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Tackling Toddler Sleep Problems

Troubleshoot your tot’s nighttime woes so you can all get the rest you need in your own beds.
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Crying at bedtime to the point of being sick continued...

"It's very hard to do," says Mary Michaeleen Cradock, clinical psychologist with St. Louis Children's Hospital in Missouri. "But we know of no negative effects of using the Ferber method."  Often times, one parent can handle the wailing and the other one simply cannot, she says. "If you are letting your child cry it out, one of you may want to go to the gym or put on an iPod while the other deals with the crying." If you choose this approach, you need to be prepared to stay committed to it for four to five nights.

Ferberizing is really all about changing your toddlers' sleep associations, which should solve this toddler sleep issue. "If a mom rocks her toddler to sleep, this is that child's sleep association. If the goal is to get the toddler to go sleep by herself, you need to shift the association to one that she can do herself -- the Ferber method is one way to do that," Cradock says.

If letting your child cry until she vomits seems too barbaric, go into the room after your child cries for a set amount of time, rub her back, and say, "Mommy is going to sleep, too," and then walk away, Zafarlotfi says. You may have to do this a few times a night before your toddler is comfortable. If this cry-it-out method is not something that you or your partner (or toddler) can stomach, discuss alternative methods with your pediatrician.

The bedtime routines that never end

Sleep specialist Rafael Pelayo, MD, an associate professor of sleep medicine at Stanford University School of Medicine, says, "The goal is to make bedtime a positive experience." In two-parent households, bedtime can become tumultuous. "Either one parent says, 'I put her to bed last night and now it's your turn,' or one parent is better than the other at putting the kid to sleep and resentment comes in to play," he says. "This is more related to family dynamics than the child. But kids pick up on their parents' stress and anxiety around bedtime, and that gets them stressed out and prolongs bedtime." 

Pelayo recommends the following solution.  "Both parents should go into the room, dim the lights, and chat amongst themselves for about 20 minutes or so because there is nothing more boring, yet more reassuring and safe, than having both parents there," he says. "Instead of saying, 'Let's get this kid to sleep,' just hang out, talk, relax, and think about how lucky you are to have such a great kid."

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