The one thing that we’re trying to do when we embark upon a gentle sleep training program, is to teach your child to sleep independently. This means giving them the skills to not only fall asleep by themselves, but to have the confidence to settle back to sleep again when they wake during the night. ‘Sleeping through’ doesn’t actually mean no waking up- we all wake up during the night, whether we’re a baby or an adult- but rather it means being able to get back to sleep between cycles without any help from others. Teaching independence at bedtime can mean different things to different families, but ultimately it’s something we should aim for if we want to install good sleep habits for life. Read on for my tips on how to do it.
When you teach your child to fall asleep independently, you are teaching an invaluable life skill. And like any other skill, some children are going to take longer than others to learn how to do it. Once your child can both fall asleep independently, and stay asleep independently, better sleep habits will naturally follow. Not only that, but the family in general will benefit from better sleep habits all round. If you’re currently spending hours each night helping your little one to sleep, then read on to find out how to teach independence and reclaim your evening!
Get your bedtime routine super tight
The first thing you need to do is make sure that your bedtime routine is super tight. So leave no room for confusion here. Consistency is key, and once your child knows that it’s bedtime and no messing, they will find it easier to relax into sleep. You might need to be fairly rigid with your routine at first, making sure that all care givers on board so that your child can quickly feel secure and safe with the new routine. Once you have the routine in place, you can work on helping your child to fall asleep independently.
Stay a while
If your child is used to you either rocking, nursing or patting them to sleep, you’re going to need to wean the off this gently. It’s ok to stay a while to help your child to fall to sleep, but aim to gradually reduce the amount of time you spend doing this. For some, this can be a reduction each night, and for others it might be a reduction every three nights. Remember that you know your child best, so take your cues from them.
Sit by the bed and gently reassure your child that you’re there, but that they must go to sleep without cuddles/ feeds/ rocking. If your child cries, comfort her, but don’t take her out of bed. Stay for as long as it takes your child to fall asleep, and do the same thing each night for at least three nights. On day four, you can start to gradually reduce the length of time you spend with your child, reassuring her that its ok to fall asleep without you. Always go to your child if she calls for you, and by doing this you will instil confidence that you’re there if ever she needs you.
Gently wean your child from your presence
It’s easier said than done to wean your child from you- you are their world, after all! But if you need your child to learn independence at bedtime, this is something that you need to focus on. As you spend time with your child while she falls asleep, you’re going to gradually reduce the time that you spend with her each night. And as you do this, gradually move a little further away from her too.
You can start off right by the bed, so that she can reach out and touch you if she needs to. Then gradually move a little further away and closer to the door- either night by night, or every three nights or so depending on your child. Take this at your child’s pace and always reassure her that you’re there if she needs you.
Comforters are key
Some children benefit from special teddies or blankets that help them to fee secure at bedtime. If this is your child, then make sure she has what she needs to feel safe and relaxed at bedtime.
Keep your promises
Once you feel that your child is at the stage of being able to fall asleep without you in the room, you can start to put her to bed with the promise of checking in after five minutes. It’s so important to keep your promise here! If you tell your child you will be back to see her in five minutes, make sure that you do. By keeping your promise and showing your child you can be trusted, you will install confidence and a sense of security that is essential for helping her to sleep independently.
You might need to start off with “I’ll be back in two minutes,” and build up to five, then ten minutes. The idea is that eventually your child will fall asleep without you, safe in the knowledge that you’re there if she needs you.
Praise your child
When your child makes progress, praise her! Let her know she’s doing great, but also make it clear that this is something you expect her to do every day too.