Needing a Parent’s Help to Sleep: A Path to Restful Nights

Posted by in No-Cry Discipline, No-Cry Separation Anxiety, No-Cry Sleep

Last week we talked about the “why” our children often need a parent’s help to fall asleep. Before we proceed with the solutions, remember your thoughts about what exactly bothers you about having to stay with your child until the sandman arrives.

Kacen and Daddy

Kacen and Daddy

Choose a Path

You may have never looked at it this way, but there are two paths you can follow. Either choice can work beautifully. But you need to make a decision and follow it up with a plan – so pick one:

  • Continue to stay with your child until he or she falls asleep – but do so in a way that encourages your child to fall asleep quickly.
  • Take steps to help your child learn how to fall asleep on his own.

Stay or Don’t Stay – but don’t whiffle-waffle!

Very often parents feel “stuck.” They don’t want to stay until their child is alseep, but they do it to prevent tears or a tantrum. So some nights it works fine – their child falls asleep peacefully and quickly. Other nights the process lasts far too long. The lying-with/staying-with ritual drags on for an hour or more, often with the parent becoming angry and the child resorting to tears. So, in the end, parents get stuck with both: they get to stay AND they get the tantrum too!

If you waver between the two choices, or if different caregivers use different approaches, your child will never know what to expect, so bedtime will remain tense and perhaps even a struggle of wills.

There is not a “correct” answer here – either approach works for many families. So, decide which path you are going to follow – stay or don’t stay – and have everyone involved be consistent with whatever choice you make. When you maintain a pattern you will end up with a more peaceful bedtime hour.

Deciding to Stay

Like the majority of your fellow parents, you may decide that when your child falls asleep quickly it’s not an inconvenience to stay in the room with him, and if you knew he’d always fall asleep promptly you wouldn’t mind the stay. If this is what you decide to do – relax into the routine! Tell your child, “From now on I will stay with you until you fall asleep. Then I will go to my own bed. We both sleep all night, and then we can cuddle in the morning.”

What about night waking?

Many children are able to go to sleep with a parent’s company, and then sleep all night without further help. Some, though, continue to depend on a parent’s company anytime they wake up throughout the night. Remember that all human beings have night wakings – its how your child falls back to sleep that can create problems for you. Also, your sleep routines can change and modify over time. Just because you choose one path doesn’t mean you can’t change approaches over time. Just give each plan enough time to work through the kinks before you make modifications.

Ember 18mths and Mom

Ember 18mths and Mom

How to stay and promote sleep

The key to staying, and making it a pleasant routine for everyone involved, is to set a plan that works. The plan should involve a specific bedtime routine that ends in quiet, peaceful darkness. The finale to your bedtime routine should be your quiet presence as your child nods off. If you continue to talk and interact with your child you may be actually keeping him awake! So do all your usual things – reading, storytelling, nursing, back-rubbing – and then turn off the lights and be quiet. The only noise you should make is a quiet “Shhh, Shhh” in response to any movement or noise from your little one.

The exception to this is a child who falls asleep easily to a parent’s quiet singing, humming or story telling, under one condition: Do this only if you enjoy it too. Don’t get into a habit of doing something to please your child if you hate it! You’ll just resent the process and your emotions will prevent bedtime from being the peaceful, loving time it should be.

Have an early enough bedtime so that your child doesn’t become over-tired. Make sure the time is consistent – try to stick with the set bedtime seven days a week – so that your child’s biological clock is ticking in tune to his scheduled bedtime.

Have a long-enough bedtime routine

In the Sleep in America poll, it is reported that more than half the preschoolers, and almost half the toddlers, take fifteen minutes or longer to fall asleep once the lights are turned out. Add this to the time it takes to prepare for bed (bath, pajamas, book-reading, and so on) and you’ll need at least an hour dedicated to putting your child to bed. If you rush through this process you’re child won’t fall asleep easily or more quickly – the steps to bed are very important to a peaceful falling asleep process. Of course, there are exceptions. On any given night, if your little one is truly tired, then a very short routine is in order! Don’t keep a tired child awake just to make it through your traditional getting ready for bed routine. You may find it helpful to stick with your usual sequence of events, but shorten each step as much as possible, for example, by picking one brief book, rather than the usual three.

It helps to remember that it will likely take your child ten to twenty minutes to fall asleep once the lights are turned out. These twenty minutes seem like sixty when you’re anxious to get up and get on to other things you need or want to do. Ironically, if you are quiet and peaceful yourself, your child will fall asleep much more quickly. So, when you begin your new routine, glance at the clock when you turn the light off, and look again when your child is asleep, and notice how long it takes. Check again in a week and compare the two. You may discover that it takes your little one far less time to nod off than you thought, particularly when he realizes that you will stay every night until he’s asleep.

Penny, 1 and Mom

Penny, 1 and Mom

Think of your needs, too

As you wait for your child to fall asleep what do you do with the time? Do you tap your toe impatiently waiting, while you tell yourself that you’re wasting valuable time, or that you wish you didn’t have to stay? This is a common response, and part of the reason parents so dread this little nighttime ritual. Once your sleep plan is ticking perfectly it’s likely that your child will take much less than fifteen minutes to fall asleep every night. While you are waiting for your child to fall asleep, you may want to do one of these things:

  • Think about the highlights of your day, enjoy your memories.
  • Plan tomorrow’s calendar.
  • Watch your child and enjoy the beauty. They grow up so fast, you know.
  • Daydream about an upcoming event, or something fun.
  • Put on headphones and listen to music or an audio book.
  • Meditate or pray.

Take your time to think about the path that your family needs to take. There is no “wrong” path. For those that are leaning towards the “Don’t Stay” path, come back next week for a No-Cry Solution for Changing to the “Don’t Stay” option.


Need more tips? The No-Cry Sleep Solution Enhanced eBook features a video at the end of each of 14 chapters to help you as you work through the book. You’ll have restful nights in no time!


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