • Melissa says:

    My son will be 17 months old right after Christmas. He didn’t start sleeping thru the night until he was 13 months old using your sleep shuffle method. We read to him and rock him while he drinks his milk and he’s good about falling asleep and staying asleep all night up until a few weeks ago. He’s been waking up about 7-8 hrs. into the night screaming horribly and I’ll go into his room and try to calm him but it only makes it worse so I pick him up and try to rock and shush him but he’ll climb down from the chair grab my hand and walk me out of his room to the staircase to go down stairs. The only way I can get him to stop crying is if I go down stairs and fix him some milk. Some nights it takes me up to 1.5 hours to get him to go back to sleep.
    Last night he woke up 1.5 hrs. after I put him to bed and had to do the same thing only for him to wake up again 3 hrs. later and go back down for more milk.

    I’m so tired (I’m 4 months pregnant with our second) and stuck on what to do. To top it off this little monkey can jump out of his crib which leaves me very reluctant to leave him in there to cry it out. He’s also decided that nap time is no longer a necessity and we tend to battle with him for sometimes 1.5 to 2 hours to get him to take a nap.

    I could really use your help!

  • Lee Ann says:

    My youngest son (now 26 months) didn’t sleep through the night until 15 months old – NOTHING worked with him. He slept decently from 15-23 months and then climbed out of his crib. We took the front side off to convert it to a toddler bed to prevent him from getting hurt climbing out of the crib. Since then, things have been terrible. He takes forever to go to sleep, will only lay down to fall asleep if we’re laying right there or sitting/patting. He also wakes up almost every hour to two hours and then screams and gets out of his bed and runs around and generally goes crazy unless we pick him up and lay down with him on the floor – with his arms wrapped around us. If we do this, he’ll go back to sleep and will sleep all night.

    It’s like having a newborn again. The only way anyone in the family sleeps is if one of us spends the night in the 2 year old’s room. We know this is likely just creating more of a problem, but we don’t know what to do. We’ve tried picking him up and marching him back to bed and sitting them and putting him down and he will literally just get up and scream for hours.

  • Jean Hogan says:

    My nine month old son has yet to sleep through the night. After reading Good Night, Sleep Tight, I have realized that he has a lot of road blocks that could be preventing good sleep habits. He had severe colic that lasted 6 months, a milk protein allergy, severe reflux, and is now teething.
    His reflux was so bad when he vomitted it would come through his nose causing him to choke and sometimes he couldn’t clear it on his own. This was so scary that I chose to allow him to sleep with my husband and I. We tried to make his sleep environment very comfortable. We installed dark shades, and have a white noise sound machine, which we have used from the start of his colic. Even still he would not sleep, so we decided to bring his crib in our room. This also failed at helping him sleep because he knew I was right next to him so he always wanted out.
    In addition to night sleeping difficulties. Naps are also impossible, unless he sleeps in his swing(which he barely fits in)with the vaccuum on right next to him.
    I tried the sleep shuffle but have yet to move away from his crib side. He screams bloody murder when first put down for about an hour until he exhausts himself to sleep. He then only sleeps 3 hours at most and is up screaming hysterical until I have to pick him up and eventually after an hour and a half give him a 6 oz bottle. He then usually goes back to sleep in my bed for only 2 more hours, then he is up. I can’t imagine he could be that hungry. He drinks 32oz of formula and three meals a day. Maybe its his reflux?
    My husband and I are at the end of our rope. Sleep deprievation have affected us terribly. We are both depressed and can not believe this is how it is to be parents. Please help us.

  • Stacy says:

    Hi. My 14-month old does a great job sleeping through the night and can fall asleep on his own at bedtime. Naps have always been more difficult for him, and lately, some days, he doesn’t nap at all. I know he is tired when I put him in his crib, but as soon as I lay him down, he stands up and starts rattling the crib. I go in and gently but firmly lay him back down and tell him it is time to go to sleep. Sometimes this works and he falls asleep in a few minutes, but other times I repeat this process over and over, and after an hour I give up. By this time, it is close to 2:00 p.m., and then he has no nap the whole day. Do you have any advice about how I can get him to stop standing and focus on going to sleep once I put him in the crib?