Q&A: My 17-month-old son won't sleep in his bed. Any advice?
My son is 17 months and refuses to sleep in his bed at night. He prefers to sleep on the floor or with me. He has had breathing issues since babyhood, which require him to sleep with his head elevated. I have been trying to get him to sleep through the night in his own bed. Any suggestions?
Toddlers and sleep problems go naturally together. Rarely do toddlers like to go to bed, since they feel like they are missing all the fun, and most try to find company if they awaken at night. The problem comes when they have been successful in climbing into bed with a parent, or vice versa, often to the extent that getting up at night and seeking company becomes learned behavior and expected.
I’m not sure of the nature of your son’s breathing problems, or if they are still significant, but sleep issues like yours very often begin when parents are worried about their child’s health and make even a temporary habit of being with them at night.
If you (and your spouse) are really ready to re-teach your son to sleep on his own you can, but the committment and resolve have to be there, since consistency is the most important element. Set his bedtime at a regular time when he is genuinely tired and create a soothing ritual—bath, songs, a story—that signals the time to sleep. If he awakens and gets out of bed, calmly and firmly return him there. You may need to stay around him at first, but each night back away a little more until you are just in the doorway, then outside it, and insist he stay in bed. If you are consistent and the others who care for him are too, you should end up with an acceptable situation, even if it takes a few weeks.
There is a book you may find helpful that describes this method in detail, called How To Solve Your Child’s Sleep Problems by Dr. Richard Ferber.