Getting a Two Year Old to Sleep

My friend Robert says that self-help groups are the path to wellness happiness, so I’m turning to my readership, some of whom are experienced parents, for assistance with an entirely practical matter: getting Oliver to sleep.

When we were in Spain in May, Oliver finally twigged to the fact that he could climb out of his crib, and so when we returned home we had to retire his crib and move him to a single bed all of his own. Since the switch we’ve mostly failed at getting him to stay in bed the night through, and therein lies the problem.

The usual routine is this: we put Oliver to bed about 10:00 p.m. (he has, since birth, been a late-to-bed, late-to-rise child, and as this suits our schedule, we’ve no problems with it). Sometimes he’ll fall right to sleep, sometimes we’ll have to lie down beside him until he falls asleep.

He’ll then sleep soundly for 2 or 3 hours.

Then, around 1:00 a.m. or 2:00 a.m., he’ll wake up, get out of bed, and come looking for Catherine and I. If we lead him back to bed he won’t stay there, and if we lie down with him, no matter for how long, he wakes up and cries when we get up to leave. If, somehow, we manage to escape with Oliver asleep back to our own bed, he’ll often repeat the exercise again 2 hours later.

This all adds up to an exhausted Oliver, and exhausted parents. And the more it goes on, the more exhausted we all get, the fewer thought resources we have to apply to a solution, and the more established this broken routine becomes.

I’m sure our experiences are not unique. Can others offer war stories from the sleeping frontiers that might assist, or at least make us feel better that we’re not padding the halls alone.


Gayle's picture
Gayle on October 14, 2004 - 07:03 Permalink

I have a 2year old he is giving my huband and I a hard time with going to bed. It takes him 1-3hrs to go to bed. He will screem, cry, and hit the bed room door. I have one of the childproof locks on the inside of him door. So he can’t open his door from the inside of his room. We live in apartment. I don’t want him yelling and hitting the door. What can I do to help him be more willing to go to bed? Or stop yelling and hitting the door? He also will have nightmares in his sleep. I have a hard time wakeing him up and getting him to calm down. When I do then he wants to get up and start his day but it will be 12am. Then it starts all over on getting him to bed. I need help…

Byron's picture
Byron on October 18, 2004 - 02:51 Permalink

Ok here it is, my little boy is 2 yrs old now and since he was a little over one we got him his own bed, because he was trying to get out of the crib. The weird thing s that up until he was one he would sleep through the night. Now that he is 2 he will not make it to the next morning without wakeing up out of his bed and letting us know that its time to get him and bring him to our bed. What are some remedies that work to get your child to sleep in there own bed? Also when i do lay with him each night to go to sleep it takes me about 45 min to an hr every night to get him to sleep. All the lights are off and he’s had his milk so i dont understand why it takes so long for him to go to sleep. This has been going on for months, actually since he was 1 and he is two now. For me its tiring because I think sometimes he goes to sleep in 10 min when i lay with him, but other times it takes atleast an hour.

carson's picture
carson on February 7, 2005 - 18:58 Permalink

For the woman who can’t keep her baby in the crib or bed, rather than a sleep sack, try a crib tent. we’re had it since my daughter was ten months old. They can’t jump out of the crib but can see out and she actually likes it.

Karla's picture
Karla on February 16, 2005 - 19:47 Permalink

Hi I have a 4 1/2 year old that I have had to lie down with every night and to him the thought of me not being there scares him. I have done this for way too long. He says that he is scared of the dark. I thought about leaving the light on in his bedroom but he cries and cries for me to be in the bed with him. How can I get him to feel comfortable being in the bed by myself?

Ken's picture
Ken on February 16, 2005 - 23:24 Permalink

Ok, from SuperNanny the other night I learned this. The first three times, tell the child it’s time to go to bed, give them a kis & tuck them in. After three times, no words or acknowledgement just bring them back to bed every time they get up. Let them cry. Be consistent every night.

Good luck.

Rayne's picture
Rayne on April 8, 2005 - 08:10 Permalink

ok actually I have to dissagree with the sleeping arrangements. You should not under any curcumtances let your child sleep in the same bed as you and or your spouse. This will make them think that they are always supposed to sleep with you. You don’t want a 15 year old child sleeping with you do you? If the child has trouble sleeping as does my daughter put them in thier own bed in their own room and lay with them untill they fall asleep. Then you quietly exit to your own room. Trust me it works. If all else fails when you lay beside them slowly rub their back they will fall right to sleep.

rob's picture
rob on April 13, 2005 - 18:12 Permalink

It’s disappointing to read the entries from the parents that are in the midst of their first or second night of Ferberization, but then they don’t follow through and tell us how it works out!! Don’t leave us hanging! (Joshua for example)

Rich Scales's picture
Rich Scales on May 16, 2005 - 06:28 Permalink

The problem with sleeping with your children, or letting them sleep with you, is a confidence issue.
We (my wife and I) have a friend with a 11 year old daughter, the daughter has slept with her every night for 10 years. She is so lacking in confidence its sad. I do not believe sleeping with, or letting children sleep with you, is the answer.
Unfortunately laying down the law may seem harsh, but we are conditioning these children to live how we live, and be like we are, and it has to be done.

lfgfryg's picture
lfgfryg on May 29, 2005 - 14:24 Permalink

fvgb ligbfd libvgl gdlgh fglohp

Harold Hermon's picture
Harold Hermon on May 29, 2005 - 14:29 Permalink

Hi I have to disagree my daughter will not fall asleep untill i come by her. she hugs my tightly and then will fall asleep it works trust me

Genny's picture
Genny on June 26, 2005 - 05:52 Permalink

Well, I have a two year old and she fell asleep on her own until in November I laid down with her for a week because my husband was taking muscle relaxers that week adn snored to much for me to sleep- I was also pregnant at the time.
Now I have to stay in the room until she falls asleep. Sometimes she wakes up at night, sometimes not. She says, “Mommy please stay.” and crys horribly if I leave. It only takes 5-10 minutes usually for her to fall asleep so its not a big deal- but some mights it takes and hour or so and that is hard- esspecialy with a two month old as well.
I think that for now I am going to keep sitting with her. I don’t want her to cry it out and I remember wanting my mom to stay with me.
It wasn’t a control issue for me, I just LOVED my mom and wanted her with me. I think this is the case for my girl. She loves me and wants to be with me. I see nothing wrong with that. I don’t see where control is the issue.

Bryan's picture
Bryan on July 18, 2005 - 23:15 Permalink

Hi my name is Bryan & I’am a father of one. My daughter is 2yrs.&few months and up intil the other night my daughter was probaly the best kid when it came to sleep, I mean threw the whole time shes been alive she took bedtime like “sure iam rdy attitude” I mean she loved going around giveing kissies get her bottle and went right to sleep. Well then her mother was outside smoking a cigerette and for some reason she went over to our two year ol’s window and knocked! “SCARED THE HELL OUT OF OUR LITTLE GIRL”. Now it’s a fight everytime we want to go to sleep because she will not let us leave the room and when we do she runs kicking and screaming at the door, we tried leaving the door open with the hall way light on and reading her abed time story, spankings, and such but she wants either us to sleep with her or she sleeps with us, me personaly I believe night time is time for me and my wife to talk. This is rather more hard on me than my wife because curently Iam not working and shes working and going to school so I whatch the kid 95% of the time! Well anyways parent in distress here, Iam truely not used to this change in my daughters attitude! I used to think me and my wife were on top of our game when it came to dealing with our child! PLEASE HELP….SORRY FOR THE MASS AMOUNTS OF GRAMMER ERROR…..TYPEING RANDOM THOUGHTS

Gloria's picture
Gloria on August 15, 2005 - 18:33 Permalink

I have 2 1/2 year old grandson who is living with me and I have never seen anyone like him. He has total control over his mother in every way! I try not to step into her parenting area but this child will not, can not sit still for 1 second day or night. When it comes to bedtime I will put on his favorite movie and we will all go to bed but in a spilt second he is up running around climbing in my bed or his mothers and this will go on for hours. This morning at 1 A.M. he was sitting on his bedroom floor playing with a box of band-aids and his mother sound asleep. I raised 4 girls and never have seen this problem, is a boy thing?? I have read all of the comments on this site and I am ready to take charge before it is too late. I am thinking of trying the gates and if unsuccessful I will try the spin knob on the inside of the bedroom door. Something has to give, something has to work. All of the comments have been interesting and enlightening, thank you.

patty's picture
patty on November 26, 2005 - 02:37 Permalink

wow! I am a mom of three and my husband and I co-sleep with all our kids. My oldest daughter is three and she was in our bed till she was two and a half. Her little sister was born when my oldest was 23 months. She took over the crib, we got our oldest a big girl bed. Knowing we would lie with her at night and read, soft music, she’d fall asleep. She is now five, her sister is three. They share a room. Some nights they fall asleep together, the oldest playing with her sister’s ears and the youngest playing with the oldest’s hair. They comfort each other like we did to them. My son is almost 18 months and we have his crib in our room. Some nights he’s good and stays in there for a few hours, other night’s depending on how he is, he’s with us in the bed. I am still nursing him so this is easier for me. I also have epilepsy. Not sleeping enough is a big danger for me. My husband and I discussed the co-sleeping and we found that it worked for us. I was well rested. he would get the babies at night and bring them to me, I would nurse them, change them, we’d all fall asleep. Some nights my husband would not even hear the kids when they woke. I see that this is a forum for all kids having the same problem at the same age. I have not seen a forum for teenager who cannot get themselves to sleep and still need to co-sleep. I know that my children will grow out of this. Soon it will not be cool to spend this cuddling time with us, there will be other things that are more important to them as they grow older. This time in their lives is fleeting. In the blink of an eye it’s gone. For us we enjoy this time. Our children are full of confidence, well adjusted. My oldest is now in school and we have been told that she is well ahead of the other children. If I had to go back, I would not change a thing. My personal time with my husband has not suffered. He loves to cuddle and read to the girls, get them to sleep, just as much as I do. There are nights when he is working that I read a story, tuck them in, put on their music, turn on the nightlight and leave the room. I started this by saying I would come and check on them in a few minutes, or that I had something to do and would be right back. I found that they were secure enough to fall asleep on their own wihtout me and I was so proud. Now they know I have their little brother to get to bed too, so they hardly ever fuss to have me lie down with them. The other thing we did with my oldest was what I mentioned, to leave them comfortable and say you will be back. Come back the first few times, I even put clothes away and tidied the room while she was falling asleep. She knew that I was there for her, there was never any crying fits. The whole point is to make them feel safe. By letting them co-sleep we are sending them a message that we will parent them even at night, in the dark. They can reach out touch us, and know that we are there. It is a fragile time for a child to wean them from us, they need to know that we are still there at night even if we are in another room. There should be constant reassurance. It will pass and I am sure all your children will work this out. And so will you as parents. We do what works for us. Just try and see it from their point of view. We do not stop being parents when the sun goes down. It is a 24 hour thing. If anyone has ever heard of Dr Sears? he and his wife have 8 children, they are firm believers of co-sleeping. Look them up, they have great tips on getting kids to bed with confidence and love. Good luck to you all.

claire's picture
claire on January 4, 2006 - 00:23 Permalink

hi, i know what u r going through as me and my partner have a two and a half year old girl. She is a nightmare at sleeping. She will not sllep during the day and when it comes to bedtime she will throw the biggest temper ever. Some nights we can’t get her to sleep till 3am. i’ve tried nearly evetrything to help her sleep but nothin seems to be working. Its got to a stage where my partner and i are zombies going into work. its not doing us any good. you would think that as she don’t sleep during the day she would be tired at night but oh no. when she does go to sleep i can gurantee within two hours she is awake again wantin to play.

andrea's picture
andrea on January 28, 2006 - 11:38 Permalink

oh god help me! i am not a religious person,but have started praying in earnest.up until two weeks ago ollie slept reasonably ok.i can get him to bed ok,and he will sleep for a few hours and then wake up crying for me.he is only in the next room so it feels as though he is right by my ear!i have put him to bed with us twice but am determined not to go down this path.he will come downstairs and sleep on the sofa with me,but as i am 23 weeks pregnant this isn,t soooo tired,fed up pissed off„„blaaa blaaa.partner has got no patience with the whole situation,have left ollie to cry but after half an hour i can take it no more!i lie there going all hot and sweaty and have to get up in the end.was looking forwards to having my third am starting to dread it……does that sound awful?

Jocelyn's picture
Jocelyn on March 13, 2006 - 13:00 Permalink

HI,I read all the post in this website. I feel so embarrassed to tell my situation. Most of your kids are 2,3,4 year olds. My son is 10 years old,he is so uncomfortable sleeping by himself. He has been sleeping in the same room with me for 10 years. I asked that it is time for him to sleep in his room.I have been trying to have him sleep in his room for a long time. But I get so frustrated that I just give in and let him sleep in my room in a separate bed.It is awful.Last week I told him that he has to sleep in his room and that we both need privacy. It takes him 2-3 hrs to go to sleep and with the door slightly open. He said that it feels weird if the door is closed.Just this weekend, he asked if he could sleep again in my room just for that night.Please I need some advice. How can I make him sleep by himself without stressful day and night explaining to him why it is for his own good.Thank you.

Jaimy's picture
Jaimy on August 19, 2006 - 12:07 Permalink

I need HELP! I have a 4 year old and a 2 year old. My 4 year old is a great sleeper. My 2 year old is awful!!! He wakes about 4 in the morning…yes EVEY morning! And when it comes to nap time… its anywhere and anytime he feels. I have to go to the store or just get things done outside of the home and he will fall asleep in the car. When we are home he falls asleep in his bed and has a little hard time but its nothing to complain about (pretty normal- getting in and out of bed) Some days he will take a 10 min nap ( thats when we are in the car) and other days he might sleep 2 hours. At night he goes to bed around 8:30- 9:30 and is usually asleep with in 30 mins. I cant just let him cry it out he might wake the 4 year old…. which needs his sleep (he goes to school- and needs to be in a good mood) I need help I am lossing it! Its breaking me…. and I cant do it anymore… I have tryed it all….sleeping with him…. locking him in…. crying for help!

monica's picture
monica on October 1, 2006 - 15:36 Permalink

does anyones child go to sleep ok, then further into the night wake up for 1-3 hours then fall asleep again? Please let me know, i am staring to wonder if he isnt autistic.

a.kovach's picture
a.kovach on February 13, 2007 - 01:59 Permalink

I am an experienced Early Childhood teacher with a Masters Degree in Family Life-this however gives no claim to fame with your own children. I have a two-year old who is extremely intelligent and for most of her life, has been a “textbook” sleeper. Right around 18 mo., however we were introduced to a new “kid”. Her naps were shorter, sometimes disappeared, she would awaken crying for minutes at a time, she even began screaming when would put her down. Needless to say-I read every book on the market, talked with friends and doctors-nothing helped until my maternal instinct finally kicked in. THANK GOD. As soon as she would begin crying I would go in and comfort her for less than a minute-never taking her out of the crib or her room-just rubbed her back and hugged her-verbally reassured her she was ok and it was time for sleep-after nearly six months of sleepless nights-this worked after less than a week. She began sleeping through with very few if any awakenings. She was on a good path for about two months and she began to express she wanted a big girl bed. The thought of it terrified me-but she’s growing up and independence is a “good sign”. We put her in a toddler bed-safe and low to the ground-plus it’s adorable. It’s still her bed/crib mattress is used. She picked out the bedding and we had a big girl party as she helped us assemble it. She is going to bed with the occassional re-tuck but that’s all, so far! We have her door closed all the way with a child proof doorknob on her side. I feel good about it. We play in her room more now because she loves that she can get in and out herself. While we play we go over the “rules”. It helps that I’m a classroom teacher by nature-my daughter has different rules for different situations and she can resite them back to me on cue. Yes, I think she knows what she’s saying and the fact that she’s been speaking sentences since she was thirteen months old helps. We have conversations with one another all day long-REPITITION AND CONSISTENCY ARE THE KEY. I must end with this final piece of advice. Follow your gut-what worked with my daughter may or may not work with your child. As long as you are loving, and your child’s well-being is thought of, that’s all that matters. Don’t let anyone tell you you have to let your child scream for hours on end, or lock them away in a room when they’re used to sleeping with you. Do what you think is best and stick to it for a while. If it doesn’t work try something else. But be sure you give you and your child the opportunity to learn from what your trying to do. It takes time and they aren’t going anywhere-they are your children forever! Love n’ my baby-ajkovach

Brandy's picture
Brandy on January 13, 2008 - 12:10 Permalink

Ok so get this… My daughter is 2 like most of you all’s kids. She slept great unitll two months ago. She would go to bed at 8pm and sleep until 7am. Two months ago she started waking up at 10pm ready to play. We would gently lay her back down expalin that it was time to sleep, kiss and tuck her in then leave the room and leave the door open a crack to let the light in. Not two seconds would go by and she would be out the door running down the hall with a big smile on her face. The same routien would continue till 2am when we would finally lay down with her and hug her till she relaxed and fell asleep.
Then we thought well perhaps she is just not tired enought to sleep all night and is taking a lat nap. So we kept her up till 10pm letting her get only a very short nap in the day. She began sleeping for a half hour and then getting up and staying up till 4am. At this point she would lay down with her stuffy with a “nigh nigh dada and mama” and go to sleep. No problems no crying, nothing.
She doesnt seem to need us to go to sleep, she wont stay in bed till she is ready to and she doesnt cry and carry on unless you tell her to lay down and that lasts about as long as it takes her time to figure out annother way to get up.
We have tried to block her in with a tall board since the gate was long ago scaled. She stacked her dresser drawers up and climed over it landing on her head in the process! When we locked the door she went to sleep for about 2 hours then was up again and began banging her head into the door till she gave herself a bloody nose!
In general no room is sacred. We have resorted to putting chain locks on all the inside doors since child locks wont keep her out and we dont want to wake up and find her dead from eating londry soap or dish detergent.
We have tried the routien, the tough love, the dicipline, the sleeping with, you name it we have either thought about it or tried it.
Strange thing is once she goes to sleep at 4am she wont wake up till 12pm. I tried waking her up at 9am one time. I had her sitting up on the couch in the living room with the TV on and lights and stuff and she just kept sleeping.
I know she is tired, she tends to be cranky now and irritable, but we just cant get her to go to sleep and her activity hasnt decreased.
We are going to the Pedi on monday. I dont think he will be able to give us any thing new but he can make sure she is still healthy…other than sleep deprivation.
My husband, he stays home with the kids while I work 12hr. nights, is such a zombie. He has insomnia anyway but to add this to it he is averaging about 3 hrs a night for the last 2 months. I try to stay up with her when I am home but then we both end up exhausted and cranky. My two older boys never went through this stuff.. New territory all together.
I’ sorry there isnt any encouraging answers in my missive but I hope you can see the irony and humor even through the misery and know that even seasoned parents are dealing with this since every child is different and a new adventure. You are not alone!

Jennifer's picture
Jennifer on January 21, 2008 - 09:08 Permalink

Brandy, what did the doctor tell you? I am going through the same thing with my 2 year old. My daughter’s doctor told me I was spoiling her. I wish she can come over and watch her so, I can get some sleep.
My aunt suggested harp music. I don’t know if that will work but, I am going to borrow some from the library and try it.

claire's picture
claire on June 16, 2009 - 16:12 Permalink

well our daughter is 16 months and used to sleep well, now though i feel like ive joined the lack of sleep club. it doesnt matter if i keep her up till 10pm she will only fall asleep in my arms and after ive put her in her own bed she wakes after an hour has to be cuddled back to sleep usually demanding milk, only for this to happen another three times until we are in bed and thats when she ends up in our bed tossing an turning all night. if she has a nap in the day time and i try to put her in her cot she wakes within 10 minutes and is a grouch for the rest of the day. I spoke to my health visitor today about it and was advised to speak to the doctor about depression Im not depressed just really tired. i would just like some practical advise on how best to cope and how long im supposed to do this controlled crying thing for. My daughter has always been clingy and has never been one to do things on her own but surley by now things are supposed to be geting easier!!!!

AnonymousJANANA's picture
AnonymousJANANA on May 20, 2010 - 05:11 Permalink

A 28 mos old, STILL getting a bottle????? You are going to rot his teeth! And hes dependant on the bottle to sleep!And whos in charge here?
As a daycare provider of 27 yrs, I see so many of these situations every day. They come to me and I have to fix them!
Parents thing they are doing their kids a favor by not letting them cry and taking them to bed w/them ect. Ridiculous!

Rachael's picture
Rachael on September 10, 2010 - 23:41 Permalink

hey there, i have a daughter who is 2 and 2 months and she was a great sleeper up till a few months ago. we used to get able to get her a bath, get her dried and dressed say its bed time and she’d be off to her big bed and asleep by the time you had walked from her bed side to the door. then all of a sudden its a constant fight with her, her bedtime is 7-7:30 and atm shes hardly asleep by 12-12:30 she has always been in her own bed to sleep and own room since she was a week old so its not that she is scared of the room, in the time betweenbed time the the ‘actual’ time she goes to sleep, she scream, temper tantrums, throws things, kicks and hits the door. we have never locked her in or had a gate at the door. but as we are past tired and at our wit ends we are trying the put her to bed the firstand tell her ‘its bedtime night night’ second time ‘bed, night’ and from after that ignore her dont say a word. onloy our first night and ive put her to bed about 15 times so far, wish me luck!! xxx

Alia's picture
Alia on January 17, 2011 - 03:52 Permalink

I have a 31 month old daughter. She has recently been spending every other weekend with her dad for standard visitation. Before he was suddenly interested in seeing his daughter we had a normal bedtime routine and she went to bed at the same time every night and slept through the night with the occasional illness or night where she woke up and needed mom. At those time she would sleep with me. Since coming home from her first extended visit with him for the holiday she has refused to fall asleep without a light on and cries to fall asleep with Mommy. She has constantly had to be touching me when she is awake and hates to be apart from me. Her pediatrician swears she should be placed in her room and made to fall asleep on her own and if necessary to just cry herself to sleep, but it breaks my heart to hear her. I also think this sudden need to have the light on (she has a night light) is strange. Any thoughts?

myndi's picture
myndi on June 16, 2011 - 21:24 Permalink

easy! You are the parent not the child. Show your child your boundaries, but first you need to have them.
You dont ask the child if it wants to go to bed you tell him it is time for bed. Consistantly put him in bed. if he gets up, you do not lay down with him. You simply say it is bed time and this is his bed. Each and every time you return him alone to the bed. He may cry and scream but if you dont follow through he will learn that fits make you cave. Parents create their own disasters and their childs behavior.
Children live what they learn!

myndi's picture
myndi on June 16, 2011 - 21:26 Permalink

sure! each your child you have no rules and the ones you make are made to be broken by bad behavior and removing boundaries!