There is no doubt that parenting is the toughest job on the planet, Crab pot fisherman in Alaska have nothing on a teething screaming kid in the middle of the night when you haven’t slept in 3 days.
I hope my story about sleep training gives hope to those new parents that are at their end and have resorted to trolling the internet for a shred of information that might work for them, just as I did many times in that first year. Part of my tale will be helpful but part of it will seem like the opposite of productive. Trust in the fact that I did this 2 times with similar results, I was sleeping through the night as so were my kids after 2 weeks… if that doesn’t give you hope in your time of need I don’t know what will.
Sleep training seems like a strange idea, the thought of teaching someone how to fall asleep. But the fact is, your child doesn’t know how to fall asleep on their own, they have never done that, so you need to teach them. There is no exact time to do this and every child is different, I have found that somewhere between 9 months to 12 months is a good time to start, look for a long holiday weekend where you will be staying home and don’t mind throwing away, sometimes the need to start can out of necessity. With my second child I was starting a new job in about 2 weeks and didn’t want to show up to my first day with no sleep. Other times the child shows signs of independence, when its time you will know it.
First the bad news, there is no magic spell in sleep training, it’s the toughest challenge that you will face in the first 3 years of a child’s life, it will test you and your child emotionally and physically and should be agreed to by both parents, Dad’s I will warn you Mom’s don’t like it, your child will cry, loud and a lot and that affects them physically as well as emotionally, so you might end up managing mom as well as the first few days of training.
Now the good news, after 3 hard days bedtime gets easier, after 1 week your child will sleep through the night, after 2 weeks you will sleep through the night, and after 30 days you will stop hearing phantom cries in the middle of the night. (Yes those are real, and yes it is in your head).
There are many methods for sleep training most of them have good points and bad points so you need to do what you think is right for your kids, but I wanted it over quickly not to drag it out for months, so the method I chose to go with is the shortest most intense method, the “Cry it out” method or “Ferber” Method. Now hold on a second before you exit my website, I modified the technique to suite my kids so keep reading. I want you to think back to when you were around 9 months old, and craved your mom or dad, I bet you don’t remember anything before the age of 3, crying is not a bad thing and there aren’t any scary long lasting issues, my kids are 5 and 2 and are well adjusted kids that go to bed on their own every night and sleep through the night so I know this technique has merit.
When I started sleep training my daughter around 10 months old, I would have done ANYTHING to get a good night sleep, well; this is the fastest way to get you there. It is not painless which is the main motivator for some parent to choose a less stressful method, my goal was get my kid to sleep through the night and not leave them screaming until they hyperventilate, some kids take longer than others for this method to take hold, and ultimately it comes down to routine. The goal is to teach your child how to fall asleep on their own when you are not there rocking them to sleep in the middle of the night. And never forget that every child is different, my daughter (first born) took to this within a few days, and my son (second born) took a couple of weeks to fall in line but being consistent is a key factor. This could be a girl/boy thing, this could be a first born/second born thing but no matter what it was, I used this method on both my kids and it worked. And for that I am thankful.
This method is sort of like a roller coaster, tick, tick, tick, tick. AAAHHHHHHHHH! Then it’s all over. And the house is silent and everyone is sleeping. If you can handle that then keep reading.
So below is what I did once the decision was made to roll up my sleeves and deal with whatever was to come.
Step one, you need to make sure your child has their own room which is dark (no nightlight it will only keep them awake), I used a sound machine and I highly recommend it, the sound level should be high enough to hear clearly in any area of the room and to drown out sounds like foot steps outside their room or the TV a couple of rooms away. Rolling thunder sounds worked best for both my kids, and now they aren’t afraid of thunderstorms either so that is a bonus.
Night one: Prepare yourself for a long night; don’t start this on a Monday night pick that long holiday weekend Friday night. go through your normal nightly routine but before you child falls asleep in your arms put them in the crib (the room should be dark with the sound machine on at this point if you have one), you can stand there for a bit and rub their back a little to help them relax they might start to cry. **Very Important** you must leave the room while they are still awake; they need to see you leave. This will trigger a most unpleasant response so prepare yourself, if you are an emotional person. My wife is the emotional one so I took care of the first few nights, which are the hardest. Crying is a normal response; your child will not want to lay there and let you leave, they will cry and cry. Wait 2 minutes, go back in, and keep it dark, and no loud noises, now you have a couple of options:
Option 1, you can lay them back down, the crying will not stop, in fact they might even cry harder at that point, you can stand there and rub their back, or hold their hand until they calm down a bit, then you need to leave again before they are asleep.
Option 2, you can pick them up give them a hug until they calm down a bit then put them back in the crib, the crying will begin again, then you need to leave the room.
Once you leave the room again, wait 4 minutes and repeat which ever option you decide to go with from above, then wait 6 minutes, then 8 then 10 minutes, at the 10 minute mark keep repeating 10 minutes until you don’t hear any more crying. Note. If they aren’t crying you don’t need to go back in, this can get over looked if you are stressed and tired. You need to hold back from “checking in” on them once they stop crying. Just remember, if your child is in a crib they are safe and that means the crying is purely for snuggling and attention, don’t give in easily.
Night one is the hardest night, my daughter cried for almost 3 hours before she finally fell asleep, but my son cried for a little over 4 hours, he was stubborn but eventually he too, fell asleep on his own.
Through trial and error I found that option 1 worked for my daughter but not for my son, option 2 worked, most research I did said not to do option 2 but my son didn’t take well to option 1. This is just an example of how you need to do what works for your child, Methods you will read about are guidelines not hard and fast set rules, not every kid responds to the ideal process but you know your child better than the internet does and you need to decide how hard you want to push. This is just my story of what I went through and my results.
Night two, go through the same process as the night before except go in at 2 minutes then 4 then 8 then 15 minutes, repeat the 15 minutes until they fall asleep. Night two will be stressful but should not take as long, my daughter cried for about an hour on night two and my son cried for about 2 hours.
Night three, same process except at 5, 10, 15, 20 minutes repeat 20 minutes until they aren’t crying. My daughter only cried for about the first 10 minutes, my son for about 20. By night 4, both my kids went down easier and slept through the night.
If your kids wake up in the middle of the night start the process over, don’t just run in at the first scream, wait for the first time interval, but they are probably so tired from crying that they won’t wake up until morning anyway those first few nights.
My son had a habit of throwing his Nuk then crying about it. I would have to find it in the dark give it back to him, lay him down and cover him back up. Then walk out again. Now they go down easy most nights and stay asleep. There are periods of regression, but they start to taper off at around 18 months and when they do happen, you will be well rested and can handle the speed bumps.
Parenting is not science, its instinct, just remember that cavemen raised kids without the internet or baby books. Good luck.