Are you dreading the thought of sleep training?
With all of the horror stories floating around out there, it’s hard not to… Sleep training isn’t easy. As a parent, it’s one of the first opportunities to teach a child how to do something on their own, so it’s a task riddled with pressure, questions and self-doubt. If sleep training feels like the right decision for your family, then there’s no need to fear it. A positive sleep training experience is entirely possible.
Here are some tips for a positive sleep training experience.
1. Make the bedroom a sanctuary
“Go to your room” is something I heard a thousand times growing up as a kid, and I’m guilty of saying it to my older children now. But when it comes to sleep training, the bedroom should never be used as a place for punishment to avoid associating it with something negative. Designate a different room or area for time-outs. The bedroom should be a safe and comfortable place.
Before (and throughout) the sleep training process, spend plenty of time in the baby’s room playing or reading books and never force baby to stay in their crib or their room if they clearly don’t want to.
The more comfortable baby is in their room, the less they will dread it at bedtime.
2. Start early
Babies are actually born with naturally good sleep habits. They sleep when they feel tired and don’t know any different. Sleep training a younger baby can make for a positive sleep training experience. While young babies don’t sleep for long stretches, they do normally fall asleep on their own without much of a struggle.
Encourage that behavior – because the ability to fall asleep without help is the KEY to sleep training!
3. Conduct trial runs at nap time
While daytime sleep should be different from nighttime sleep, naps are a good way to get a feel for what sleep training will be like. The daytime is much less intimidating to begin sleep training. Both parent and baby will be somewhat more well rested than at the end of the day and there’s not as much pressure to get it right since naps are much shorter sleep periods.
While there’s no need to perform an entire bedtime routine at nap time, the key things to practice will be putting baby to sleep in the same place where they’ll be sleeping at night, and putting baby down while they are drowsy but not actually asleep.
If you can successfully get baby to go down for a nap on their own, then you’ll have a lot more confidence moving onto to bedtime.
4. Choose a realistic bedtime routine
Obviously sleep training involves some level of sacrifice, at least at first. But that doesn’t mean you should be wearing yourself out every night with baths and massages and stories and missing out on your social life. A bedtime routine doesn’t need to be elaborate.
Consistency is the key to a good bedtime routine so keep it simple and achievable. It could be the simple task of changing into pajamas and reading a special book (check out this list of the best bedtime books). Or maybe there’s a lullaby you like to sing. Even a special stuffed animal or blanket that’s reserved specifically for bedtime can do the trick. Diffusing some calming essential oils around bedtime can also help to calm the minds of both parent and child. Try to find one thing that soothes and calms each of the five senses. These simple habits, when done consistently, will give your baby the signal that it’s bedtime, no matter where you are or what time it is.
Having the option to be flexible in your baby’s bedtime routine will keep you from resenting the task altogether.
5. Eliminate the pressure
There is SO much pressure on parents to get sleep training just right. A common question new parents often hear is “is the baby sleeping through the night yet?” implying that something is wrong if they aren’t.
And if that wasn’t pressure enough, there’s also so much contradictory information about sleep training. Everyone has a method that they promise is the BEST and you always seem to be on the wrong side of the cry-it-out vs no-cry-it-out debate.
Accepting that all babies are different and sleep training is not a competition, or even a milestone, will help to take some of the pressure out of it. Sleep training will only be successful if both parent and baby are ready, and not because another baby who’s the same age or weight (even a sibling) was ready. Whatever method you choose to sleep train your baby should be the one that works for your baby and your family and no one else’s.
Remember that sleep training is not an all or nothing situation. It’s perfectly fine to take a break and try again another time.
6. Ask for help
Sleep training is not for everyone. Some babies have a much harder time sleeping than others and it can lead to a very unpleasant experience. Don’t be afraid to ask for help if you’re struggling with it.
While it’s great to have your spouse or partner around to tag team during those late nights, a friend to talk to (especially another mom who’s been there and done that) can do wonders for building up your confidence.
If the sleep deprivation is really getting to you and you’ve tried every method of sleep training without success, it could be time to call in an expert.
Read my review of The Baby Sleep Site for more information about getting a professional sleep consultation.