Many parents are reluctant to sleep train their little one for fear of it potentially disrupting their older child’s schedule or sleep habits. It’s understandable that a parent might worry about disturbing their older child if they don’t immediately tend to their newborn during night time wake ups or in the wee hours of the morning, or worry that being home for naps will make their older child (and themselves) stir crazy. Here are some tips for keeping your older child rested and happy while sleep training their little brother or sister.
Ensure that sleep hygiene is consistently in place.
The best way to navigate a change, whether it is a move, a vacation, an illness, or adding a new member to your family, is to go back to the drawing board. Make sure your older child’s room is conducive to sleep – which means it’s nice and dark, and cool enough to prevent partial awakenings. If your older child is still napping, make sure they are napping at a time of day that aligns with their biological rhythms, and going to bed at night before they become overtired. A soothing routine will help cue their brain that sleep is coming next. But above all, consistency is key! Ensuring that these elements of healthy sleep are consistently in place before you begin sleep training your younger child will prevent your older child’s good habits from slipping.
Utilize white noise.
White noise is a great way to drown out any outside noise that may distract your older child from sleep. Use a consistent sound with volume similar to a running shower in both of your children’s rooms. Just make sure it’s at least 4 feet away from your child’s head.
Set expectations and family rules for sleep.
Involve your older child in the sleep training process so they know what to expect, and what to do to help you. For example, “Give baby brother a kiss and tell him he’ll do a great job learning to sleep tonight – and that he can be a great sleeper just like you!” Set clear rules and boundaries that you can confidently and consistently uphold. It’s important to remind your older child that everyone in the family needs their rest (including little brother or sister) to do the things the family enjoys.
Implement a family rest/nap time.
Even if your older child no longer needs a nap, they do still need some time to recharge. Align this rest time with one of your baby’s naps so you can get some rest, too! If your child is older, you can also use baby’s nap time for some one-on-one time with your firstborn, doing something quiet that he or she enjoys. This will certainly encourage them to respect and follow the naptime expectations. Click here for tips on rest time for older children.
Don’t be afraid of boredom.
I’m a big believer in “less is more.” Children today are inundated with activities, play dates, noisy toys and screens to the point that sometimes, what we may think of as stir craziness is actually anxiety and exhaustion! Kim John Payne, author of Simplicity Parenting explains “Rather than stuff our children’s lives with back-to-back activities, we need to embrace the gift of boredom, because boredom is the precursor to creativity.” Use the time home while baby is napping for some good old fashioned downtime with your first born, rather than feeling guilty that you are housebound.
Let go of perfection.
During the first two weeks of sleep training, we encourage parents to follow their sleep plan as closely as possible. After that, we use the 80/20 rule of thumb – meaning that 80% of the time your child should nap where and when they will get the most restorative sleep. The other 20% is, well…life! Don’t sweat it if you can’t hit the nail on the head every single day. Focus on consistency on lighter schedule days and make up for less-than-perfect nap days with an early bedtime.
Colleen Kordana is a Family Sleep Institute certified Pediatric Sleep Consultant. 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.