What is sleep training?
Sleep training means to teach your child the ability to get from the awake state to the sleep state without assistance.
That should be the goal for each child. This ability is a necessary skill for life.
Does the thought of sleep training fill you with fear? You might have friends who love to share their horror sleep training stories with you. If you look on the Internet you will quickly find a lot of scary stories about sleep training. Some articles say you will permanently damage your child if you attempt to sleep train. There are other studies which show no long term stress from sleep training. There are various opinions about the value of sleep training and how to do it.
This will confuse and frighten any parent. It is difficult to know what to believe. But at the same time you may be feeling like you cannot continue with your own sleepless nights or frequent interruptions to sleep. I want to help you sort through all the mixed messages.
Children have many skills to learn. In the first year we watch for certain milestones such as sitting or walking. Sleep is another necessary skill for a child to learn. Many developmental skills the child will learn no matter what we as parents do. Unless there is a medical problem, your child will sit and walk. Sleep, however, is a skill that most children need help from their parents to learn. Sometimes as parents we can accidentally interfere with our children learning the skill of sleep. If we try to do the job of putting our child to sleep each night, we prevent the child learning to do it by themselves.
We all wake several times during the night as we progress through the sleep cycles. A child without skills will cry for their parent many times each night for help to get back to sleep. Sometimes the child may wake every 60-90 minutes.
Sleep training so that a child has the skills to get from the awake state to the sleep state without assistance leads to longer and better sleep for parent and child.
Rock a child to sleep and they will sleep for an hour. Teach a child to sleep and they will sleep all night!
When is the best time to sleep train?
Here are five tips to help you decide if this is a good time to teach your child the skill of getting to sleep without assistance.
1. You should sleep train when you are ready
I have worked with over a hundred families to support them as they sleep train their child. Each child looks to their parents for encouragement and confidence to learn every new skill, especially for the skill of sleep.
When children are born they have lot of things to learn. Everything in their world is new and the child does not know how to respond. In a healthy parent-child relationship, the child learns to read their parents like a “how to” book. When the child falls down or meets a new person; he/she will look to a parent’s face for how to handle that situation. In the same way, your child will be looking to you to teach them how to sleep.
During sleep training, if the parents are fearful or scared, the child will read those emotions. The child will also become fearful or scared and have a difficult time learning their new skill. On the other hand, when parents are confident that their child is capable and able to learn the skill of getting to sleep without assistance, the learning process goes much easier for the child. The child reads that confidence in their parents and uses that confidence to work at learning.
2. The age of the child determines the best time to sleep train
Start teaching your child healthy sleep habits from the time they are born.
Keep your newborn well-rested by limiting their awake time to 45 minutes. Put your baby into their bed awake some of the time so the child can practice getting to sleep without your assistance.
The best age to start structured and planned sleep training is after your child has turned 16 weeks. Major sleep development happens at that age enabling your child to learn their own skills of getting to sleep. They can learn to go to sleep on their own at bedtime and how to return to sleep without assistance when they awaken during the night.
If your child is over 4 months of age, the sooner you start to sleep train the better. Habits, good or bad, begin to develop after only three days. As a parent, teach healthy habits. Bad habits get in the way of sound sleep and can be difficult to change.
Rock your child to sleep and they will sleep an hour. Teach your child to sleep and they will sleep all night.
3. Have a plan to follow before you sleep train
The key to success in sleep training is consistency. It is important to know what your goal is when you sleep train. Then you need a plan on how to get to that goal. There are several different methods you can read about through books or on the internet. The important part is to find a method that will work for your child. It can get overwhelming or confusing when you do all that reading. A sleep consultant (like me) can help you sort through all that sometimes conflicting information and find the correct fit for your child’s temperament and your parenting style. I write a very clear individualized sleep plan for each family to follow in their situation. I help and coach each parent or caregiver to stay consistent. It is much easier for the child to learn when everyone is doing the same thing each day.
4. Before you start sleep training have a support system in place.
Don’t try to sleep train without the support of someone. It is very easy to question or doubt yourself if the process does not work the way you planned. Every child responds differently. We cannot predict how a particular child will react or how long it will take to learn.
It can be difficult and challenging to sleep train. It is emotional for parents to watch their child trying so hard to learn a new skill. The first instinct of loving parents is to help their struggling child. The problem is that when the parents try to help their child by picking them up, rocking or patting, the parents are interfering with the child’s learning process.
The parents needs someone to help them see the whole picture of what their child is learning. As a sleep consultant, I am not as emotionally involved as the parents are. I am able to support and help them see beyond the moment so they can support and help their child.
5. Schedule the sleep training when you can be consistent for at least two weeks
I prefer three weeks because it takes three weeks to form a secure habit.
Look at your calendar and find two or three weeks where you are not going out of town or have a lot of activities scheduled. It becomes much easier for your child to learn when you expect the same thing and respond the same way every day.
Once your child has learned the skill of being able to get to sleep on their own, you have room for some flexibility in their schedule. During the training period it is easier on the child if you stay very consistent.
We cannot predict how a child will respond to sleep training because each child is different. My goal is to set the child up for success. A well-rested child is a happier child. That makes happier parents too.
If you are ready to start sleep training and want some coaching and encouragement through the process, contact me to get started today.
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