Sleeping Suggestions for a Toddler who Refuses to Sleep

Parents share their collective wisdom on how they got they terrible twos to sleep.

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A PSP member describes their struggle to the group:

Our 2 year old slept well on her own for 10-11 hours at night with no issues until recently when we had a huge adjustment in our home life - my husband now works out of state M-F and she increasingly needs mom (me).

In the past we used the Tracy Hoggs method, Ferber method, all with success with white noise machines and nightlights.

But I'm not having success as of recently. I used to be able to tell her, It's nighttime now I'll see you in the morning after our nighttime routine and she would understand and just hang out in her bed and then go to sleep. But these days, she is increasingly desperate for me. But even if I do stay with her
(usually on Mondays when Dad leaves) she is definitely distracted by my presence and wants to play/eat/potty instead of sleep. (she's potty-trained, but we use a nighttime diaper b/c she occasionally still pees in the middle of the night).

What can I do to help my daughter to sleep? i was thinking about adding bath time and milk (she doesn't drink milk anymore at all) but thought I would post here first and see what i could be doing/adding and any additional ideas about re-sleep training for a 2.5 year old with a huge life adjustment.


and what she followed up with:


I just want to thank everyone who's written me on advice, compassion, and their experiences. Some have it figured out, and some don't (see responses below). I've tried to give V milk in the evenings to settle her, but to no avail. She does want a snack though so I give her a slice of cantaloupe or some blueberries and that DOES seem to settle her down. I don't know why. We've done evening baths but I don't think it actually settles her down at all. I haven't had success with sticker/reward systems at all - same with her potty training - they didn't help us there either.

What's helped in the past and still helps now is talking about it so she understands, but right now it's not entirely enough. To correct myself from my original post, I think this is a common sleep issue related to age. I thought the change in our lives was the culprit b/c I found Mondays the most difficult (going from weekend with Daddy to week without Daddy) but it's not that. I'm not ruling out that it may perhaps aggravate the sleep situation for her, but the primary reason does appear to be her age.

This is what I've done so far:

-Set her down to sleep after a few songs and stories and prayer (our usual routine) and then give her a firm explanation that it's time to sleep and that mommy will be frustrated if she doesn't lie down and close her eyes (I give her a lot of answers to why she has to go to sleep). She understands and repeats the explanation back to me in her own words. But she still either (1) cries for me to stay (2) waits til I'm gone then cry about my absence.

So I've tried the following responses (over the last few weeks) and these were my results:

(1) Responded to her asking for mommy right away - soothed her with hugs and cuddles. did not work. She was entertained and wanted to continue the nighttime routine (she wanted more songs and stories) or to play.

(2) Waited 5 minutes to respond - went in to soothe her - did not work. same reason for (1).

(3) Waited 5 minutes to respond - told her to go back to bed w/o picking her up or holding/hugging her - recited good night moon or sang a tune at the door - worked but not consistently - it's not a sure thing.

(4) Waited 5 minutes to respond - rubbed/patted her belly rhythmically (no other hugging or cuddling) - this worked a number of times. I also tried rubbing her feet, back, hair, as well as patting - these just keep her awake. Just the belly works, and it only works if I don't respond right way to her. i’s wondering if maybe wrapping up her belly for bedtime to keep it warm would help too. I might try this next.

(5) waited 5 minutes to respond and firmly telling her to go to sleep – did not work - it only upset her more.

So I'm going with (4) until I figure something else out. Ideally I would like her to go back to sleeping on her own. I also find that if she has a long nap at school and doesn't play enough when she comes home, we have more sleep troubles. She's increasingly taken longer naps at school (1.75-2 hours! they used to be 1.25-1.5 hours) so I suspect that has something to do with it. When we travel and she is tired, she will sleep with no problem. So I think she just doesn't have enough to do during her waking hours to tire her out in time for bed. And maybe it's because she's older.

I don't know. So perhaps from now on we will do a lot of running around when we get home more often - just a more intense phys activity or a focused mental activity. we used to do somersaults so i guess we can start there. The post below about red light green light intrigues me so I started to tell her the story. I'm not sure it actually does anything for us, we may try it if all else fails.  Thanks again to all...!


Here are a tips from PSP members about what to do: 


Cry It Out:


“Two years ago, when she was two, my pediatrician told me to lock my daughter in her room and cry it out. I thought it seemed cruel. It's two years later. I've tried everything. I paid $500 for a sleep expert. The crux of her directive: lock the kid in her room and CIO. We probably could have been over this in two days. Instead, two years, and little improvement. The longer it goes on, the more anxiety she has about it. I was too afraid of her crying to do it. Still am, I guess.

That's my experience. Hopefully it won't be yours!”


Stick to a Sticker Rewards System


“We went through the same thing with our son when he was 2.5 (he's 3 now ). The first thing I did was make a visual sticker chart/schedule to help him get through and completely understand his routine. He has had the same routine for a longtime, but I find that visual schedules help young children with transitions (I teach toddlers with special needs). Then we also promised to check on him after we put him down in his crib. We started with really sort intervals (like 2 minutes) and then gradually spaced out visits. Within about 5 days, he didn't need us to check on him.
Since then, we have also phased out the schedule.”

“They are so fragile. What about a lot of extra deep hugs and physical touch from you. I just took this course and that was part of the sleep training. I also did a big production about a surprise in her new princess bucket. She liked the bucket more than Anything. Something small like a sticker or a 25 cent toy. It was more about the surprise of it all. I made an over the top deal about it. We also did drawings for daddy every day and kept a journal for him. And she got a surprise when he came home.”

"I share your pains as I am dealing with the same. So far what has worked is promising or giving him a sticker to be a sleep champ, so rewards are great. I also plainly ignore him if I know that he is okay. I just don't say anything or make eye contact and check if he is wet or something else going on. Sometimes I will hug him and put him back in his bed with few massaging strokes on his back. I try to give him a short or no nap (but yes down time quiet making puzzles or reading a book when he is tired) and that works too, but so far the rewards have worked. Find out what yours like and only give it to him when he earns it by being a sleepchamp. You may want to check whether this is coinciding with the potty age (he feels wet and is uncomfortable without knowing) so I try to give liquids two hours before bedtime and do a last potty visit before bedtime."


Establish Night Time Patterns


“I am not sure I have any informed answers to your questions, but my heart goes out to you as these things are tough - especially on no sleep – to figure them out.

So, I am not sure how long it has been since your family has begun this new pattern (my husband is just returning back to work himself after a year + break after he was laid off - so we are beginning a new pattern too), but perhaps one thing to do is to accept that there will be an adjustment period for everyone. These life changes are not easy. If you can use the iPhone feature "face time", or if your husband can record a video message for your child before bed, that might help some.

Second, I wanted to share that we tend to give our daughter baths at night to calm her. We put Kneipps bath oil drops in the water (Lavender as well as Valerian and Hops). It smells nice and is very relaxing.

My daughter (a very independent minded 2 year old) likes no less than 4 books before bed; they tend to help her get in the mood. This pattern helps us. Recently, [my daughter] has given up her dependence on Violet the singing dog and other friends in her crib (she says "no people") but sometimes she reverts and does need a bit of company just before bed. In the monitor, she seems to be imparting her wisdom to them (we hear her talking for a while) until she finally falls asleep.

She has been waking up in the night (upper molars coming in - don't know where your child is in that development and if that is at all a sleep factor for you) so we have been doing whatever it takes to get her back to sleep again.

I guess I just overall wanted to say good luck to you - and that you have company as you struggle through these issues.


Cut the Naps:


“Try the opposite! A long Nap could be the big part of the problem! I suggest to not skip them (because you like him to sleep!) at least cut them to no more than 1 hour a day. You see improvement in 3-4 nights.”

Establish a RIGID nighttime schedule


“You need to institute a fairly rigid schedule for bedtime and a good ritual (dinner, bath, pajamas, a book or two and then lights out). No arguments, no negotiations. Your son also needs to stay in his room after its lights out.

If he leaves his room at any point, you march him right back in. You basically have to keep doing that as many times as he wakes up until he gets the point that coming to your room is useless. If you allow him to stay in your bed even once - you've lost the battle.

A few friends of mine have gotten gates in an attempt to prevent their kids from leaving their rooms (and this has worked).

You also may want to re-examine bedtime. I think a good bedtime for most kids this age is 8pm. No later (earlier is ok too). Alot of parents put their kids to bed too late, which makes them overtired and can lead to sleep problems (not to mention they wake up with a sleep deficit).

He is napping well because he is so tired but he needs that night sleep and napping is secondary. I'd limit his nap to 1.5 hours MAX. This way, he'll be tired enough at night to go to sleep at a decent hour. Also make sure he's not napping past 3:30/4pm.

Good luck. This is a phase that will pass. You just have to re-establish that you are the parent, make the rules and he does not.”


Use a sleep consultant and buy sleep aides


“I went through this with my daughter when she was about 2.5 years old. She started climbing out of the crib so we moved her to a bed, and she was then waking several times a night and coming in to our room.

I ended up using a terrific sleep consultant.

Based on her advice, we got a gate for my daughter's room so she could not get out. We also began using a sleep light with a red light for sleep time that turns green when it's time to get up (it's an easy clock to use). And she made us a book to read to her every night about how she needs to stay in bed when the light is red (we still read it every night). The first 2 nights were rough - we did bedtime routine, then put her into bed and she would cry/have a meltdown but she could not get out of the room. I would talk to her from a spot where she could not see me and tell her I would come back to check on her if she stayed in bed and stayed quiet. Eventually my daughter caught on, and now she sleeps great. It's been an amazing transformation.

For me, [my sleep consultant] was an essential part of it because she made it possible for me to be firm but not lose my cool (my husband and I were really starting to lose our cool with our daughter if you can imagine). She coached me on exactly how to respond, what to say, what tone to use, how often to go back to check on her, etc. If you can afford it, I highly recommend it.

Here is the gate we use. It is extra high. My daughter was about 3'2 when we did this, and she did not try to get over
the gate. She is fairly risk-averse when it comes to things like that, though.

Buy the Gate HERE

And this is the light HERE (you can also search "sleep enhancing stop light" on Amazon)

We are lucky that our neighbors also have young children and have always been very understanding when it comes to noise. I think if you explain what you are doing, that it will only be a couple of nights, and that afterwards things will be much quieter, they should understand. You can always try to accommodate their schedules.”


Further Reading on PSP:


For Parent Reviews on Sleep Specialists, visit the recommendations section HERE.

Read Tips on BEING the Noisy Neighbor HERE.

And HERE is an article PSP has written about how to be a GREAT neighbor when sleep training

And find out how parents have established Bedtime Rituals HERE