How To Sleep Train A Toddler Using 4 Helpful And Proven Methods

How To Sleep Train A Toddler

Sleep training a child is teaching them to fall asleep at a specific time and to fall back asleep if they wake up again. 

Parents sleep train their children so they can sleep without their parents’ help. 

Your child will still need your comfort and support from time to time, especially when they are ill or experiencing nightmares, but most of the time, they will be able to sleep soundly by themselves.

The term toddler refers to children around 2 to 3 years of age. 

Sleep training a toddler can be more challenging than training a young child. 

Experts claim that the best time to begin sleep training is around 4 to 6 months of age. Children of this age may require more regular checking-in throughout the night as they cannot yet self-soothe, but teaching independent sleep at this age will make it easier on parents when the child becomes a toddler.

In this article, we’ll show you how to sleep train a toddler using four sleep training methods. The objective is to help you change your child’s sleep habits and ensure a greater night’s rest for the child and parents alike.

The habit of parental comfort is hard to break when children have entered their second and third years. However, it’s still entirely possible to sleep-train your toddler. 

How to sleep train a toddler

It can be hard to break the habit of sleeping with Mom and/or Dad if your child has become used to it by 1 to 3 years old.

The more this habit has repeated, the more your child will need comfort and may feel uncomfortable without parents’ presence while falling asleep and throughout the night.

The older your infant becomes, the more demanding she becomes, which means she can assert and vocalize her discomfort and restlessness. 

She’s also more mobile, so she can move out of the crib to seek that comfort. This can be exhausting for parents who need high-quality rest to manage the family. So, if you want both you and your toddler to sleep better, the following methods should help:

  • Pick up/put down
  • The Ferber Method (gradual extinction)
  • Cry it out (extinction)
  • Fading

Each toddler sleep training method below has its merits and its drawbacks. Different ways work for different children and parents, so try out each of them and see what works best for you. 

No method is perfect. 

The best toddler sleep training method is simply whichever helps your child fall asleep and gives you and your family the greatest peace of mind. 

Below we’ve listed four of the most effective methods for sleep training your toddler and ensuring your child falls asleep as comfortably and consistently as you would like them to.

How To Sleep Train A Toddler

1. Pick up, put down method

The pick-up-put-down method is a gradual (or ‘fading’) sleep training method. 

In this method, you stay with your child in their room until they fall asleep. Over time, you gradually create more space as they fall asleep.

Step 1

To begin, sit with your child as they lie in their crib or bed. Play some soothing music to help them fall asleep, or make sure they have a comfort toy they usually sleep with. 

If they don’t fall asleep but start crying or acting distressed instead, simply pick them up, cuddle and support them until they calm down, and then gently tuck them back into bed. 

Step 2

Stay with them until they fall asleep. Over the following few nights, days, and weeks, gradually move your seat further away from the crib. 

You’re still there to support them when they cry, but there is a greater distance now between you and your child. 

This gradual distance slowly takes you out of the room, and eventually, your child will feel more comfortable with that distance, which in turn means they’ll be less distressed when you’re not in their immediate environment. 

Step 3

If you have an older toddler resistant to the method, try defining some house rules for them. 

Try explaining why sleep is essential for everyone, and offer to stay in the room with them only if they agree to stay in bed. Getting them to agree with everything may be challenging, but asking for their cooperation can make a big difference.

2. Graduated extinction, or the ‘Ferber Method’

Graduated extinction, also known as the Ferber Method, is an effective sleep training method for toddlers. It’s also known as the ‘longer and longer’ method. 

It involves letting your toddler cry it out for some time before going to check on and comfort them.

The method works by lengthening the waiting period over time. 

For example, you may wait a couple of minutes on the first night, then after a night or two, increase the waiting period to five minutes, then seven, and so on. 

The principle is that your child gets used to your absence but is not left entirely alone. They trust you’ll come in eventually and tire themselves out with their crying. 

As a parent of a toddler, you probably already know just how strong-willed a person of 2 to 3 years old can be! 

It can be painful and upsetting to hear your young child crying and wailing for your comfort, and not giving in may make you feel uncomfortable. 

Reassure yourself that sleep training is for the greater good. 

Try the steps below to follow the gradual extinction method. Try it out, and if it doesn’t suit you, switch to the other methods in this list. 

Still, commit to this method for at least a week or two to start seeing your desired outcome. 

Step 1

Sit with your toddler as they start falling asleep. Leave the room and close the door. If (when..) they start crying, don’t enter the room, wait for two to three minutes. 

Step 2

After 2 to 3 minutes, open the door and let them see you’re there. Reassure them, tell them goodnight, and sit with them if you like, but make sure your visit is brief. When they’re calm, leave the room again.

Step 3

Just like step 1, leave the room. When they cry, wait a little longer. This time try waiting for five to six minutes before returning.

Step 4

Again, reassure them that you’re still around, then wait even longer before returning to their cries. Try within ten minutes this time, and then fifteen. Continue to check in every fifteen minutes until your toddler falls asleep. 

Understand that your child may cry, shriek, and wail a lot when implementing the Ferber method. Toddlers are incredibly strong-willed; hearing their shrieks can be heart-breakingly difficult for you as a parent.

As strong-willed as your toddler is to get your attention, try to be equally as strong-willed as their loving parent who is teaching them to sleep well for their benefit. Stay determined with the method for at least a few weeks. 

You may feel like giving up on the method if your child has been crying for an hour or more, but to give in now means teaching your child that crying incessantly for an hour means getting what they want. 

Hold out, stay strong-willed, be patient, and see results.

3. Cry it out (or the ‘extinction’ method)

The cry-it-out (CIO) method, also known as the extinction method, is more tough love than the other methods in this article.

When you opt for ‘cry it out,’ you put your toddler to bed as per their usual routine.

Once tucked in, you leave them as they are and leave the room.

If they start crying and calling for you, you let them cry. You let them cry and scream until they ‘cry it out’ until your child falls asleep on their own, with no extra cuddles or visits from you or anyone else.

Hearing your child’s shrieks may be concerning, especially if this is your first child, but the method will not cause any lasting psychological damage to the child. 

If anything, it is uncomfortable for you and your child, but this initial discomfort can lead to your desired outcome.

Remember that the earlier you implement this method, the more effective it will be. 

Older toddlers may be able to verbalize their needs, making it harder for you as a parent to remain steadfast, and they may also have the strength and mobility to leave their bed or crib and find you.

How To Sleep Train A Toddler

4. Bedtime fading

Bedtime fading is a gentle sleep training technique that parents and toddlers tend to find less distressing than extinction methods. 

The method involves gradually fading sleep times and other sleep associations to affect your toddler’s natural circadian rhythms. You can do this in several ways.

First, instead of putting your child to bed at a specific time, wait until he starts to show cues of being tired, and then put your toddler to bed. 

Observe the time each night he gets tired, then slowly, gradually move bedtime forward by five to ten minutes. Eventually, you’ll influence his circadian rhythm and help him fall asleep a little earlier and easier. 

In addition to bedtime, you can also try bedtime fading by shortening the amount of time spent on sleep associations, such as reading, cuddling, rocking, etc. Gradually reduce time spent using these sleep-aid techniques to encourage your child to fall asleep independently.

This method makes for a smoother toddler bedtime routine with less distress but generally requires more patience and time than other methods.


If you find the toddler sleep training tips above are not working, don’t worry. It takes some toddlers longer to get used to a given method. 

Consider if your toddler is experiencing any extra stress or sickness lately, and consult a doctor for support. 

You can also look at the structure of your toddler’s bedtime routine. A consistent bedtime routine is critical for forming healthy sleep associations in your toddler. 

The bed should be associated with sleep, so avoid overusing that space. Ensure your child knows bedtime by playing particular music, bringing out a specific soft toy, and eliminating late evening screen time.

You can also use these methods for naps, but don’t let your child have so much daytime sleep that they struggle to fall asleep again at night.

Finally, take care of yourself during these challenging years with relaxation and grounding techniques. 

To be the best parent you can means making sure that your mental and physical health is steady. You can quickly lose sleep and focus when you’re up all night with a crying baby. 

Learn calming breathing techniques, consult friends, family, and professionals for support and encouragement, and trust that you’re the best parent you can be. 

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