Dear Dr. Bill,
My husband and I have a 3-year-old son named Garrett. Until recently, I had established a consistent bedtime routine that worked for him. But now my husband has started going into his room to comfort him. He’ll often lay down with him until he falls asleep. As a result, Garrett now calls loudly for “Daddy” if he wakes up in the middle of the night.
This make Garrett’s bedtime much more complicated than it should be. And I feel like my husband is interfering with my natural role of nurturing my child. What should I do?
Your husband may mean well, but he is sabotaging your son’s ability to go to sleep on his own. By responding to his cries, he is reinforcing your son’s behavior…teaching him that if he protests long enough or load enough, eventually daddy will give in and come to his room.
Children need to learn to go to sleep on their own, and the process should start before their first birthday. Since your son is now three, it’s going to be a lot harder to train him to fall asleep by himself.
The only solution is to let him cry himself out. This could take several nights, and the crying could go on for hours.
From what you’ve told me, I don’t think your husband will be able to pull it off. The crying will tug at his heartstrings and he’ll give in to your son’s protests. Since it sounds like you have the backbone to stand your ground, it’s going to be up to you to train your son to fall asleep on his own.
Now before I receive hundreds of e-mails from parents who accuse me of being a heartless ogre, let me stress that parents should always respond to their child’s cry if they are ill, scared, or have had a nightmare.
By the way, a great book on this topic is “Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Child” by pediatrician and sleep expert Marc Weissbluth
Thanks for writing Terri. If you have a question for me about family issues or Christian living, click the “Questions” link on the Family Expert page.
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