A short introduction to my situation: My little girl is almost two. She's an inquisitive child, loves to run around, plays with her toys etc., basically a very easy-to-handle child. My wife and I are trying to wean her of drinking formula milk before bedtime by reducing the amount of formula gradually. Our usual evening ritual is bath-bottle-bed, and until recently it worked like clockwork.

A few days ago, and every night since, we put her in bed after her bottle, and she started screaming and went into a tantrum, yelling for mommy and daddy. We were both shocked, as this had never happened before, and the energy of the tantrum is totally uncharacteristic of her. We tried calming her down, which only worked as long as she was in our arms, out of bed. After long minutes of screams and crying, she finally ran out of energy and fell asleep, exhausted.

We assume this is something to do with a fear of abandonment, which is normal for this age, but we can't be sure. We don't want her to fall asleep in our arms or outside her bedroom, because this will set a bad precedent, and work against what we've taught her so far.

My question: Is there a way to prevent these tantrums? If not, is there some way to calm her effectively?

asked 01 Oct '09, 12:23

Yuval's gravatar image

accept rate: 6%

edited 11 Nov '09, 21:01

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Are you reading her a story as part of putting her to bed? That may well be able to calm the separation fear - you're still there, but she's in her bed, making it easier to leave her. I can't remember at what age we started reading our boys stories, but I'm pretty sure we were doing so by then. It's a good distraction.

After that, there's always controlled crying, horribly painful as it is. I forget the exact details, but from what I remember we used to go in every few minutes, just patting (rhythmic back patting at roughly 1 second intervals works well) - gradually increase the length of time between visits, and somehow cope with the constant crying :(


answered 01 Oct '09, 12:59

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Jon Skeet
accept rate: 35%

Thank you, we'll give this a try! =8-)

(02 Oct '09, 08:04) Yuval

This works wonders... I guess the mental effort to follow the story is sufficient to put her to sleep (sometimes in the middle of the second repetition, but that's perfectly fine). Once again, thank you! =8-)

(04 Oct '09, 11:39) Yuval

Good sugestions there JS. I'm finding some similar problems now and then with my 20 month old son. He used to hate going to sleep when it was time. Just wanted to keep playing and playing. I had to lay down with on a bed to relax him and then get him to fall asleep. This had to the problem that he might get used to falling asleep on a bed, with me. So it's a fine line between too much and enough to slow them down. That's what the reading can be good for. Gawd parenting is tough :P

(05 Oct '09, 23:51) Pure Krome

We had almost the same situation with our girl. She's almost the same age, and never had much trouble going to sleep on her own. Two or three months ago she started having terrible screaming fits every time we put her to bed, and an hour or two before she usually wakes up.

We tried to let her "scream it out", but didn't seem to help and was a big drain on us. In the end we put down a matress on the floor beside her bed, and lay down beside her bed as she went to sleep.

She still had screaming fits, but she calmed down much faster when she knew someone was in there. (No comforting or talking though). After a few weeks of this she went back to going to sleep on her own, without us in there.

Just a phase I guess.


answered 04 Oct '09, 07:06

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user-365 (google)
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Like @dreamerisme I think this is a phase that many children go through at one point or another. My youngest sister used to ask, at 3-4 years old, if she could cry herself to sleep. It was strange, and funny, but she'd go up to her bed, and cry herself to sleep each night. Eventually that stopped, and she's perfectly normal with two kids of her own now. ;)


answered 03 Oct '09, 03:30

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accept rate: 6%

that is strange... and somewhat funny.

(04 Oct '09, 11:41) Yuval

I have 3 kids and 2/3 of them had similar issues. The oldest, who is now 12, because we didn't know better and the youngest, who is currently 15 months, because we forgot over the 12 year span in between :)

You will see mixed feedback on this but I will give you my experience.

Letting them scream it out for a few days when you put her down does work. It is heart wrenching, you will want to go in there and pick her up and hold/sooth her. Resist the temptation! If she's screaming and doesn't need to be changed she is probably fine. I'm not sure how long your tantrums last but in the beginning ours were about 45mins-1hr. This drastically decreased after a week. With my 15mo old this dropped to 10 mins after the 2nd night! It's now about 20 seconds. (We've been working on this for about 2 weeks) (My 1st child took a bit longer)

It's better to nip this in the bud while they are still young otherwise you'll have nightly visits once they are out of their crib :)

Some tips:

  • Jon's response about reading bedtime stories is good if they will settle enough to allow you to read
  • Talk to her as you begin to put her to bed, let her know its bed time as you are walking to the room or putting her in bed. She will begin to associate "bed time" and "nighty, nighty" with going to sleep. Don't be sneaky and try to put her in the crib and run.
  • Get a cd player that plays soothing music or nature sounds and put it on repeat. Let it play through the night.
  • Have a nightlight on in the room.
  • If you put her down and she sleeps for a short period and wakes up DO go in and check to ensure that she doesn't NEED something like a diaper change. Walk in and check her, lay her back down talk for 20-30 seconds to try and sooth her while she is in her crib and then leave the room. Screaming or not.
  • Watch nap times during the day...be sure to follow the same regimen, other wise it will just fall back into the same routine.
  • If it exceeds 45mins-1hour of screaming after a week of trying you may have to try alternatives.

answered 03 Oct '09, 13:07

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accept rate: 25%

edited 03 Oct '09, 17:27

I personaly don't like the: if daiper ok, kid is ok thing. Little children need warmth and love way more then they need daipers and milk.

Sorry but if you child is screaming, most of the times it needs you. Not helpiing a child who needs help, signals it: cope with it yourself, i'm not going to help you.

(06 Oct '09, 11:17) Huibert Gill

Like I said you will see mixed feedback on this topic (even between me and my wife ;)). Believe me, my kids get plenty of love. My two older girls are well rounded, well behaved girls and I'll raise my youngest the same way. My kids are in no way perfect but I think a little independence goes a long way when they get older. Best of luck in which ever method you choose.

(06 Oct '09, 11:44) Jay

It is my experience that kids go through phases and this is probably a completely normal one. Maybe you could find something of yours that she could not damage and give that to her to go to sleep near/with. If you have a favorite item that she will recognize as special to you, she may find some peace and comfort in knowing that it is near by when you cannot be. Other things that might help are a noise machine of some kind (soothing ocean sounds, rain forest sounds, etc) and perhaps a night light or a light up doll that she can cuddle and turn on and off at her whim.


answered 01 Oct '09, 20:49

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accept rate: 8%

edited 05 Oct '09, 18:40

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Tammy ♦♦

She already sleeps with a night light, but I like the idea of a noise machine.. I'll see if this helps =8-)

(02 Oct '09, 11:08) Yuval

Dreamerisme -I just changed the wording of your answer a little bit. Remember to phrase things as your experience or use referenced facts.

(05 Oct '09, 18:41) Tammy ♦♦

It seems this is totally normal. We've just gone through a similar experiences. Your routine is probably fine, in fact changing it may only have a negative impact (although you probably think "what could be worse?!". I've also spent much time falling asleep next to the cot, waiting for our boy Lucius to drop off. Eventually it passes. We have found that the behaviour sometimes returns when he has been sick, or after a big weekend with a lot of running around, visiting or family parties.

You can (and probably will) try the 'controlled crying' method, but its debatable how much effect that really has, and I usually find myself just as distressed listening. Really, a combination of all these things will do the trick.

Oh .. noise machine too, the one we've got has been playing the same 2 classical tunes for over 2 years now .. and neither he nor we are getting sick of it. It also shines a light on the ceiling which is good (Fisher Price).

Jon's idea about reading a book is good, we often do this also, although our routine is the same as yours (bath-bottle-bed). I recommend reading to them any chance you get - there's nothing better than an upbringing that encourages reading.


answered 05 Oct '09, 10:28

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Since we started reading to Carmel, the tantrums have stopped. She now sits in bed, drinks her bottle and listens attentively to the story. When it's over, she wants to hear it again. Last night I read her the same story four times (and twice more this morning) and she's very happy to hear it. Each time my intonation gets softer and calmer, and after the fourth round she was down for the count, so to speak. Then a quiet "good night" and she's out for the evening. I appreciate the ideas given here, but for now we've found our solution =8-)

(06 Oct '09, 07:03) Yuval

I will answer against the "let him cry" philosophy.

My son is almost 2 years old now, there were only two occasions where letting him cry was the last resort. Normally he goes to sleep just like you described. There are times, mostly a few days, where he needs a lot more attention from us than he normally needs.

Holding, caring, singing, patting him on the back saying "shoo, shoo" is the best way to calm him down.

I want to signal my child that I am there whenever he needs me. We believe with only 21 months he is too young to cope with all the feelings inside of him just by himself.

Greetings from Germany

Huibert Gill

(Gosh, writing about kids in English is way harder then writing about java/html/linux, it is good to practice though.)


answered 06 Oct '09, 11:25

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Huibert Gill
accept rate: 5%

edited 07 Oct '09, 01:01

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Scott ♦♦


While I agree with the spirit of your answer, I believe a parent knows their child best, and can tell if the child is mature enough to start dealing with the world on their own. My daughter is mature enough, but my wife and I still prefer not to let her cry.

(06 Oct '09, 16:39) Yuval

After checking for all the normal reasons (teething, diaper, hunger, over/under stimulated) we would put ours down, and as long as singing and rubbing their back worked, we did that and it usually only took a song or three to get them calm enough to leave the room quietly.

If they got so worked up that we knew they weren't going to calm down this way, then we would pick them up and sing while rocking them.

Occasionally we would let them cry it out to see how long they last (up to 8-10 minutes), and once they are down to less than 5 minutes of crying, we would let them be. Eventually they even stop doing that.

But our main objectives were to keep them in their bed if possible, in their room otherwise, and to check once a week or so to see if they are ready to deal with it on their own.

I seem to recall doing this a lot more with our first child than subsequent children, though, so perhaps the toddler understood that they had siblings in the room even if mom and dad weren't there.


answered 12 Dec '09, 02:55

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Adam Davis
accept rate: 31%

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Asked: 01 Oct '09, 12:23

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Last updated: 12 Dec '09, 02:55