There are no shortage of ideas and techniques out there for getting your older baby or toddler to sleep. You can try co-sleeping, test sleep gadgets, embark on controlled crying or outsource the problem by hiring in help.
So many options, all of them weighty. Sometimes it gets a bit too serious - for both the kid and the adult. Sometimes, to paraphrase a catchy song from the 80s, toddlers just want to have fun.
My hubby hit on a winner for our toddler son that is pure genius. It may not be right for everyone but, for us, it worked like a charm and hugely increased the happiness factor in our household at bedtime.
Dubbed the "Leave 'em Laughing" approach, it works like this: My son is in his cot, standing up at the end near the door. My hubby sticks his head around the door and makes a silly sound accompanied by a comic facial expression. My son would giggle, laughing along with his dad and then my hubby would disappear from my son's view and close the door.
He repeats this a couple of times then, at some stage, simply not return. When we check on my son later, he invariably is happily asleep, presumably having lain himself down while chuckling quietly.
One of the keys to the technique, we decided, was lack of predictability. My hubby would sometimes return once, sometimes 4-5 times. Sometimes he would return almost immediately, other times wait for a couple of minutes. This, we figured, prevented it from becoming a set routine that my son then expects to play out exactly the same way every night. The overall concept of laughing along with dad at bedtime is predictable, but the fine detail is not.
I know the "Leave 'em Laughing" technique goes against every recommendation of making bedtime routines calm, quiet and methodical. I should also emphasise that it has not been researched or even trialled outside our own home.
I also note that my son was not a terrible sleeper before we introduced 'Leave 'em Laughing'. However, his bedtimes were getting challenging. He was repeatedly calling out for attention and we were finding ourselves increasingly drained and frustrated by the task of putting him to bed.
This changed completely and bedtimes became simply joyful!
My son is older now and we still use elements of the 'technique'. He loves a joke or a gentle play-fight before bedtime and often snuggles in to bed with a smile on his face.
He is a naturally cheery kid and having bedtime turned into not too serious an event has worked a treat.
I know it won't work for all kids. My daughter, for example, is not so inclined towards lightness at bedtimes. She's always been more one for a slow wind-down with stories, cuddles and chats. She's more suited to the ideas in this research, which shows that children can learn well in the lead up to bed.
In fact, she is prone to getting grumpy when the noise from the hilarity going on from her brother's room disturbs her. I guess that, even when your bedtime routine involves laughter, it's not necessarily all fun and games.
It may not work for all but if you feel the need for some lightness in your bedtime routine, feel free to give the 'Leave 'em Laughing' approach a try!