My toddler falls asleep while watching a movie every night. How do I get her to fall asleep without it?
Separating children from electronics or something like a movie or television show can be a tough task, regardless of the time of day! Helping little ones learn to fall asleep without electronics is extra important because the light from the screens can actually keep them awake and make it harder for them to fall asleep – let alone if the movie itself might keep her engaged and excited (especially if it is a different movie or show every night). In other words, that movie might actually be making it take longer for her to fall asleep than it would otherwise. Here are a few thoughts for you about helping her learn to fall asleep without that movie.
First, if at all possible, take the television (or screen) out of her bedroom. If the screen is not in her bedroom and she is simply falling asleep in a common room (like the living room) while watching a movie, work toward having her fall asleep where you would like her to sleep overnight. Second, if you still want her to be able to have some screen time, move the television show or a portion of the movie to earlier in the evening. Perhaps she can have some movie time (~20 minutes) before dinner instead of at bedtime. Alternatively, if you cannot move it all at once, consider shortening the amount of time she is able to watch each evening by a few minutes every few nights. Be sure to replace the move with another quiet and pleasant activity that can be part of her bedtime routine. If the movie itself had a specific theme or character, you can even center your quiet activity on that particular character (for example, a related book, story, or song).
You can certainly stop there and see if that resolves the problem, but if not, it’s probably time to help her learn to fall asleep on her own instead of needing help to fall asleep with something like a movie, or even just an adult being in the room. Helping her learn to fall asleep on her own will likely take some persistence, consistency, and practice. It typically involves making sure you have a set and consistent bedtime routine (about 3 to 4 steps) at an early an age appropriate bedtime (~7:30 p.m.), and gradually working toward her being able to go from being awake to falling asleep on her own. There are several posts and videos on this website specifically on that topic! Take one step at a time – it will take some practice – good luck!
About Dr. Erin Leichman