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Here is our first post where we break down teaching your child the very important skill of self soothing, in three non-complicated steps. Enjoy!
Self. Soothing. Skills. A three-word phrase that makes many a parent shudder. With all the conflicting info and philosophies out there about how to best help a child to sleep, I can see why. Cry it out, Ferber, Controlled Crying, Camping Out……phew. What is a parent to do?
Self-soothing at a basic level is the art (and science) of teaching your child how to put themselves to sleep. But it’s also a final stage in a process helping the whole family to get their ZZZzz’s.
No matter your child’s age, current sleeping situation, or your parenting philosophies and beliefs, you can and should teach your child this very important skill that will prepare them for a lifetime of good sleep. Here’s how:
STEP ONE: Start from the beginning
Most people think of sleep training simply as the task of teaching a child self-soothing skills, but that is not the case. There are five elements of healthy sleep, the fifth being the ability to self soothe. If the other four are not in place, a child will have a very hard time learning this skill. Therefore it is crucial to lay the foundation that will make this seemingly daunting task much easier on all. The first four steps are:
- Provide a consistent sleep place to sleep
- Create a consistent pre-sleep routine
- Ensure that your child’s nap schedule is age appropriate and follow’s their body’s circadian rhythms
- A bedtime that happens before your child can become overtired
With these four elements in place, your child will have a much easier time (and quicker!) time mastering the art of self-soothing. Click here for the details.
STEP TWO: Create a plan to learn self-soothing
Successful self soothing means that baby (or child) can both put himself down to sleep, and that he can calm himself if he rouses during the night. Teaching self-soothing is one of the most fraught topics in new motherhood, but I really believe in a straightforward approach that allows families to make the right decision for them.
Sit down with your partner and anyone else who may be highly involved in your child’s sleep to come up with a solid plan that everyone can follow. Our children learn what we expect from our consistent example, so the key is choosing a method to teach self-soothing that everyone is comfortable with and can follow at anytime—even in the wee hours of the morning or alone during a stressful long afternoon. If Grandma watches your little one for all naps and will never ever allow him to cry alone, then take that into account and choose a gentle method that she can consistently implement.
Don’t forget to take sleep props like the breast or a special blanket into account. For example, if your baby currently nurses to sleep you will need to move nursing to the very beginning of your pre-sleep routine so that your child can learn to fall asleep on his own without the breast. Or if your little one relies heavily on a pacifier, you can give it to him at the beginning of naps and the beginning of bedtime, but after that you can not replace it or you will be stuck replacing it all night long. Older kids can have sleep props too, for example will your toddler only go back to sleep if you give him a drink of water? Decide how to handle it and include it in the plan, too.
Where to start with sleep training/ self soothing? Ask yourself: Are you just ready to just get it done and are okay with some tears? Or do you know that your presence just makes your child more angry? Then check out the “Extinction” or “Ferber” methods, which some call the “cry it out method.” Not okay with your child learning this skill on his own? Then for your family, I suggest searching for gentle methods like “The Chair,” “Pick-up/Put Down” or “Camping Out” methods. Any of these tactics will work, the key is picking the one that you know you can carry out with absolute consistency as that is what your child needs in order to learn. Note: writing it all down tends to help keep everyone on track and accountable.
STEP THREE: Put your plan in motion
Once you have figured out what you will do for the fifth and last element of healthy sleep—self-soothing skills—add in the first four elements to your plan and then go for it. It is best to start your new plan at bedtime as that is the easiest time for a child to learn a new routine and then continue the next day with naptime. Our children feed off of our energy—negative or positive. As your child will be able to pick up on your mood and demeanor at sleep times, try to outwardly exude as much confidence as you can. If you are confident and upbeat about this new routine, your child is apt to be confident too!
Remember that consistency is the most important part as it is what will enable your child to be successful. Be patient and do not give up too easily. It takes most children two full weeks to learn a new sleep routine – which makes sense as they had months (or even years!) to learn the old way of doing things. With all five of these elements present your child will soon have great sleep hygiene in place. (Promise!)
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.