Sleep Training a 2-Year-Old

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Or 2 days of torture, despair, and ear-splitting noise, as I like to call it.

For the last month or so, Cakes – who is usually quite a good sleeper – has been waking up about every two hours. She has lots of reasons…her nose is running, she needs a drink of water, she wants a big hug. However, the main reason is her fear of “Thomas.”

We live about a mile from the railroad tracks. When we look out our north window, we can see the trains chugging along, but they’re so far away that they look like little model railroad engines. Normally, we don’t hear them at all, but in the winter, when the air is dryer and less dense, the sound travels much farther than usual. Lately, we’ve been hearing the train whistle in the distance several times each night. The rest of us sleep right through it, but Cakes wakes up every time.

Every time. She gets up and runs to her door, screaming “Mommy it’s Thomas, it’s Thomas!” Sometimes we have to get up and return her to bed 10-15 times. As you can imagine, we’re pretty fed up.

You’ve heard me talk in the past about my love of Dr. Marc Weissbluth’s Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Child.I used this book to sleep-train both of my children, with great success, and because it addresses children’s sleep habits through the teenage years, I continue to refer to it each time one of my children develops a sleep problem. Dr. Weissbluth’s advice has never failed me.

Like most mothers, I have a hard time listening to my children cry. It makes me very upset and anxious. However, I have extremely strong-willed children, and the “no-cry” methods of sleep training simply did not work with them. The extremely rigid, highly-scheduled methods of sleep training were too strict, and some were even dangerous. Dr. Weissbluth’s method is somewhere in the middle…and it works. It works every single time, which is why I’ve learned to tolerate some crying for the sake of a happy outcome, and a well-rested family. Typically, after 2-3 days of crying it out, the sleep problem is solved, and life goes back to normal.

Cakesie’s recent sleep trouble has been making life difficult for all of us. Bee is so tired in the morning that she has trouble getting up for school. I drag myself through the day, yawning constantly, and my husband sometimes conks out right after supper. After last night, when Cakes was up 5 times in one hour, we said enough is enough! I consulted Dr. Weissbluth, who said that children can learn to not be overwhelmed by naturally-occurring fears at bedtime, such as darkness or monsters (or in our case, train whistles). The key is for parents to create a consistent, soothing bedtime routine, with clear expectations for the child, and to follow through with calm resolve.

Tonight, we gave Cakes her bath, brushed her teeth, and got her dressed in her warm, snuggly PJs. Then, she and my husband played quietly in her room for a little while.

When it was time for bed, we tucked her in with her Teletubbies,

and we said her prayers.


Then we explained that it was her bedtime, and bedtime is sleep time. We told her that she must stay in her bed, close her eyes, be quiet, and go to sleep. We also made it very clear that once we left and closed the door, we would not be returning to her room.

We purposely put her to bed a half hour earlier than her usual bedtime, in anticipation of the crying that was to come. At 6:36 PM, we hugged and kissed her goodnight, told her we loved her, walked out, and shut the door.

She immediately got out of bed and went to her door. She started by quietly calling, “Mommy? It’s me.”

When she heard my husband start the popcorn popper, she switched to, “Mommy, you makin’ pahcorn?”

When we ignored her, she started in with the whole “Mommy, it’s Thomas” business. It wasn’t Thomas, but you have to give her credit for trying.

When the Thomas plea got no response, she moved on to “Mommy, my nose hurts! I need a tissue!” When this plea failed to bring one of us into her room, she got really mad. Before long, she was laying on the floor, kicking her door repeatedly with both feet, and screaming, “MOMMY! My nose hurts! My nose hurts! Mommy! MOMMY!”

Soon the screams escalated to sobs, and then to wails, and then to mind-numbing shrieks. My head was pounding. Bee was holding her hands over her ears. At one point she asked if we could please just go get Cakes so she would shut up! During this entire time, my husband was calmly watching TV and eating popcorn. Every time I looked at him with a pained expression, he reminded me that this is the only way to break Cakesie’s bad habits.

Finally, at 8:07 PM, the screaming stopped. After an hour and 31 minutes of torture, there was blissful silence. We all heaved a huge sigh of relief, and my husband said, “Well, she doesn’t give up without a fight does she?”

My husband and Bee went to bed, but I stayed up. I knew that I couldn’t possibly sleep if I didn’t check on Cakes. I tiptoed to her room, and carefully opened her door. I was expecting to find her curled up on the floor in front of her door, but no…she was sound asleep in her bed.

I tucked her in, kissed her sweet-smelling forehead, and tiptoed out.

The worst is over. Better days are ahead.

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Heather is a minimalist in love with a recovering packrat. 7 years ago, she and her husband sold pretty much anything that wasn't nailed down in order to pay off their mortgage, and they've been living happily debt-free ever since. They have 3 hilarious little kids who were conceived with the help of in vitro fertilization, and they haven't had a good night's sleep in the last decade. Heather is an anglophile who loves all things British, and spends her free time looking at real estate listings in Cornwall. Every day, she and her family work toward a simpler, more meaningful life. Some days are awesome, some are disastrous, and you can read about all of them here.

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