People who say they sleep like a baby usually don’t have one.
Leo J. Burke
You’re tired. Your child is tired. Nobody is happy. You have decided that it’s time to hunker down and commit to sleep training/sleep coaching/sleep shaping (it goes by many names) to help your child sleep through the night and take restorative naps.
But where to start? You’ve read a thousand books and each one contradicts the other. It’s enough to make anyone frustrated.
Folks who don’t face sleep issues may scoff at the idea of ‘teaching’ a child to fall asleep, but what many people fail to realize is that falling asleep unassisted is a learnt skill. And just like anything in parenting, if you want to teach your child a new skill, it is going to require time, patience and a ton of consistency. Every sleep training method can work, but only if you are 100% committed to it. How can you commit to something you know nothing about? Well you’re in luck! This article will be the first in a series of posts examining the most common sleep training techniques from gradual to the most accelerated, along with the pros and cons with each method.
Let’s start at the beginning….
The first place to begin before any sleep training begins is with a solid pre-sleep routine. I often refer to this as a wind down routine. A wind down routine is a short series of steps that go through with your child right before their nap and/or bedtime. It is fairly consistent from day to day and between naps and bedtime. This vital step helps to cue your child’s body and brain that it’s time to relax and get ready to sleep. In fact, a wind down routine is so important for great sleep that it’s even recommend for adults.
A wind down routine might include one or more of the following, depending on your child’s age and if it’s before a nap or before bedtime;
- diaper change or potty time,
- brushing teeth,
- reading a book together,
- prayers/quiet song,
- rocking/ cuddling
The Next Critical Step…
So now you have the perfect wind down routine and are using it consistently. Excellent! The next important step is focus on your child’s daytime routine. Ensure that your child is on a solid routine or about to begin one. That means he or she is taking restorative naps (most children 3 and under still need to nap) and has a relatively early bedtime. If the child’s routine isn’t on track, then you are not going to have success sleep training. Why? Because you can’t sleep train a chronically overtired child. You may be teaching them to fall asleep independently, but they will still continue to wake up at night, take short naps and be miserable because their routine is off and bedtime is too late.
This is a really important point, so it’s worth repeating :
If you want to solve all sleep issues, then your child’s daytime routine needs to be addressed too.
So therefore make sure you child is napping well during the day and going to bed on time each night. Sleep begets sleep and what happens during the day, has a direct effect on the quality of your child’s night sleep.
Once you have a wind down routine in place and a great daytime routine, you will want to begin thinking about what your parenting philosophy is and what kind of person you are. What does this have to do with helping your child learn great sleep skills?
In order for sleep training to be effective, you have to be extremely consistent day in and day out-for several weeks. In order to teach a child a skill, they need to practice it over and over again in the same manner every time. I really can’t emphasize how important the consistency factor is. Please don’t skim over that part and think it won’t apply to your child.
This means you have think about your personality and your parenting philosophy. Understanding your feelings in regards to parenting, will help you to follow a method you really and truly believe in and feel comfortable with. It’s great that your cousin’s-best friend’s-brother’s -sister-in-law had success with crying-it-out after 4 nights. But if you find it difficult to listen to your child cry for two minutes alone, then it’s that method isn’t right for you because it’s unlikely you won’t be able to follow through for one night, let alone four. Choosing a method that fits with your comfort level and personality is the first step to seeing success.
Know Thy Child
The same holds true for your child as well. What is your child’s temperament and personality? Can your child easily adapt to new situations or are they more
stubborn strong-willed and persistent? Not only should you pick a method that you can stick to, but you need to also pick something what is best for your child. Unfortunately, sometimes the two are not the same. If you have a strong-willed child, then it’s even more important that you pick a suitable method that you can sustain for the long haul.
So there you have the beginnings steps that are vital for successful sleep training. It’s important to begin with these steps first so that you can choose which method you need. Sometimes though, just establishing a great wind down routine, a consistent and well-timed daytime routine and an age appropriate bedtime is all you need to solve your sleep issues. If it isn’t, then stay tuned. In the upcoming articles, I will explore the most common sleep training methods.