The most important thing to consider when choosing a method of sleep training for a toddler is whether or not they've been sleep trained in the past. Toddlers who were sleeping well before and may have gotten off track due to illness, traveling, developmental milestones, or other causes often do well with the Walk In/Walk Out (WI/WO) method. These children do have the skills to go to sleep independently and parents can feel confident that with a bit of a push they can get their child back on track. WI/WO reinforces the parent will come and resettle and comfort the child, whilst still giving them space to fall asleep on their own and return to their previous independent sleep patterns.
On the other hand, toddlers who have never had good sleeping habits and have not been independent sleepers in the past need definite support and maintaining a trusting bond between parent and child is essential. A child whose dependent upon parental presence to go to sleep will need to be weaned from this gradually and over time. They also need to trust that the parent will help them and not abandon them by suddenly changing how they've always known to go to sleep. The Gradual Withdrawal Method often is conducted in phases, slowly reducing the amount of parental dependency on sleeping.
A second factor to take into consideration is your child's temperament. Some children settle best with parent's help and others need their space as they drift off to sleep and prefer not to have the parent in the room or become even more upset with the parent's presence. Assessing your child's temprament: Angel, Textbook, Spirited, Touchy, Grumpy will help you make the decision between WI/WO and The Gradual Withdrawal Method. A quiz to help you determine your toddlers temperament can be found here: Toddler Quiz
Below both methods are detailed.WI/WO Method
Follow your bedtime routine being certain that your child has sufficiently wound down from the day. When wind down is completed, lay your child down, tuck them in and use a phrase they can associate with it's sleep time such as "time to go night-night you can find your blankie/pacifier/suck your thumb/etc. to help you fall asleep." Leave the room. Stand outside of your child's door and assess the situation. It's important to distinguish between different types of cries and identify when your child is truly upset and when they may be settling themselves. Remain outside the room if your child is making fussy-type cries or noises. If crying is starting then stopping, hang back and wait. If crying escalates go in to resettle your child. Repeat your phrase "time to go night-night you can find your blankie/pacifier/suck your thumb/etc. to help you fall asleep" and leave again. Comforting should be brief and you should avoid picking up your child.
Upon leaving the room again, wait outside the door and reassess the situation. The amount of time you wait is determined by how your child is reacting inside. The key is to hang back enough to give your child space to fall asleep independently, but to respond to truly upset cries.The Gradual Withdrawal Method
The key to Gradual Withdrawal is to take tiny steps and make the changes very small at first so the child barely notices them. Create a plan, broken into small steps of how you will reduce the parental dependence and work towards independence. For example, patting on the back becomes lighter and lighter until the hand barely brushes the child's back, but is poised just above it.
To implement, follow your bedtime routine being certain that your child has sufficiently wound down from the day. When wind down is completed, lay your child down, tuck them in and use a phrase they can associate with it's sleep time such as "time to go night-night you can find your blankie/pacifier/suck your thumb/etc. to help you fall asleep." Settle your child in their crib/bed and comfort as you normally would, then implement the first step in your plan. Depending upon your child's temperament, you may be able to tackle more in less nights, or need to do less over the course of more nights.
The Gradual Withdrawal Method is intended for children that are reliant upon a parent's presence to calm them and help them settle for sleep. Examples are: sitting in the room, holding a child's hand, laying down with a child, patting to sleep, among others. The idea is to simply reduce the reliance on parental presence gradually and in very small increments so the child continues to settle well and gains confidence in their ability to fall asleep independently. The parent is there to assist the child in sleeping, but slowly reduces the dependence. Examples might be: moving a chair closer and closer to the door until out of the room over the course of a few weeks, moving out a child's bed to an air mattress on the floor, then slowly move farther and farther towards the door over time, reducing the length of time patting though still staying with the child - then slowly working closer and closer towards the door.
This is also the best method for a child:
- who's undergone controlled crying or crying it out as it helps to regain any trust that may have been broken
- who gets very upset, sometimes to the point of vomiting
- who does not settle after hours/days/weeks of walk in/walk out
This may also be a good method for a child who is not necessarily dependant on any one thing, but who needs some fundamental training to learn how to sleep independently.