Ask Bracha

  • Question:

    Dear Bracha, My two year old used to fall asleep easily and sleep through the night. Lately, he will not settle without a lot of cuddling. I've even resorted to walking him in his stroller until he falls asleep. Help!

  • Answer:

    You are not alone in this phenomenon! Getting young children to sleep can be very challenging even though situations like this happen all the time and we should expect them. After all our kids are smart and know a good thing when they have one. Some where along the line your son realized that you would stick around longer if he was "fussy", he used this understanding to get more cuddle time with you and who could blame him, what better part of the day is there than to have your mom all to your self and snuggle down!

    Now you have to break him of it.

    Method: First let us understand that a reasonable bedtime routine with snuggling, reading stories and hug, kissed and tucked in to bed normal and very positive part of a child's day. The difference is that you decide how long this routine is to take and then stick to it, - this is the goal you are now aiming for. You are going to have to decide how to approach the problem, I can only give you guide lines as this situation presents too many variables.

    What you must now do is a process of weaning off. A gradual shortening of the time you spend doing this routine. I would normally discuss with my client what they felt would be the best to cut down on first. Since we do not have that luxury I hope you will make allowances for these suggestions. I would tackle the walking him in the stroller first. It has to go and is an unreasonable demand for a healthy child, even though I know it works wonders. If he is not sick then no more of this, or you will soon be touring the neighborhood on a regular basis! Next, you will have to cut down gradually, on the amount of time you spend cuddling him. When you put him in his crib, and he is not yet settled, pat his back and talk to him softly until he settles. The trick is this- ONCE YOU PUT HIM IN BED, DO NOT PICK HIM UP NO MATTER HOW MUCH HE WANTS IT!! In the beginning, if he stands in side of the crib and holds on to you, that' O.K. as long as you don't actually take his feet off the mattress. Then you graduate to no standing at the side and patting his back when he is lying down, its alright if he needs this extra step. Then you will gradually shorten the amount of time you pat his back, until you have reached the routine you want.

    There is often a breaking point at which your son will insist, by crying, that he needs more of your attention. This is a very hard point for most mom's, so lets keep focused and remember that he's O.K. he just needs time to get used to this new routine and accept it. You cannot go back on anything or you have just taught him if he cries enough you will give in and this is a lesson he will not forget! But your can still comfort him, so that he (and you!) know he is not abandoned. You can enter the room to answer his crying and not pick him up! Tell him to lie down and you will pat his back, assist him to do so but don't pick him up! If you are at the point that you can't leave the room and are cutting back or out on the "patting the back", you can comfort him by your voice for a minute, tell him you will be back in 1 minute, and do so, repeating the process as often as it takes and gradually expanding the time you are out of the room to 15 minutes. Your words are always comforting and instructional. I.E. "We have finished saying good night, lie down its time for you to go to sleep". Keep calm in the face of his screaming and remember you must not touch him! The average time for a break point is three nights.

    Remember to keep calm, he doesn't understand what is happening, even though you have tried to explain it, his gut is what rules him and his gut tells him he used to get mommy all to himself for a long time, why not now? His screaming and crying is a result of this, nothing else. You have made sure he is in a safe environment and there is no medical condition that would endanger his health if he cries for a while, so take it easy. Your going in at regular intervals, that you have told him about in advance, give him the security that he is not abandon. How ever some moms feel that their child is not able to grasp this concept and they do not realize that they have entered the room for anything other than a response to the crying, feeling that this is prolonging the agony. Those mothers who wish to stay in the room sitting on a chair away form their screaming child, visually and verbally comforting them, I totally support and admire. Not everyone can do this, nor does this work for every child, but may also provoke more crying.

    Which ever way you choose, this method does work and children still feel supported while going through it.

    Good luck with your snuggly two year old. Wishing you and your entire family all the best. - Bracha

    P.S. since you say this has all happened "lately" please get your son checked out by a doctor in case he has a silent ear infection that may be troubling him at night, though this is more likely if he wakes up at night screaming.


    Bracha Mirsky is expressing personal and professional opinions and views. These opinions or views are not intended to treat or diagnose; nor are they meant to replace the treatment and care that you may be receiving from a licensed physician, counselor or mental health professional. Bracha Mirsky is not responsible for the outcome or results of following her advice in any given situation. You are completely responsible for your actions and Bracha Mirsky accepts no liability for any situation in your life past, present or future.