I hear this a lot from parents – they tell me their child hates their crib or bed and cries immediately when put down awake in it. I do often see this in children who are always put down asleep. They are nursed or rocked to sleep and put down already asleep. Sometimes these children can sleep through the night, but more often than not, they wake during the night upset to find themselves in their crib or bed. Mom or Dad then comes in and rocks or nurses them back to sleep and then puts them down again. This process often repeats during the night. If the child is ever put down in their crib awake, they often cry and are upset.
There are several things at play here most likely, but in this post I am only going to talk about getting your child comfortable in their sleeping area. Think about it like this – you are nice and warm and cozy in your bed when you fall asleep and then when you go through a partial awakening during the night (we all do), you realize you are in a lawn chair outside. Would you be able to fall back asleep? If your child is only put down asleep and the only time they are awake in their crib is when they wake in the middle of the night without you, they may very well not like it. So what should you do about this? Read on! (You can skip some of these steps depending on how upset your child is near the crib and you can move through them at your own pace depending on how your child is doing. These should all be done at a time of the day when your child is happy and not sleepy.)
Help Them Feel Comfortable in Their Room – To make your child feel comfortable in their crib, you should first make sure they feel comfortable in their room. Many people only spend time in the child’s room at diaper change time and bedtime, but there should be some time during the day where you can spend some time in the room when your child is in a good mood. Play with some toys or read some books, do something happy and relaxed with your child.
Get a Little Closer to the Crib – If your child is very upset when you even get near the crib, do some playing on the floor right near the crib until they are relaxed.
Fly Them Over the Crib – While you are playing in your child’s room, fly them over the crib in your arms but do not put them down into it. You can dip them into it if they are okay with that.
Dip Their Feet – If your child is reacting well to the above steps, go ahead and put their feet down into the crib and then pick them back up. Make it a game and use silly sounds.
Put them In the Crib – If all the above steps have gone well, it is time to put them down in the crib for a few seconds at a time. Stay right next to the crib at first. You can play peek a boo through the slats of the crib for a bit or just sing a happy song or talk to your child. Try to take your child out before they start fussing. You don’t want them to learn that they fuss and then they get taken out of the crib, so the best way to avoid teaching this is to avoid them getting fussy. Over the next few days you can have your child spend longer and longer times in the crib. Try to work up to you being able to walk to the other side of the room and leaving your child in the crib and maybe even leaving the room briefly.
The idea with all of this is to help your child feel like the crib is a safe place to be. It could take some time, but it will be worth it. While you are working on this, do whatever you normally do for bedtime and middle of the night. We never want sleep to be a punishment or scary time for children.
Feel free to share any questions or comments!