Teaching your toddler to self-settle

OHbaby! sleep expert and baby whisperer Dorothy Waide offers her tips on helping a toddler self-settle:

1.  Allow enough time for their evening meal and bedtime routine. Avoid rushing a toddler, as this will just add stress to the evening.

2. Take away their negativity with positive responses and deal with the moment and not what is going to happen later, for instance:   

TODDLER: “No bed, no bed”

YOU:  “Well let’s go have our bath – bath time is fun.”

3. Talk to them about all the positive things that have happened in their day and with an older toddler or child, encourage them to talk to you about what was good about their day.

4. Have a special ‘sign-off’ as a final signal to go to sleep. This should be short and sweet and you do it as you are switching off the light and leaving the room.

For the toddlers who are fed to sleep, you will need to take tiny steps to change this:

Step 1. Feed to nearly asleep, then remove nipple from mouth and press upwards under their chin with your finger or thumb. They will actually keep sucking, using their tongue.  Once your toddler is asleep, then transfer.

Step 2. Feed to drowsy, repeat above and then hold to sleep; no rocking or movement that cannot be done in a cot.

Step 3. Feed, sleeping bag and hold to sleep.

Step 4. Feed, sleeping bag and hold to drowsy, and then into cot and stay with your baby until they are asleep.

With each of the above steps, I would be working on a minimum of 10 days, but this will depend on how your toddler responds.  You are going to be replacing the comfort of feeding with holding, cupping or a form of movement that can be replicated in the cot. 

With each step, when transferring to the cot you may need to keep your hands on their body until they fall into a deep sleep or you may need to use a form of movement on their bodies until they go into a deeper sleep. 

It is important to understand that the above-mentioned timings are NOT about leaving your baby crying/grizzling without intervention or leaving them on their own.  As parents, it is about listening to yourself and parenting in the way you feel is right. You are your toddler’s very own expert so work within your boundaries and those of your toddler. Sometimes it is just about being there in the room and stepping back and allowing them some time to self-settle or resettle. This could mean that you are holding your toddler and allowing them to use your body as a bed or it could mean you are sitting on the floor next to their cot just touching with no movement while they do this – touch is an important step in helping, however it is also important not to intervene too early or too late.

Dorothy Waide is a baby whisperer and OHbaby!’s sleep expert. You can find out more about Dorothy and the services she offers new parents, at her website,


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