My 15 Month Wants Me to Hold Hands to Sleep — What Should I Do?
A reader wrote into ask a question about her daughter, who wants her to hold hands to sleep every night. She writes:
“Shortly after birth, my daughter Lacy began holding my hand during nursing and when going to sleep. Foolishly, I gave her my hand and by now at 15 months old, she depends on me holding her hand when falling asleep three times a day. When she realizes my hand isn’t there anymore, she wakes up almost immediately crying for me and my hand. We have always tried to encourage a doll at bedtime but in the end the doll just doesn’t mean anything. She wants my hand. I put stuffed animals around the house and blankets next to her on the crib in hopes that she’ll attach to something other than my hand. How do I get her to have any interest in a lovey? The hand thing is not working anymore for my tired family. Please help me with this toddler sleep problem. Sarah.”
Wanting to Hold Hands to Sleep is Common
Sarah, the most popular sleep crutches besides feeding to sleep and holding to sleep are twirling of mom’s hair and hand holding! So, you’re not alone. It was very sweet that she would hold your finger when you were nursing her as a baby.
Your story reminds me of one mom I worked with whose 11 month-old son liked to hold her finger, in particular her pinky, when he was nursing. She found this little stuffed animal, safe because there were no dangerous parts could be removed. It was a cow with these little horns that he held on to when nursing and later to go to sleep. Each horn was the size of her pinky, which I thought was very creative of the mom. She made the decision to have him sleep with it. Did it take time? Absolutely. He had to attach to something other than her hand and it took some time but it did work out.
Need to review The Sleep Lady Shuffle?
Read: The Sleep Lady Shuffle: How to Gently Sleep Train your Baby
How to Start Breaking this Bedtime Crutch, Focus on Nights First
So, first things first, what I would do is to make sure you start after a day of great naps. Let her hold your hand during the nap time to make sure she is well napped. Set yourself up for a good bedtime and then if you’re still nursing, nurse before bedtime with the light on. Allow her to hold your finger, and then when you are done nursing, kisses and in to the crib and start the Shuffle. Be careful because she’s probably going to reach out to try and hold your hand!
You can touch her hand or even kiss her hand, but don’t let her grab your fingers. Control the touch which is one of my rules of the Shuffle. Reassure her and redirect her to the lovey or whatever you are picking as the possible lovey. Feel free to give her a hug and a kiss if she gets very upset and gently remind her that you “all done” with hand and now it is sleepy time. Stay with her and offer reassurance.
Wondering about your baby’s schedule?
Read: Toddler Sleep Schedules — Your Thirteen to Eighteen-Month-Old
What to Do During the Day
During the day if she gets upset and starts saying, “Hand, hand, hand” , hug her and hold her and say, “Well, let’s go get blankie,” or “Let’s go get cow,” or whatever you choose as the stuffed animal. Constantly redirect away from holding your hand as her primary soother.
Does your baby have a lovey?
Read: The Lovey — Your Child’s First Best Friend
It should probably take about a week for her to no longer need your hand to go to sleep. You could focus on night first and not naps. Eventually hand holding will stop working for naps and that might be your cue to start nap coaching without holding your hand. If you want to do it all at once, that’s of course your choice. Don’t do it unless you’re going to be consistent because you don’t want to train her to cry until you give her your hand.