Letting Toddlers “Cry It Out” At Night

Crying On The Beach

Yesterday I wrote to all of you about our sleep woes with Max who is 1-year-old.  He has been waking every two hours at night, fussing when awake, and causing Kate and I extreme headaches and fatigue.  Last night, Kate and I agreed on the game-plan and stuck to it – the result?  A happy boy in the morning and better rested parents.  So…what was the game-plan?  Simple: let him cry it out.  Kate and I agreed to the rules before putting him to sleep and they were…

  1. No feeding in the night
  2. Let him cry it out when he wakes up
  3. Soothe only if he cries for more than an hour

Dinner and bath time went off without a hitch as usual and Max happily went about his nightly bedtime routine.  Kate placed him in the crib while he was still awake and he calmly laid down on his side and drifted off to sleep on his own.  3 hours later, at 11 PM, Kate and I retired for the evening.  A little after midnight he woke up and began to cry.  We remained still and hunkered down for what we were sure was going to be a long night.  Max’s cries crescendoed to wails after about 20 minutes and then slowly ebbed to little pathetic sounds of exhaustion.  On the video monitor we watched him give one last cry of desperation, he accepted the fact that we were not coming, and then he rested his adorable head down and went back to sleep.  At 3 AM the same experience…though this time I think he was up for much less time…I’m not sure, I slept through most of it.  At 5:30 AM he woke up again and Kate asked, “Should we just get up an hour early?”  We debated and decided that we should wait for either sunrise or our day to start before starting his.  He fell asleep (or quieted) again and remained silent till 6:42 AM when my morning alarm clock went off.  We then started our day as usual and guess what?  Max is fine.

We think he has one of his back teeth coming in which are the most painful which would explain why he has been getting up so frequently.  Last night we gave him Baby Tylenol which helped.  However, we realize that his waking up is not a problem he has…it is a problem we have.  We have enabled him to know we will come and soothe him.  Well…no more.  Time for a little tough love buddy!  I think I got better sleep because when he cried I wasn’t cursing the heavens for being awake and waiting to see how long I could stand it…I knew it was going to happen and so I resigned to just roll over and wait it out.  Plus, having Kate in bed so I didn’t lose my cuddle partner was great.  Usually, I’m laying there alone wondering what’s going on in the room next door…tossing and turning…getting frustrated, lonely, upset…  Last night it felt like Kate and I were a team, more than the nights when we tag-team soothing him.  I know we have some more long nights ahead of us…but we are off to a great start!

We had a plethora of friends write to us yesterday and share their experiences and it is truly a blessing to have a network of friends and family that can share their pitfalls and successes with you.  That is what So Long Freedom is on a broader scale, a place where other parents like yourself can learn from my mistakes and triumphs.  It is also a place where I can get advice from all of you!  Thank you for always commenting and sharing, it keeps this wonderful conversation going.

Parenting is the most humbling thing I have ever experienced in my life and raising kids does truly “take a village.”  Thank you (all of you) for always being my virtual village.

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4 thoughts on “Letting Toddlers “Cry It Out” At Night

  1. Once we thought about the message we wanted him to receive – I believe leaving him alone was the least confusing (and therefore I think the least traumatic) option. Ideologically, I have never been a big fan of this technique and would not have been comfortable with it before. What made it ok now were the following reasons:
    -I am confident that he is comfortable with his surroundings
    -confident that he understands that we are nearby & not just gone
    -he had a dose of meds in case he was in pain (had a bit of a teething fever before bed)
    -he’s old/big enough that he doesn’t absolutely need food in the middle of the night (though I also don’t doubt that he wants it—in the future I anticipate a little dish of Cheerios next to the bed just like my mom did for us when we were toddlers)

    The crucial change in the situation for me was understanding not just that we wanted this behavior to change, but that we needed to clearly communicate an alternative to him. We need to teach him something new, not just stop a habit. Maybe in the future I’ll remember that most situations are teaching/learning moments if we can just see the right angle. Of course, not being bleary-eyed exhausted & on your 4th cup of coffee does wonders for clarity!

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