Up all night with your little one? Dreaming of the day when you will get a full night of sleep? Many people have a misconception that sleep training is something that you do once, around 6 months of age, if you do it at all. This implies that it is a one time fix and there is one specific window in which to make that fix. This, in my experience, is not the case.
“They’re only little once, I’m going to soak it in and take all the snuggles I can get” – This is a wonderful thing to say, and for many moms or dads it is very true! If you are one of the many people who go around saying this when the topic of “my kid never sleeps” comes up, I hope you mean it. If you do mean it, then own it! Own that it is your choice, don’t go around complaining about your lack of sleep all the time, because your child can learn to sleep. Eventually, it will happen, but for now you made a choice for the two of you. That choice was yours as their parent because you create the patterns and the routines in your house. There is absolutely nothing wrong with sleeping next to your child into the night, but there is something wrong with creating that pattern and then
complaining about your kid as if it’s their fault.
“I just let them fall asleep when they’re tired and then I carry them to their bed.” -This, again, is your choice, but I would argue that this one is can be detrimental. If they are just passing out somewhere in your house when exhaustion finally takes over their body, then they have no idea how to turn off, relax, and intentionally give their body the rest that it needs. Sleep training means that you are teaching your baby, or your child, how to go to sleep independently, comfortably, feeling safe and secure, on a healthy schedule so that your family can function at its best. The secret, though, is that this is a task that will likely need to be addressed over and over again as your child reaches new developmental milestones.
Sleep training means that you are teaching your baby, or your child, how to go to sleep independently, comfortably, feeling safe and secure, on a healthy schedule so that your family can function at its best. The secret, though, is that this is a task that will likely need to be addressed over and over again as your child reaches new developmental milestones.
For example, you might sleep train your 5 month old and it could look something like this – get baby to sleep on his own by putting him in his crib with a full belly, half asleep, with his binky and his zip-up blanket. After a few days of training, he stops crying in his crib, and success, you’ve sleep trained your baby! Now he will be a perfect sleeper forever, right? What about when he gets a little older and you want to get rid of the binky – he can no longer use this to soothe; what do you do? Or when you move him to a bed and he can get up and walk out anytime he wants? Or when he develops an imagination and he starts to have increased fears at night because he can imagine scary things in the dark? You see where this is going…
Sleep training usually only takes a few days, but it is more “work” than just laying in a bed falling asleep next to your baby. So, if you keep making excuses you will continue to develop this pattern with your child, and the longer you wait, the harder it will be to break it. This means that tomorrow, when you have plans and you need them to fall asleep promptly at 8pm, you can’t get frustrated and upset at them for being a “terrible sleeper” or a “bad listener.” This is a pattern that you created, and you can’t undo a pattern on a whim when you decide it is no longer convenient. Patterns take time to create and they take time to change.
Sleeping is also an important life skill – it involves a child feeling secure and loved even when a parent is out of sight; it involves a child who can self-soothe and cope with stress independently of his/her parent; and it involves a child who can be alone/quiet without external stimulation. These are things that we want for our children but we, as the parents, have to be ready to meet those same developmental milestones: are you ready to feel safe and secure in your child’s love even if you’re not laying next to them? Are you ready to self-soothe if your child says they’re mad at you for leaving them alone? Can you sit in peace and quiet in the evening without that little guy pressed up against you?
If you are ready to make a change and to teach your child how to sleep, here are some tips:
1. Create time prior to sleep that will allow for that emotional connection. This might include cuddling up to read a book, or watching a show together, or spending 5 minutes rocking your baby and singing his favorite songs, or 5 minutes in their bed talking about the highs and lows of the day. Whatever it is, it should feel intentional and focused, so that both you and your child get what you need out of it.
2. If we’re dealing with a toddler or older, fill them in on the new routine. Don’t just make a drastic change without warning. Tell them about the new special time you’re going to spend together, and tell them how goodnight is going to go. (E.g., “Mommy will sit with you and read a story, then we can spend 2 minutes snuggling, you will pick out your favorite stuffed animal to cuddle with, and then Mommy is going to kiss you goodnight and go get ready for bed.”)
3. Once you begin a new routine you need to follow through and stick with it. If you buckle, especially in those first few days/weeks, you can undo all of your work. After a while, you will be able to deviate as needed, but in the beginning you’re creating a new pattern, so be consistent.
Written by: Dr. Amanda Hart Psychological Services, PLLC
93 Main St. Suite 1M
West Sayville, NY 11796