Behavior Therapy and Sleep Training: How I Gently Gave My Daughter the Gift of Self Soothing

*** As I was poking around on my previous blog page, I came across this very old but still very relevant post. And although we are battling the 2 year old sleep regression now and my child outright REFUSES to be left alone in her room at the moment, I thought I would still share what worked for us when she still just a wee little thing.

**Disclaimer — Statements about sleep training are strictly my opinion and I am in no way discrediting one way or another. To each her own.**
Sleep training has a bad rap but it doesn’t have to. There are super gentle ways to sleep train that won’t scar you kid for life. I personally didn’t like the idea of “cry it out.” It felt mean to me. Kind of like throwing a kid in the water and telling them to learn to swim. It might work for some parents, but I am not one of them.

Sleep training is supposed to give a child the ability to self soothe. Sleep should be looked at as a good thing. A peaceful and restful thing. I didn’t want my daughter to dread bed time or associate her crib with crying and fear. When you walk away from a baby, they don’t know you’re coming back. And when they cry and you DON’T come back, what is that teaching them? My point here is that I was just not comfortable with cry it out.

What I felt better about was the “no cry method.” It tells you to go to your child as soon as they cry. Well I liked this, but I made one minor adjustment. I didn’t wait for my daughter to cry. As a behavioral therapist I didn’t agree with this for my daughter. She was and still is, very good at “complaining” before she ever cries. From the day she was born she would make little squeaks (they’re more like yells now) before she went into full on crying. In my field we believe that it is important to strengthen and reinforce the behavior you want to see. What I didn’t want her to do is learn that crying is what would get my attention and in turn go straight to screaming and crying anytime she needed something. I liked the fact that she fussed at me to let me know she was upset. I didn’t want to teach her otherwise. Now she almost NEVER cries, and if she does, we know something is actually wrong. Like she’s hurt, scared, or if I think she’s done nursing and she isn’t. *insert eye roll* Those are the only times she cries.

I knew it was time for sleep training when it would take me an hour of bouncing, rocking, shushing, singing, and patting to get her to sleep, only for her to wake up the second I would lie her down. My days were turning into nothing but trying desperately to get my child to sleep, attempting to lie her down with as little movement as possible, and making futile attempts to sneak out of the room. This is not how I wanted to spend my days, and if this sounds familiar, it might time to sleep train. **Please do not try to sleep train a new born. For health and safety reasons they are supposed to wake up frequently. Please check with your child’s doctor about a safe age to sleep train.**

I started this at nap time. If you’re sleep deprived to begin with, it’s extremely challenging to try and do this all hours of the night. If you are consistent with naps and bedtime, middle of night wake ups should follow suit. Unless your little one is waking up for night feedings. I have always been of the opinion that breastfeeding on demand is the best way to go.

Start with making a routine that signals to baby it’s time to slow down and unwind. Nap and bedtime routine should be at least slightly different. For example, our nap routine looks this like this
-diaper change if need be
once in her crib she is given her blankey and her pacifier if she wants it. She’s one of those kids who could take or leave it depending on her mood. (kids under one year of age are not supposed to have blankets in their cribs due to the risk of SIDS. If your give your child a blanket before then, that is your choice as a parent.)

our bedtime routine looks like this:
-dinner (we started solids BLW at 5 and a half months)
-baby massage
Depending on the night and how clean she came out of dinner, we sometimes skip the bath, but we try to stay as consistent as possible otherwise.

At nap time and after going through your routine, this is what the sleep training should look like:
1. lie baby down in her crib
2. walk away
3. When baby starts fussing pick her up
4. Lie her back down as SOON as she’s calm again
5. repeat steps 1 – 4 as many times and as long as it takes for baby to fall asleep.

Yes it’s a pain in the back and yes its repetitive but you wouldn’t you be spending that time getting the baby to sleep anyways? At least this way there is an end goal and you’re teaching your little one new skills. You’re providing them a safe and loving environment to learn to self soothe. Which is something need in order to fall asleep on their own. You’re teaching your little one that A. it’s okay to be alone, and B. that you will always come to them if they need you. In turn teaching them some security and trust.

The first day I did this, it took a full hour to get A to sleep. Then 45 minutes. But only took about 3 days for her to get it, and start falling asleep on her own. Now, when I put her in her bed, she goes to sleep. No more walking, bouncing, singing, shushing. Granted, with teething we do have some days where I need to love on her a little more before she goes to sleep, but she is a champ at going to sleep on her own. This was one of the best things I’ve done as a parent thus far. It made life easier for her and for my husband and I.

Lastly, if you’re wondering how much your baby should be sleeping, how many naps she should be taking during the day, and roughly how many times she should be eating, I highly recommend The Baby Sleep Site. This has been a huge resource for me since day one. I will link their page where you can get a customized sleep schedule for the baby here, but also take the time to poke around their site. It really is so informative and helpful.

As always I hope this some desperate sleep deprived parents out there! Drop a comment and let me know how it goes! Or let me know what other methods of sleep training you’ve tried. And don’t forget to hit that subscribe button!

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