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How to get a 3 year old to go to sleep on their own

by Ali's Wonderland (follow)
Do something today that your future self will thank you for...
Parenting (156)      Sleep (11)      Preschool (21)      Routine (3)     
Let me begin by pressing rewind and explain how our bed time battles began. It was Christmas night 2011 and our DD, then 18 months, was still in nappies. We put her to bed with the assumption that she had a big day and would be exhausted. An hour later as we climbed the stairs, we were met half way with the most pungent smell you can imagine. My husband and I received a belated Christmas gift that year, the gift of a poo paint. From this moment, to avoid a reoccurrence of that night, we would lay next to her until she was asleep.

We would stay with her until she feel asleep, however, this had now become a habit Image Source: freedigitalphotos.net by yinyo

This worked for us for a while as the peace of mind knowing that she was safely tucked in bed asleep and not expressing her artistic talents on our walls far outweighed this time consuming ritual.

However, she is now fully toilet trained and had become reliant on my husband or I staying with her until she was in the land of nod. So, we set about trialling ways to break this habit and empower her to be able to put herself to sleep.

Step 1: Set your expectations
On Christmas Eve in our house, Santa left her a note explaining that she is now a big girl and that it was now time for her to start going to sleep on her own. This was our way of 'planting the seed', we spoke about this for a few weeks to enable her to get used to the idea before putting our plan into action.

Step 2: Decide your plan of attack
Depending on your child's personality, you may want to use a cold turkey approach and leave them to fall asleep on their own or gradually make your way closer to the door each night until they are confident to fall asleep with you in the room.

We originally tried the soft approach of sitting on the bed, then on the chair and then eventually in the doorway, but in our case this seemed to prolong sleep. So, if she did not settle straight away, we would kiss and say goodnight and then leave the room (with the door open). After 3 or so nights, she understood what we were asking her to do and stayed in bed on her own and fell asleep.

Step 3: Decide on a reward
Knowing your child's 'currency' is key to engaging them to want to go to sleep independently.

My 'threenager' is currently obsessed with the Disney movie Frozen, in particular the songs and also with dressing up Barbie Dolls. So we decided to give her 2 rewards as follows:
Short term reward - after 5 nights of putting herself to sleep, she would get a new Barbie Doll with new clothes.
Long term reward - if she continues to put herself to sleep with no fuss, I would take her to see the sing-a-long version of Frozen at Event Cinemas.

Step 4: Be consistent and stick to a bed time routine, especially in the early days
Three year old's are brilliant at testing boundaries. So, in the early days you will need to remain calm and consistent. Routine is key. We read 1 book, then give her a kiss and leave the room.

Bed time in our house is now becoming a much less frustrating task for both child and parent.

Bed time in our house is now becoming a much less frustrating task for both child and parent Image Source: freedigitalphotos.net by yingyo

Every child is different, so what worked for us may not work for you, but it might give you some ideas on where to start. I'd love to hear how you go or what techniques you found useful when empowering your child to go to sleep independently.

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