I have a 4 year old and a 19 month old and I tell them bed time and, for the most part, they go right into their room and within 10 minutes (or less) they are done for the night. Friends and family alike are amazed and want to know how I do it.
Before the how, let us discuss the why. Children need a certain amount of sleep a night to be productive and healthy the next day. Your child’s brain will be lagging all day if it has not had enough rest. This will cause an irritable child and eventually an irritable parent. Without enough rest, the body (even for adults) does not absorb enough oxygen. When this happens, it weakens all the defenses in the body. This is why when a person is ill, one of the first pieces of advice is ‘get rest’. A good supply of oxygen is also essential to the brain for controlling the body and increasing the ability to learn.
Besides the health and well being of the child, the time afforded to the parent is also important. My husband and I cherish the time we spend with our children. However, there are things we have to do to prepare everyone for the next day. These tasks become twice as difficult with a tired child trying to vie for attention. Additionally, time for my husband and I to spend with each other and wind down is equally as important as time with the kids.
Now that the why has been covered, it should encourage you to take the next step towards the how. The how is harder if the child is older. I never really had much of a problem with either child as I started from the get go. The steps are still the same, regardless of the age of the child.
Step 1: Do not let your child sleep in your bed. This is a very important first step. Allowing your child to sleep in your bed creates dependency. Put your new born in a bassinet, crib, or even pack n play in your room for the first month or two. The child will be easily accessible in the middle of the night for feeding and changing but will eventually realize that he/she goes back in the appropriate place for sleep. It has been my experience that around 4 months old is when they start to form habits such as wanting to sleep in the bed with mommy. Do not feel like you are taking bonding away from your child as there are many more appropriate bonding moments to be had with your infant, such as nursing/feeding and play time.
Step 2: Prepare your child for bedtime. Make sure your child has been fed. Make sure he/she has gone to the potty or has been changed. Put on jammies, brush teeth (if applicable) and read bed time story (also if applicable). Give your child lots of huggies and kissies and explain that it is bedtime and he/she will now go to sleep. This last part is very important because it sets the expectation for the child but also provides security (mommy is not leaving you in here to be alone because she does not care).
Step 3: Make your child comfortable. If you have an infant, swaddle him/her in the blankies to provide a warm, close feeling. For all subsequent ages, tuck them in and smoosh the covers in around them to provide that same warm feeling.
Steps 1-3 are done so that you will know your child now needs nothing else for the time being.
Step 4: Leave the room. If your child is in a crib or bed in your room, you will need to leave the room until the child is asleep.
What happens after step 4 depends on how old your child is and what your previous practices have been. It is more than likely that your child will have a fit and cry for you. Please remember that as far as I have ever heard, no child has ever cried themselves to death. Please comment on this blog post if you have heard otherwise.
Step 5: Pay attention. Listen for the crying and take note of the time. The younger the child, the shorter the period you will let them cry for at a time. The first night you try this method, only let the child cry for 5 minutes. For all subsequent nights use the following matrix: For 0-4 months let the child cry for about 5 minutes. For 5-18 months let the child cry for 10 minutes. For all subsequent ages let the child cry for 15 minutes.
Step 6: Check on the child to calm and reassure. Go into the room, ask him/her if something is wrong? If the child is young enough, he/she will obviously not respond. However, they understand more than we know, so we ask the question anyway. Older kids will give an excuse, you will reassure him/her that everything is fine and they are going to go to sleep. For infants who can’t communicate, you may want to make sure everything is still alright; do we need a diaper change? were you still hungry? do you have a fever? is your foot caught in the crib? Once you have determined all the answers are no, reassure the infant that everything is alright, mommy loves you and you are going to go to sleep.
Step 7: Let the child cry to sleep. Now that you are certain the child is clean, dry, fed and in no danger there is no reason to go back in the room. The child has been assured that you love them and that everything is alright. If you are rigid in following these steps, by night 3 step 7, let the child cry to sleep, will be significantly shorter. What happens is the child realizes that you are not coming back in the room to keep them company, there will eventually be no reason the him/her to continue to cry. The first night, this step may be as long as 1 to 2 hours. PLEASE be assured that this will not damage the child mentally or physically. As a matter of a fact, you are teaching your child trust. You are sticking to your word and they will realize that, even if they can’t verbalize it.
If your child is able to get out of bed and open the bedroom door, you will need an additional step.
Step 8: Be persistent. This is not an easy step to follow through with, especially if you have other children in the room. Unfortunately, it is necessary or it will just be harder later. Once the child gets out of the bed and room, you will put him/her back in the bed and use a firm voice to let him/her know they are going to sleep and will not get back out of the bed. You may need to repeat step 8 numerous times. Even upward of 20 times in one night. There is no need to yell or be frustrated, just consistent. You should see a decline in the number of times you have to put the child back in the bed after the third night.
My experience has been 3 to 7 days to see significant improvement in getting your child to go to sleep.
I have experienced relapses in my younger child months after he was going to sleep easily. I just held fast to my steps all over again and saw the results immediately.
Please remember that every child is different and only you know your child best. The steps may have to be tweaked for each individual child. It is very important that you pay attention to your child, not just when going to bed. Knowing the intimate details of your child’s behavior is the first step to you managing him/her. Parents automatically know how to love their child, it is innate. Discipline is not nearly as inherent, but certainly as important to producing a well rounded child.