WHEN SHOULD YOU SLEEP TRAIN?
First of all I wanted to address this matter of when should you sleep train, sleep training is something you can do as young as 16 weeks old. It’s not possible before that time because a newborn is not biological able to self-settle themselves and so assistance will be needed until 16 weeks.
I also get asked if it’s ever too late to sleep train and the answer to that is always NO. I work with children up to the age of 5. Toddler’s are strong willed and have been used to the associations you’re now trying to break for longer and therefore they will protest more but they can be sleep trained using similar methods to that of babies and it takes about the same time, between 2-3 weeks.
HOW TO CHOOSE A METHOD
Often my clients come to me saying they have tried everything and nothing has worked! The story usually goes that they tried one method and it went horribly wrong, leaving everyone upset and more exhausted then when they started. The reasons for this I will explore later, but what should you think about when choosing a suitable method?
Firstly, you need to think about your current situation, what is you’re doing at the moment to get your child to sleep. If you’re breastfeeding to sleep for all sleeps for example then you’ll need to pick a method that allows you to go a little slower. If you’re shushing your child back to sleep or using some sort of touch then that’s easier to move away from more quickly.
The next thing you need to think about is the temperament of your child, this matters because what you think they may need is actually different from what they are trying to tell you they need.
By this I mean when you’re going in, picking up and holding and they’re arching their back kicking and screaming they’re actually saying to you that ‘I don’t want to be held right now mummy, put me down’. Similarly if your child is getting beyond upset at you leaving the room, is hyperventilating and throwing up then that is a sign that they really cannot cope with not being able to see you right now.
According to Tracey Hogg in her book 'The Baby Whisperer', she states that children fall into five main categories of personality styles. Whilst I don’t personally use this with my clients, because I think they can fall across more than one category. It’s still useful as a guide to see how different children can be and how you need to tailor your response and therefore your settling method accordingly.
Just for fun I will list out the five types here;
ANGEL Easy-going, adapt to change easily and generally laid back.
TEXTBOOK Meet milestones bang on time and are very predictable.
TOUCHY Sensitive and easily excitable. Can be clingy in new situations.
SPIRITED Loud and high energy, into everything and fearless.
GRUMPY Stubborn, irritable, wants their own way and prone to meltdowns.
The third thing to consider is you as a parent, if the method is going to be successful you need to carry it out consistently and follow it through to the end. That’s not going to happen if you pick an out of the room technique and you’re hugely anxious about leaving your child.
Alternatively it might be the case that you need to let your partner carry out the method and avoid it altogether if you can’t handle your child crying at all as there will be tears involved in any method.
PLAN AHEAD AND MANAGE YOUR EXPECTATIONS
Any method you choose will take a minimum of two weeks to carry out, it’s important once you decide to go ahead that you commit this time. That means, clearing the diary of classes or other activates and potentially asking your partner to take time off work or you yourself taking time off work. If you have other children you may need to consider moving them out of the room if they share temporarily while you carry out the method.
Perhaps start on a weekend and try your best to avoid putting them into nursery whilst you sleep train as you have little control over what happens in a nursery setting and can’t expect nursery staff to carry out the method on your behalf.
Make sure you know what to expect, there will be tears no matter which method you choose. Some babies cope better than others but crying will be involved. Usually it’s not as bad as people expect but it’s always good to prepare yourself for the worst before you get started. You’re much more likely to be consistent and follow through if your expectations are realistic, yes they will cry, the first few days will be the hardest and you’ll have potentially even less sleep than normal but once it’s done it’s done.
I always tell my clients to focus on the end result, it feels like forever when you’re in it but we are talking about 2 weeks here, which is nothing compared to the months of crying you’ve had from a grumpy tired baby to date.
SO WHY DOES IT FAIL
In my opinion here are the main reasons it fails;
1. Parents haven’t picked a suitable method
Usually the go to method is Controlled Crying or cry it out. Whilst I have no issue with this method and I work with lots of clients on it, going from breastfeeding to sleep to a cry based method is a big jump. Cue lots of hysterical tears from mum and baby and a feeling that sleep training doesn’t work.
2. Parents are doing the method incorrectly
Often with Controlled Crying parents are not timing only consistent crying and/or they have intervals that are not age appropriate. This means the method takes too long and simply doesn’t work. With the more gradual methods often parents are interfering too much and not backing off at the right time, confusing the child and again meaning it won’t’ fully work.
3. Parents are not being consistent
Consistency is KEY but gosh it’s so damn hard especially when you’re knackered. If you’re not consistent the method will take longer and your child will be confused, you’ll end up having inconsistent results and never fully teaching them to self-settle.
4. Parents give up too soon
It can take a full week of consistency before you see any changes. Often I see parents not giving it long enough then giving up completely or changing to another method before the current one had a chance to work. Give it at least 7 – 10 days before you decide it isn’t working.
5. Parents are not ready for change
This can happen if you’re forcing yourself to make changes that deep down you don’t want to make. Perhaps your partner wants you to stop co-sleeping so he can return to the bed so you give it a go but the truth is you love co-sleeping and feeding to sleep and are sad it’s coming to an end. Maybe you’re okay with holding to sleep but you want your little one to sleep longer chunks, you have to be realistic with yourself about whether or not you’re ready to make these changes. I have spoken to mums many times who say they are but their actions show differently.
KEY TO SUCCESSFUL SLEEP TRAINING – THE 3 Cs
So my three Cs to successful sleep training are...
Consistency – As mentioned before be prepared to be consistent, that means following the steps of the process without fail, no matter how it is going or how your baby is reacting.
Commitment – Set aside the time to dedicate to this and really go for it, follow the process through to the end no matter what and do not give up.
Can Do Attitude – Before you begin, set your expectations and be prepared to get it done. Know that you can do this and your child can do this and that you both very much need it as well.
The main reasons I believe that sleep training fails is that it parents are tired, they haven’t done enough research, are not really ready for the big changes they have to make and as such their expectations are not realistic.
They are ill prepared for the protesting of their child and do not respond to the upset in a consistent way by following the method to a tee.
As a result parents chop and change their techniques, not full understanding the importance of seeing just one of them through to the end or how important it is to find one that suits the child, the situation and them as a parent.
There is so much more to sleep training than people realise and this is why my job exists. Much like losing weight, it’s bloody hard unless you have accountability. Changes are much easier to make with support, not only that but knowing where to start, what to choose and how to stay on track when things get tricky is what I do.
So if you know you’re ready for change, if you want someone to pick a suitable method based on your personal circumstances and you want it over and done within 2 weeks, then get in touch. Nobody said sleep training was easy but it’s certainly easier with a bit of hand holding.
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