Some of the most common questions around sleep training are, “Will my baby have to cry?” “How long will my baby cry?” “Do I have to let her cry it out?” And for some this is an uncomfortable conversation, because no one loves to hear their baby cry.
To be completely honest, sleep training will inevitably have some amount of crying involved, and there’s just really no way to avoid it. And I can’t guarantee a certain length of protest, because it’s different for every family. So first, hear this: I am not a Cry It Out (CIO) sleep trainer. Crying it out literally means you lay your baby down, walk away, and you don’t come back until a desired time in the morning, no matter the protest. And I simply will not ask a family to do that!
I also want you to know that sleep is a skill we can teach our kids. That does NOT mean we can snap our fingers and say, “Ok, sleep now!” and they will just fall right asleep. No one could do that! We need to watch for the appropriate awake windows, set up a solid environment, create consistent routines, and THEN teaching those sleep skills is possible.
As a former teacher, we often used the phrase, “I do, we do, you do” – it’s how we scaffolded new content! When teaching a child something new, we need to give him space and time to learn the skill, but we also need to encourage and support him. It’s like learning to ride a bike; if we hand our child the bike and helmet and say, “Do it!”, it’s not going to happen. Oppositely, if we put the helmet on for him and hold the bike mid-air as we run, he’ll never learn. If, however, we help him get the helmet on, run beside him while holding the bike and slowly release it as he gets a feel for balance, he’ll soon be cruising. He may fall a few times, so we’ll help him back up, encourage him, maybe run with him for another moment, and then he’ll be off again. And the more he practices, the more confident and skilled he’ll get!
Sleep is very similar. If we simply lay our baby in the crib and say, “Do it!”, and walk away until morning (CIO), although the baby will eventually fall asleep, talk about a tough learning curve. Oppositely, if we feed, rock, or bounce our baby to sleep every night, he likely won’t learn to sleep independently. I believe that teaching our kids to fall asleep is all about giving them the time and space they need to learn, while also soothing and comforting them along the way. When I work with families, that is the model I have in mind when personalizing a plan to best meet the child and family’s needs, so we talk through how we’ll do just that.
So why tears? Crying is a baby’s main way of communicating most needs and feelings, and it’s a child’s way of protesting any uncomfortable change. So as we structure a baby’s day and sleep time, we make sure the baby’s needs are met! We talk about feedings so we know the protest is not out of hunger. We talk about timing so we know the baby is tired enough but not too tired. Over the first few days of the plan, I ask parents to either start right in the room with the child or to do intermittent checks, so if a baby has a dirty diaper, the parent will know and he will not have to lay in that discomfort. The other reason I ask parents to be right there and actively involved by providing comfort and reassurance is for both the parents’ and baby’s emotional needs, because those needs are real, too!
And the good news is, although there will very likely be crying for the first few days, when consistently following a plan that fits the child’s and family’s needs, the protest we see the first few days quickly diminishes (and often disappears!) because the child starts learning those sleep skills.
Finally, because we are working with precious children, I ask that if you are going to sleep train, please have a plan! Before officially sleep training Olivia, our “plan” was to let her cry for 10 minutes. Sometimes we were able to wait the full 10 minutes, but sometimes we just couldn’t handle her crying. Regardless of if we caved early or went in at the 10 minute mark, our “plan” was to then nurse or rock her to sleep. But that wasn’t fair! Why in the world would be make her cry for 10 minutes to then just put her to sleep?!
So then we upped it to 12 minutes, thinking surely 12 minutes would be the magic number and she’d fall right asleep. But nope, we’d always go in at that mark and help her to sleep. We basically taught Olivia to just keep on protesting and we’d eventually come in and rescue you. Not fair for either of us! So if you’re going to sleep train, don’t be like us and MAKE A PLAN! If your child cries, will you respond? When will you respond? In what way will you respond? For night wakings? Nap time?
If you’ve read this and are thinking, “I want a plan, but I have no idea where to even begin,” I’d love to touch base with you and hear more about what sleep looks like right now and what your goals are! Sign up for a FREE discovery call with me to share more!