Last updated on August 2nd, 2021

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Kim West, MSW, Mom of 2, creator of The Sleep Lady Shuffle

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Hi. I’m Kim West, the Sleep Lady, and in this video, I’m going to answer Natalie’s question about gentle sleep training for her toddler. Here’s what she wrote in:
Hi, there. My 19-month-old goes to bed fine, but wakes in the middle of the night and screams until he comes into my bed. He’s a big boy and it’s killing my back but I can’t resettle him in his cot. Any tips?
I do have lots of tips, Natalie!

Down to One Nap

Most 19-month-old toddlers have transitioned to one afternoon nap.   Toddlers this age need, on average, a two to two-and-a-half-hour nap and about 11 hours at night. Of course, I always want you to watch your child and their behavior to find the perfect amount for him.
RELATED: Sleep Schedules – Your Eighteen Month to Two-and-a-half-Year-Old

Set A Good Bedtime

Considering that you said he “goes to bed fine”, usually this means to me a couple of things. One possibility is that your child is very nap deprived and he is just crashing and burning at his late bedtime, so there is not much of a struggle at bedtime. Are you getting his bedtime window right? I would guess that it is somewhere between 7:00 and 8:00 p.m., depending on when his nap is and how long it is.
RELATED: Ideal Bedtime: How to Decide What Time Your Child Goes to Bed

Going to Bed Too Drowsy

The other possibility is that he is going to bed too drowsy.
This means it’s fine or easy for him to go to sleep because he’s so overtired, and you’re possibly doing something to him or for him to put him to sleep. Maybe you’re holding, rocking, or lying down with him and then transitioning him into the crib.
When he wakes it’s as if he says, “How did I get in this crib/cot? You have to get in here and do that thing you do to help me go to sleep.”
When he wakes up he’s upset and screams until you come and bring him into your bed.  If he has a few words he may even say “Mommy’s bed” or even point to your room like “Get me out of here and let’s go in there!”
RELATED: Drowsy But Awake – The Cornerstone of Successful Sleep Training

Be Prepared for A Challenge

You have to be fully committed before you start sleep coaching, because you can’t sometimes bring him into your bed and sometimes not.  Once you start putting him into his crib/cot awake at bedtime you need to continue it.

Gentle Sleep Training in His Crib

He needs to master the skill of putting himself to sleep independently at bedtime so he can then apply the skill in the middle of the night. When he wakes in the middle of the night, you will have to sleep coach him in his crib. You can pat, touch, hum, sing, pick him up to calm him, but not to sleep.

Sit Nearby

Remember, especially at this age when they’re used to being brought into your bed, he may be really upset. You may pick him up to calm him but if he’s immediately quiet and he’s pointing to the door then say to yourself , “I should have waited a little longer before I picked him up,” and kiss him, put him back into the crib and sit in your chair.
I would discourage you from standing over his crib because he’ll likely grab you. Just sit and reassure him from your chair. Expect him to be upset because he’s not going to understand why you’re not getting him out of the crib.

Commit to Consistency

Gentle sleep training requires consistency and follow-through for what could be easily seven to ten nights. He will learn how to put himself to sleep and sleep through the night. The last part to fall into place is early rising, but if you stay consistent, that will improve also.

Resources to Check Out

All of this is outlined in more detail in my book or you can work with a Gentle Sleep Coach in your area or through my helpdesk, who can also coach help you through this process.

Author: Kim West, MSW, Mom of 2, creator of The Sleep Lady Shuffle

My name is Kim West, and I’m the mother of two beautiful girls, a Licensed Clinical Social Worker who has been a practicing child and family therapist for more than 21 years, and the creator of the original gentle, proven method to get a good night’s sleep for you and your child. My sleep journey began when I started experimenting with gently shaping my daughter’s sleep by not following the conventional wisdom at the time. After having success (and then more success with my second daughter!), I began helping family and friends and my step-by-step method spread like wildfire, exactly like an excellent night of sleep for a tired parent should!