Toddler Behavior: My Toddler Won't Sleep

Reader Allie emailed me a couple of questions about her 15-month-old Jack*.

He was an otherwise healthy boy who simply stopped sleeping a few weeks ago. After getting through a nice, regular sleep-time routine -- a routine that used to work beautifully -- Jack would fuss, play, and scream. Anything to avoid going down to sleep. This would escalate over the course of the night with Jack snoozing briefly here and there -- but only with Allie holding him. The moment she carried him to his crib, he'd pop up, wide awake. Although she wasn't a co-sleeper "type", she tried it in desperation -- and it only made matters worse. Mommy's bed was treated like a big playground by Jack.

And Jack's Dad wasn't so hip on it either. He was of the belief that "tough love" was in order (as was Jack's pediatrician), and again in desperation, Allie tried it with Jack. After three hours of crying (and barfing all over himself and his crib), Allie had enough. No "CIO" for this baby.

After weeks of this, poor Allie was totally blotto from the accumulated sleep deprivation. My emailed suggestions didn't seem to get to the heart of the problem, and so I asked for more information. Turns out that Mom and Dad were having relationship difficulties on top of everything, and they just couldn't agree on how to handle the nighttime sleep issue. They had just started couple's therapy, and although the therapist was helpful to them, there was no time to focus on the problems with Jack. Plus, the therapist wasn't a specialist in babies and young children.

I suggested a Parent Coaching session, so that I could see Allie for myself, get to know her a bit, and have some time to get into the nitty gritty of Jack's situation. We spent an hour on Skype, going over Jack's temperament and personality, as well as options Allie hadn't thought of yet. I gave her detailed information on what is "normal", sleep-wise, as well as developmentally, for a child Jack's age. This helped decrease her fear that something was really "wrong" with Jack. Also, Allie was upset that Dad wasn't seeing things exactly the same as she was. I carefully side-stepped the relationship issues, focusing on helping Allie to understand that different parental attitudes CAN WORK with children. We created a plan that both parents could agree on, with the goal of helping EVERYONE get better sleep.

The "nuts and bolts" of the plan weren't anything fancy or unusual. But the fact that we had the time to really put our heads together to make a plan -- a plan that would work for Mom, Dad, AND Jack -- made it simple, but powerfully effective. And although I'm not necessarily against CIO in every case, I knew it was off the table for this family -- so we worked out a different plan. I was excited to receive an emailed update from Allie this weekend, letting me know that Jack was back to his old good-sleeping self (and more importantly, so was SHE).

If you can relate just a little too well to Allie, you've come to the right place. I'm including a link to one of my most popular Sleep posts here, to get you started. If my sleep posts aren't enough, shoot me an email ( or hit the "Parent Coaching Packages" button up on the top of the page to complete the form. I'll be happy to chat or Skype with you, too, to help you FINALLY get some sleep!


Dr. Heather The BabyShrink

*Allie asked me to keep her name, and that of her child, private -- these aren't their real names. But their experiences are real.