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8 tips to help children — from babies to toddlers — fall asleep at night

A sleep expert answered questions about how to get children of any age to bed.
/ Source: TODAY

Getting kids to sleep consistently and soundly can turn into a nightmare for parents, inspiring books like "Go the F***k to Sleep" and leaving everyone cranky and tired.

Sleep expert Jodi Mindell, associate director of the Sleep Center at Children's Hospital of Philadelphia, gave her advice on burning sleep questions from the TODAY Parenting Team.

Here are some of her tips, sorted by age group:


1. Do I have to use the “Cry It Out Method” to get my 10-month-old baby to sleep in her crib? She cries as soon as I put her down, and she stands up and doesn't know how to lay back down.

You can make slow changes. Sit next to her for a few nights and pat her to sleep. Then take a few nights to sit halfway across the room. The next few nights in the doorway. Slow changes are easier for many families. For lots more tips, check out my book "Sleeping Through the Night," which is available in most public libraries.

2. My 6-week-old will only sleep if he’s held or sits in an infant seat. When it comes to lying flat in the bassinet, he is flailing around and won't sleep.

Transition to a crib by the time your child is 3 months old. After that, it's much harder for the little ones to get used to sleeping somewhere new. If he sleeps better upright, then think about whether something like reflux is bothering him. If so, you may find that trying something that is a bit more upright works better.

3. When is a good age to transition out of a crib?

I recommend not transitioning to a bed until closer to age 3. Before that age, it's hard for little ones to understand the imaginary boundaries of a bed and to stay put.


Toddler sleeping in a dangerously hot car
Anna.Kraynova / Shutterstock

4. My son will be 4 in June and hasn't napped since he gave up his pacifier four months ago. He gets so cranky and overtired every afternoon, but he refuses to nap or even have quiet time in his room. He's also waking up way too early in the morning and I'm worried he's just not getting enough sleep!

It's hard for little ones who are used to sleeping with their pacifier! If you are able to encourage him to take on a new lovey — like a favorite stuffed animal — that will help. To manage the early morning waking, a "good morning light" is a great thing. Simply put a nightlight on a timer to turn on at 6 or 6:30. This will let him know when it's morning. Once he gets the hang of it, you can then move the timer 15 minutes later every few days. He can't tell time, so he won't notice the difference.

5. My 2-year-old goes to sleep well but wakes every single night around 2 a.m. needing comforting, wanting a bottle or being taken into bed with us. Even if he doesn't wake fully he moans through the night. Help!

No worries about the moaning, unless you think that he is in pain. Little ones are very active in their sleep and many sleep talk (or in your case, sleep moan). Most of the time, the issue is that they are unable to fall asleep or fall back to sleep on their own when they naturally awaken. If this is the case, start with bedtime working on having him fall asleep on his own. Do whatever you normally do in the middle of the night to get everyone back to sleep. In many cases, little ones start naturally sleeping longer at night once they are falling asleep easily on their own at bedtime.

6. My almost 3-year-old still has a bottle of milk before she falls asleep. What's the best way to end that habit and make a smooth transition?

Drop the bedtime bottle. You can drop it an ounce per night. And then the "bottle fairy" can come to take the bottles and leave a present.

Older kids

Tips to improve your child's bedtime routine

7. I am DESPERATE to get my 11-year-old son out of my bed. He refuses to sleep in his room.

We hear this all the time! You are not the only family with this issue. Think about whether this is simply a habit or whether it's more due to anxiety. If he is anxious, we typically focus on managing the anxiety and developing coping skills before making changes in sleep. There are some excellent parenting books available on anxiety in kids or talk to your health care provider for recommendations.

8. My 8-year-old grandson will not go to sleep without one of his parents at his bedside. They leave after he falls asleep, but when he wakes during the night, he calls for them and one of them will stay with him until he is back to sleep and usually until morning.

It's amazing how habits develop. But at his age, he can definitely start sleeping on his own. The whole family has to be on board with making changes. The best place to start is making changes at bedtime, slowly easing out so that he gets used to falling asleep on his own.

This story was originally published April 5, 2016.