John Cowan - Toddler Sleep

Publish Date
Thursday, 7 December 2017, 2:22PM
Photo: Getty Images

Photo: Getty Images

By John Cowan

One of the most debated areas in parenting is the best way to get children to sleep. I’ve heard lots of techniques and I am far too scared of all the strong opinions out there to make a call on which one is the best. But one of the Family Coaches at the Parenting Place shared an insight with me today, based on Attachment theory, that made a lot sense, and actually works alongside lots of different sleep strategies.

Children have a hunger for attachment, and it is very hard for them to go to sleep hungry! Attachment is their connection with you.  If they get all their attachment needs met before bedtime and during the bedtime rituals, they will sleep more easily and soundly. And, just like feeding them with food, it is so much better if you are taking the lead and meet their needs before they are screaming for it. Maybe your current pattern is, you kiss them good night, return to the lounge and then wait with growing tension for the inevitable calling out, and then you will return to their bedroom in a huff and give them a fairly half-hearted hug, and then return to the lounge and wait for round three, or four, or five.  The insight: the child is hungry – not for food, but for attachment. They were hungry at bedtime, and your barely-concealed grumpiness now isn’t meeting that need anyway.

So meet that need proactively – get in ahead, realise what they need and give it to them before they have to yell for it. “Good night… but I’m going to call back and see you in a few minutes. You might fall asleep before I get back and that’s okay, but I will be calling back.” Or, “I want to spend a bit more time with you so I’m just read my book for a while over hear.” You are emphasizing the fact that you are still connected, and  not abandoning them.

There’s lots to learn about sleep, and the parenting place website is a good place to start. ParentingPlace.NZ

About John

John has been with The Parenting Place ( for seventeen years as their senior writer and presenter.  He had various roles working with youth and families prior to that but actually started his working life as a scientist in neurophysiology at Auckland Hospital.  As well as writing and speaking, John is frequently on radio and television.

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