How to Teach Babies and Toddlers to Fall Asleep With Fewer Tears?
No parent likes to hear his or her child cry. From the time they are born, we do everything we can to prevent them from crying. We nurse, we bounce, we rock, we swaddle, we burp — anything we can muster to prevent our precious little ones from crying. Then comes the day…duhm, duhm, duhm…when you realize you can no longer bounce, or nurse, or rock etc. your baby to sleep. It dawns on you that your child (and you!) is not getting the sleep that he needs because he lacks the ability to put himself to sleep. But when the time comes to teach him to become a healthy independent sleeper, it is often hard to fathom the idea of allowing him to cry. Thankfully there are several methods available to teach a child to self soothe, as we as sleep consultants strive to come up with plans to match every parenting philosophy. In fact, there are more ways than I can list in a question & answer forum. And while there are many ways to teach a child to sleep — some gentle and some aggressive — there simply is no way to have zero tears. I am not trying to change your mind and push you to utilize a “Cry it out” method. I understand not wanting your baby to cry, but I think that it is important to be clear about what you can expect from the beginning.
Let’s discuss that for a minute: This concept of a “no tears” solution. When most parents come to me, all that their child has known thus far is being helped all the way to a sleeping state. When you decide that it is now their job to do this for themselves, they are of course going to protest. And babies communicate by crying. No matter how gentle you are in teaching them this new expectation (that they are now responsible to fall asleep on their own) they are going to protest with a few tears. It is important to understand that going in — THERE WILL BE A FEW TEARS no matter what. They are not “I need you tears,” or “I am hurt tears”, or “I am hungry tears,” they are “I would like your company as I fall asleep tears.” I respect all parenting philosophies and certainly understand not wanting to allow your baby to “cry it out” alone in his room. There are ways other than the CIO method that allow you to be with your baby and soothe them as they learns this new skill, but they will inevitably shed some tears in your presence.
Ok, so now that we are clear on your expectations let’s get back to your question — what other ways can you teach a baby?
The Younger Baby
For babies under 4 months of age, it is possible to teach them how to self soothe simply by putting them down awake whenever it is time to sleep. You go through your soothing routine and then put them in their crib, sleepy but awake. If they fuss it is ok, give them a minute to see if they can settle themself. If their fussing escalates to tears, pick them up and comfort them and then put them down again awake. Repeat. For this to work it is critical that they go into their crib awake so that they can learn to fall asleep on their own. They may fuss for a minute or two each time, but if you consistently allow them to try to do it for themselves — they will actually learn fairly quickly!
The Older Baby or Toddler
Teaching children older than 4 months is a bit more complicated as they have already learned a set of rules surrounding going to sleep and you will have to teach them a different set of expectations so that they will now fall asleep on their own. As I mentioned, there are a plethora of ways to effectively teach your child this skill. Check out a few books on the topic and utilize one that matches your ideals, or hire a child sleep consultant who will create a custom plan for you that is in line with your beliefs. No matter how you choose to go about teaching your baby, the most important part is being consistent. Babies and toddlers learn from our example, so if you switch back and forth trying things many different ways they will not understand what you expect. You will need to commit to following your plan to the T for a solid two weeks. This means you cannot give it a go for three days and declare that it is not working. Remember your child had many months to learn the current way of doing things so you need to give them some time to learn the new routine. And again, consistency is everything!
Copyright © Well Rested Baby, 2015
Amy Lage is a graduate of the University of Massachusetts, Amherst and a Family Sleep Institute certified Pediatric Sleep Consultant. She is founder of Well Rested Baby. She offers a host of services including in person, phone, email and Skype/FaceTime consultations that can be tailored to meet any family’s needs and schedule. Please email her at firstname.lastname@example.org to schedule a consultation. Be sure to follow WRB on Facebook and Twitter too for more great sleep tips.