If I were to be graded on my sleep training skills, I would
get an F. As a child psychotherapist, I
entered this parenting gig with a lot of knowledge about child development and
parenting. A research nerd in my free time, I was up on all of the current
studies about kids. I knew about the
importance of sleep (for kids and parents), and I knew that routines and consistency are game changers.
No amount of reading or working with families, however,
could possibly prepare me for the emotional roller coaster that we call "sleep
My oldest was about 7 and a half months when I realized
that she no longer wanted to nurse at night; she simply wanted to visit. Truth be told, I had gotten used to our late-night visits and enjoyed the quiet one-sided conversations.
This was also about
the time that people started chiming in with gems like, "She's still not
sleeping for you?" or "You know, you're creating bad habits by rocking her to
sleep." Was I creating bad
habits? Would rocking her to sleep in my
arms really impede her ability to
sleep later on?
by Jodi Mindell at Saint Joseph's University shows that establishing a
consistent bedtime routine is crucial for helping kids fall asleep and stay
asleep. In a survey of 10,000 mothers, Mindell found that children with bedtime
routines fell asleep faster and were less likely to wake up during the night.
In the early days, rocking was part of my daughter's bedtime
routine. The routine is different now
that she's 8. We read, chat about the day, hold hands and use guided
imagery to drift off to sleep. She is
always asleep before 8 p.m., and she only wakes up during the night when she's
I guess the rocking wasn't so bad, after all.
Sleep training can be a pressure-filled task for parents. We
hear about the importance of sleep. We
know that they need it. We know that we
need it. But letting a child cry alone
in a dark room doesn't work for everyone (I failed this one big time, my
friends. In fact, I didn't even try.)
Even though I couldn't bear the thought of my baby crying
alone in the darkness, and I rocked my daughter to sleep for over two years, I
have two kids who fall asleep easily (even for babysitters and relatives) and
sleep soundly every night. I might not pass a sleep training exam, but I can
pass on some sleep wisdom that I learned from my kids.
1. All babies are different
From the moment they arrive, we try to figure
who our babies are and what their little mannerisms mean. But then we expect broad parenting techniques
to work in an instant. How can they all
be different and have exactly the
same needs? They can't.
My daughter needs more physical comfort at night. Rocking her as an infant soothed her little
infant soul, but now she needs snuggles and hand-holding to wind down at
night. But my son? He sleep trained himself at five months. A skilled sleeper from the beginning, he
values his sleep and has a completely different, and far shorter, bedtime
If you take the time to find what works for each child,
sleep will be less of a struggle.
2. Self-soothing comes
in many forms
My son can sleep just about anywhere, as long as he has his
favorite stuffed animal. He has a few
comfort objects that he keeps in his bed, and, with stories, hugs and kisses,
he's out for the night. My daughter
needs the gift of time. She needs quiet
conversation and a relaxing story. She
needs to get out any last thoughts or missed conversations.
Some kids love pacifiers; some hate them. Some love blankets and loveys; some never
attach to soft objects. Some want Mom at
bedtime; some prefer Dad (or Grandma or even the babysitter.) There is more than one way to teach a child
to self soothe. It's up to us to help
our babies/toddlers/big kids figure out what works for them.
3. They all learn to
Bedtime can turn into a real battle in some homes. It's a difficult time of the day because the
whole family is exhausted. Sometimes you
just want everyone to fall asleep at once.
Try to keep in mind that all kids learn to sleep
eventually. I know independent sleep
habits seem like the most important thing ever, but sometimes it just takes
time. Frustration and unreasonable
demands only exacerbate the problem.
Stepping back and treating my kids as the individuals that
they are was the best way to empower them to sleep on their own. On the nights when my husband travels and
they seem to need more of me, I try to remember that I feel the same when I turn
off the lights. Sometimes it's hard to
be alone in the dark, and we all need a little extra love and comfort to get through those feelings of loneliness.