Are you on the fence about sleep training? Worried it could be harmful to your child?
You are not alone. Many parents feel the same.
To address your concern, Emily Oster, professor of economics at Brown University and the author of Expecting Better. “What to Expect When You’re Expecting meets Freakonomics: an award-winning economist disproves standard recommendations about pregnancy to empower women while they’re expecting" lays out the data on sleep training.
First off, she says, without a doubt, it's effective. She looks at three different meta-analyses -- one based on extinction (aka CIO), one based on timed checks (such as Ferber), and one based on the chair method (parent stays in the room) and all showed significant progress in children's sleep. Best of all, the progress persisted 6-12 months after the end of sleep training.
Next, she looked at studies that claimed that sleep training is dangerous. And what she found -- similar to my own research -- is that none of the studies that state that sleep training is dangerous are actually based on children being sleep trained.
Instead, they are based on children in long-term stressful situations. The most common was children in Romanian orphanages. These children were left in cribs for years with virtually no adult contact. They were also subjected to years of emotional and physical abuse.
Data gleaned from these studies is then extrapolated to be applied to children in loving homes who are being sleep trained.
I think we can all agree that that is hardly a fair comparison.
Looking at studies of children being sleep trained in healthy homes, she found that children's attachment to their parents actually increased after sleep training. Five years later, there was no difference in attachment between children who were sleep trained and children who were not. And as above, sleep training was shown to be effective in improving sleep.
Finally, she says that we may never be able to prove, without a shadow of a doubt, that sleep training isn't harmful BUT we have also not proved that sleep deprivation isn't harmful. Oster says, "Among other things, you could easily argue the opposite: maybe sleep training is very good for some kids -- they really need the uninterrupted sleep -- and there is a risk of damaging your child by not sleep training."
There is no research yet on this compelling point, but the research would be fascinating. Anectdotally, hundreds of parents have reported to me that their children are noticeably happier -- not just more secure but also more calm, more focused on their play, less likely to have meltdowns, and more eager to go to sleep -- after sleep training. Take it from them that sleep training is beneficial and consider: what are the costs to your child to not sleep training?
If you are considering sleep training, schedule a free chat and find out more information about what it would look like for your family. You'll get some free tips and there's no obligation to buy.
So many of already have our New Year’s Resolutions teed up. We know just the changes we are going to make…. Soon. But not now. We’re not ready yet.
First we have to get through the holidays.
But what if the holidays could be a lot more fun if you stopped waiting, and started achieving your goals right now?
For so many folks, myself included, the hardest part is not making the changes… it’s just DECIDING to make the changes.
For example, many families fear that starting sleep training means embarking on a long period of relentless crying.
And they are relieved to find that many times, positive change can start with just changing the schedule. Moving bedtime earlier, or switching to a clock-based-schedule from an awake-based-nap schedule. Or starting a gentle, gradual night wean that results in nothing more than a few squawks.
If you want to eat healthier, maybe you decide to just have one serving of dessert instead of three at the family gathering. That can hardly be described as suffering. The truth is, you'll feel really good about getting to enjoy that treat and not waking up with guilt and stomach upset the next morning.
It’s so easy to engage in all-or-nothing thinking but the truth is, even small changes can lead to big results. And small wins can make it a lot easier to face the bigger challenges later on.
Don’t you deserve to feel victorious already when you ring in the new year?
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Lots of parents say to me that they haven’t committed to sleep training because they want to have spontaneity and freedom. They don’t want to commit to a schedule.
How do you feel at 3 am when you are up for the third time? You have committed to that schedule by not committing to a nap and bedtime schedule. Is it serving you? Your child? The rest of your family?
What if you knew you had 2.5 hours off during every single day? Would that be a hardship? Would you hate being able to take a shower, return phone calls, place a grocery order, or even watch Netflix?
It’s true that you’d have to have your free time at home. You couldn’t choose to take it in a different location each day.
But you could sit still. Or even… lie down on your very own couch. Close your eyes for a few minutes.
You know how people say the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result?
You won’t get a different result with your child’s sleep if you don’t make some changes. And it’s true that you will give up some things – freedom to go out at a moment’s notice.
But most of those reluctant parents forget that they get something else in return – a different sort of freedom. A freedom to have a scheduled break every single day. The freedom to sleep through the night (because a well-rested baby on a predictable nap schedule is much more likely to sleep through the night). The freedom to relax in the evenings, knowing you have 11 hours before you have to parent again. The freedom to connect with your other loved ones, knowing your brain is much more capable of love when it’s getting the rest and the breaks it needs. The freedom to exercise, knowing your body has energy to burn when its getting the rest it needs.
I was a parent who planned to be home for every single nap, even when it was my second child and it meant limiting excursions for my older child. As a single parent, she didn’t have the option to stay out without me, either, unless I hired a babysitter for one of them. With the cost of chidlcare in NYC, that was an extremely rare treat.
But we quickly adjusted our expectations of how much we could accomplish in a day, and soon learned to relish the scheduled breaks in our day. I was actually worried we would be tired when we switched to only one nap a day for my little one… but that, too, worked out just fine. And now that she’s outgrown her nap entirely, we still plan to be home for quiet time – we all need it. Me too. Moving to Mexico has helped me remember that the quality of my life -- and my children's lives -- are higher when I try to accomplish less.
So give it a shot. Try a nap schedule for a month and see if your quality of life isn’t better, too. If you don’t love it, you can always switch back.
Not sure what the ideal sleep schedule should look like for your child? Schedule a free discovery call and let’s discuss.
***Prices go up January 1 so don't delay.... but you have the flexibility to commit now and get coached later.
Now that we’ve all theoretically survived the transition back to Standard Time — I know some of you are still struggling! — the next challenge many of us face is traveling with small children for the holidays.
And for some of you, thanks to COVID, this might be the first time you experience the “joys” of traveling with little ones to large reunions.
Travel is never easy with small children. As they say, traveling with youngsters is a trip, not a vacation. It’s just parenting in a new and more challenging location.
All children are thrown off by a change in their routine. Then, most of us can expect late bedtimes, confinement in a car or cramped airplane seat (or worse, your lap on a cramped airline seat) more snacks, more unhealthy food, extra screen time, limited opportunities for exercise and fresh air, and as a result, extra tantrums. (To those who are able to avoid those “necessary” evils of travel: I applaud you!)
The first thing I suggest to any parent who is traveling with a small child, especially over the holidays, is lots of kindness and forgiveness for yourself. Please don’t start sleep training or do anything else challenging while you are traveling. Try to make the most of the time with friends and family, and tackle sleep issues later.
That said, if you have already established good sleep habits for your child, trying to maintain them as best you can — while not making yourself too crazy — will really help the whole family survive this challenging time AND the ensuing aftermath when you get home.
Here are some suggestions:
1. Try to maintain an early bedtime as much as possible. Explain to your relatives that if Jose goes to bed late, he wakes up extra early… and the rest of the extended family will be up extra early as a result, too! If you make an exception and let him stay up late one night, try to get him to bed early the next night. Little ones can handle one exception a lot better than night after night of them.
2. Consider feeding Alicia an early dinner at your temporary new "home" before you go out to eat with relatives. She will eat better if you offer familiar foods in a less stimulating environment. If she’s starving when you arrive at a restaurant, it’ll be stressful for everyone and she’ll end up filling up on less healthy food.
It’s better to give her chicken and green beans, for example, at “home” and then offer apple slices as soon as you you sit down. (***Constipation in a small child from too many sugary, starchy snacks will make your life hell so try to offer a favorite fruit before the more processed food.)
After that, a buttered roll when the bread arrives. And then maybe dessert for her while the adults enjoy their entrees. This is the time to offer sugar!
3. Know that your restaurant meal is over as soon as your child melts down. Plan restaurant meals as early as your relatives will tolerate. Bring small toys or art supplies to dinner… or even an electronic screen. Again, this is the time to make exceptions to your rules.
And be prepared to ask for your food to go.
4. Consider whether it’s possible to limit or even entirely eliminate restaurant meals entirely. Could you have food delivered to your host’s home instead? Everyone will enjoy the food more if the children aren’t required to sit quietly but can instead scamper off and play when they are finished eating… approximately 90 second after they start. Just as you sit down with your own food.
5. If your little one is used to sleeping by herself in her own room, try to maintain that while traveling… even if it means setting up her Pack n Play in a closet (leave a door open a bit for ventilation) or bathroom. These spaces are great, too, for keeping her sleep environment dark and quiet.
Do your best to resist bedsharing with your child as this will make your return to your better habits back home more difficult. It’s better to have your child in a nest on the floor right next to you than in your actual bed. Most likely, everyone will also sleep better that way.
6. Consider bringing his car seat on the plane if you think it may make him more likely to nap there. Some children do better in that familiar cocoon. Others prefer to curl up on the airplane seat. (Of course it’s always safest for a child to travel in a car seat on an airplane… but many families are intimidated by the thought of lugging a car seat onto a plane. If your car seat at home is heavy, consider a lightweight travel car seat like this one -- I use it myself for travel with my preschooler).
7. Bring your white noise from home. If you don’t have one you love, or if yours is bulky, I love this one by Homemedics. It’s lightweight and can be powered by batteries if the power goes out. The Hatch Rest is another option that includes both nightlight and white noise, if you aren’t quite as limited by space. I use the red light on that as a nightlight for my kids as red is the least disturbing for sleep.
8. Pack light — I’ve learned the hard way that my kids never play with the toys I bring when they are in a new environment — but bring along a few favorites for the car or airplane. Make sure to pack any loveys and pacifiers your child uses at home, also.
Too much stuff makes wrangling children that much more stressful when you are in a crowded airport. Car travelers, you can bring all the stuff your heart desires... but remember it will make packing up (and unpacking) at the other end that much more stressful. Do laundry at your relatives' house if you can. You do not need to bring the special baby detergent. Use whatever detergent they have and program an extra rinse, if you are concerned.
I also hereby give you permission to leave bottle warmers, wipes warmers, baby bathtubs and most other baby equipment at home. Your child can cope with small changes like these. Ask your family member if they can borrow or buy a Pack n Play and this portable high chair/booster seat so you don't have to bring them on the plane (or arrange to rent them at your destination). That way, you can bring the sleep space and booster seat along if you spend time in other homes.
I keep a couple of nightlights in my travel toiletries kit so that I can instantly transform any “too dark and scary” bedrooms and bathrooms. I also bring along my kids’ owl nightlights — they are battery powered and turn off within a few minutes, so I know the nightlight won’t keep them awake. But being able to carry the nightlight to the bathroom makes my little ones feel a lot more secure.
9. Get your little one outside for fresh air and daylight every. single. day. Even if it's just in an empty parking lot to collect leaves or count rocks. This will help him adjust more quickly to a different time zone. Fresh air and exercise also tire kids out, helping them nap better and sleep better at night.
10. Limit screen time… when you can. With the caveat that all bets are off on travel days. On those days, whatever keeps them quiet is great! Although if you are stuck waiting in an airport, take advantage of the time and space to get them moving… save the screens for when you are actually on the airplane.
Once you arrive at our new destination, turn off the screen and encourage exploration and movement. Screen time tends to make children's brains wired, even while it keeps them quiet. And screen time in the hour before sleep can make it harder for children to fall asleep. Let them play and run and, ideally, interact with Great Grampa Joe instead. Save the screen for when you really need it.
11. If you have the opportunity to do so, stay in a hotel with a pool. Pools are amazing for wearing little ones out. And with a pool around, you really don’t need toys. Just don’t forget your child’s safety device – these can be bulky in your suitcase! – and your own bathing suit, of course, as well as your child’s. If you hate cold water, like I do, recruit another adult or teenage cousin to bring theirs, too.
12. Be prepared to “abort mission” if your little one is falling apart at the family event. Children act out as a way to communicate that their needs aren’t being adequately met. It's not their fault. It’s not your fault. It’s just really hard for little ones to accommodate the needs of their older friends and relatives. They will be more flexible as they get older.
13. And when you get back home, revert back to the old routine immediately. You may experience some protest crying, especially if you indulged in some less than ideal sleep behaviors while you were traveling — like sharing a hotel bed — but if you revert back to the old ways as soon as you get home, your little one should be back on track within a few days. Until the next trip, anyway!
Need some help getting back on track after the time change or recent travel? It's understandable -- this is not easy! Let’s schedule a free chat and get your family back on track.
*** Returning clients, if you need a quick reset, you are not alone! Don't forget that you get a 10% discount on all support,
Here’s why you should stop punishing your kids: because punishment, unfortunately, doesn’t work.
This isn’t just my opinion. It’s also the belief of the behaviorist movement, created by B.F. Skinner. He said that punishment works temporarily but as soon as the punishment is removed, the behavior comes back.
“Although punishing responses at the beginning of an extinction curve reduced the momentary rate of responding, the rate rose again when punishment was discontinued and that eventually all responses came out. The effect of punishment was a temporary suppression of the behavior, not a reduction in the total number of responses.”
In Psychology Today, PhD Michael Karson cites a study where a rat is rewarded for pressing a lever. After a while, the reward is removed. Whether or not the rat is punished with an electric shock for pressing the lever after that, or simply not rewarded, the rat presses the lever the same number of times. The rat does become more cautious in pressing the lever, but doesn’t reduce the number of presses.
In human terms, children learn to become more cautious, aka sneaky, in their misbehavior… but they don’t stop doing it.
Thus, from a simple behaviorist perspective – working with any mammal, not just small humans – punishment just simply isn’t effective. And if it won’t work, why bother?
Of course, it can be satisfying – let’s be honest! – to finally see our child react to our frustration when we punish them. But the negative emotion we see is anger, resentment, or sadness about the punishment, not a genuine regret for their behavior.
And I think that for most of us, we would agree that we would prefer not to punish just for our own satisfaction. We’d like our child to be learning something, too.
So how can we help our children learn to curb their negative impulses?
One particular method of punishment is still thought to help children learn, time outs.
But if we think about what a time out teaches – “if you exhibit this unwanted behavior, you’ll be exiled from the family” – I think we would all agree that this is hardly the message we want to teach our beloved, if exasperating, children.
Time outs are not a natural consequence. A natural consequence is, if you refuse to eat dinner, you’ll be hungry at bedtime. If you refuse to wear mittens outside in the snow, you’ll have cold hands. If you throw a wooden block at your sister, the wooden block will be taken away.
One way to know if something is a natural consequence versus a punishment: is the link between the unwanted behavior and the consequence perfectly obvious, without an explanation? Losing TV for a week because you hit your brother – the connection here is less than clear. But being hungry at bedtime because you decided not to eat dinner – well, that’s pretty clear cut. If your child says he’s hungry in this scenario, you can be perfectly sympathetic… and you don’t need to solve the problem for him. It’s a perfectly clear learning opportunity.
Natural consequences are highly effective.
It’s hard for parents to stay out of the way in this scenario, though! Why is it easier to take away TV for a week than to let a child go to bed hungry? I would argue the difference is in our own emotional state – we remove TV privileges when we are angry, but we are rational and sad when our child complains pitifully of hunger at bedtime.
Therefore, if you want to teach a lesson but aren’t sure what the lesson should be… WAIT. Wait until you are cooled off before you make a decision.
Misbehavior is not an emergency. You can always say, “I am feeling really angry right now and I need some time to cool off before I talk to you about it.” I would argue this is actually a highly effective move, because a child would much rather be punished than wait to find out what is happening with us!
Which brings me to another point: punishment lets your child off the hook. If you take away TV for a week because your son hit his sister, your son’s emotions are going to be focused on how angry he is at you for taking away his beloved shows. Instead of the desired result, focusing on his behavior.
If, on the other hand, you say, “I’m so upset about you hitting your sister that I need some time alone to think about it,” your child is a lot more likely to be upset about your upset and therefore, to reflect on his behavior.
Your child is also a lot more likely to actually hear the lesson you want to teach if it is coming from a place of love and connection. That’s why it’s always better to connect first and teach [much] later. Your child is highly motivated to earn your love and approval. Once they feel secure in that, they are more open to learning.
A story from my own life from yesterday. I was busy working downstairs and not paying much attention to my children. Suddenly, I heard a splash of water from upstairs. And then a whole lot of trickling water. Not the bathroom, but our upstairs living room. Uh oh.
It turns out that my allegedly precious children decided to throw a bucket of water on the floor to see what would happen.
Normally, I would be furious and start to rage at them, but I was stuck on a customer service call and couldn’t attend to them right away. My partner went upstairs to start cleaning, and asked the children to help.
Abashed, Calliope began to quietly clean but Amelie, our highly reactive six-year-old, began to rage and cry at the unfairness of this “punishment” because none of the mess, supposedly, was her fault.
Cleaning up their mess would seem like a perfectly natural consequence but in this scenario, Amelie was already feeling disconnected and full of shame, and thus, could not absorb the lesson, that we need to clean up when we make a mess.
When I got off the phone -- having had time to reflect on how I wanted to react -- I went upstairs to help. I drew Amelie between my knees and wrapped my arms around her. Her rage quickly melted into tears… but in less than a minute, she was calm and cheerful about helping to clean up, without my saying a word. She just needed reassurance that she was still loved! Imagine if we had sent her for a time out in her room instead! Her rage and sadness would only have been worsened by the separation.
I was lucky that my partner started to clean up with them while I was on my call, and that I had time to prepare myself for the mess and my emotional reaction to it. Mess is very triggering for me. We parents, whether single or partnered, don’t always have this lucky opportunity! For sure, I am not always this serene. (Also yesterday: I shouted at my child for screaming in my ear – loud noises are also very triggering for me. So I far from perfect.)
But it was an inspring experience for me, getting to see that getting angry wouldn’t have helped, but staying calm absolutely did help in both getting Amelie to help clean up and accepting responsibility for her actions. She is still talking about how proud she is for helping to clean up the mess she made.
Another move I like – one I often suggest to clients – are “time ins.” Instead of sending your child away, take her away from the scene… and stay with her. Offer to hold him and to take deep breaths together, but if he’s too angry for comfort, stay anyway and stop talking. Just take a deep breath and do your own deep breathing and look at the floor. Seriously, don't engage at all. Just wait. If you can just keep your thoughts to yourself, he’ll scream and rage... and then seek you out in a minute or two. Then later, much later, like the next day, talk to him about what happened.
Parenting is not easy. For any of us. Our children are quick studies in how to press our buttons. But taking a deep breath before acting is never a bad idea. Once we are calm, we can think rationally about the best way to aid our child in learning from the inevitable learning opportunity.
Did you know that Peaceful Parent Sleep Coaching will be branching out to parent coaching in 2022? Send an email to be on the waitlist and get a 25% off discount.
And if you need help getting your tired child – who is a lot more likely to misbehave now than when she is well-rested – back on track for healthy sleep, schedule a free consult today and see how much more you enjoy parenting when the entire family is well-rested.
If you’re like me, your transition to standard time might have been a bit (or a lot) of a cluster.
We can’t all be well-organized!
If your child is suddenly waking up in the middle of the night, or crazy early in the morning, don’t despair.
Hope is not lost.
The main thing is, stay consistent. Keep aiming for an early (but adjusted-to-standard-time) bedtime. Wake your child in the morning by 7 am, even on weekends. Keep the midday nap starting between 12-1 pm, regardless of how early your child woke up.
And if your child (still) takes a morning nap, don’t let it get too early, even if your child is waking up quite early in the morning. In most cases, a first nap (after the first four months of life) should be between 8:30 and 9 am.
If you are panicking because sleep has totally gone off the rails for your family, don’t. We can totally fix this. Schedule your free discovery call today. And if we’ve worked together before and you just need a few questions answered, schedule a 30-minute Ask Me Anything call and receive a 10% off returning client discount.
If you are super organized about this – and I’ve never succeeded in this, so no judgment from me – you should start preparing your child for the end of Daylight Savings Time today.
In the United States, the clocks “fall back” this year on Sunday, November 7.
That means if your child normally wakes up at 6 am, he will wake up at 5 am next Sunday morning, according to the clock.
And if she normally goes to bed at 7 pm, her bedtime will become 8 pm.
If you’ve ever talked to me, you know that early morning wakings are generally caused by too-late bedtimes. And if you suddenly move your child’s bedtime an hour later – on Sunday night, no less – you are very likely to have an ugly, tired, whiny week for the entire family.
But if you can get organized – and again, this is no easy feat – you can make the time change pretty easy on yourselves.
Start moving your child’s bedtime and wake times 10 minutes later TODAY. So move bedtime from 7:00 to 7:10 pm. Those few minutes should not be enough to cause chaos, assuming your child is otherwise well-rested.
In the morning, try not to get your child up before 6:10 instead of 6 am (assuming 6 am is your desired wake time, DWT).
Just to make things more complicated, tomorrow you ALSO need to move meal times and nap times later. So a 9 am nap becomes a 9:10 am nap, and a 12 pm lunch time becomes a 12:10 pm lunch time.
Continue to do this each day, and pause for a day if your child gets too overtired. There’s no reason you have to have the entire transition done before DST ends, but it will certainly help if you are most of the way there. You can continue to transition that Sunday and even that Monday.
If you don’t start quite early enough, you can also move the schedule by 15-minutes per day. You may have more overtiredness that way, but maybe not, too. It just depends how sensitive your child is.
One final suggestion: try to make next week a low stress week. Veterans Day is that following Thursday, November 11, so that will hopefully make the week a little easier than normal.
If you'd like help transitioning your child to a more liveable schedule where you all get more sleep, set up a free discovery call and find out how to make this dream come true.
Lots of “experts” say that using extinction aka cry it out (CIO) to sleep train your chld will destroy your bond with your child, and possibly even destroy your child’s faith in humanity.
These experts range from the opinionated woman at the grocery store to Dr Sears to your best friend/sister/aunt/daycare provider. Dr. Gabor Mate, “renowned for his expertise on trauma, addiction, stress and childhood development,” says so.
During the course of my child sleep certification program, I had to write a paper on the risks and benefits of sleep training. In order to do so, I found an anti-sleep training article written by none other than Dr. Sears, founder of the Attachment Parenting movement, himself. If you aren’t familiar with his work, Dr Sears encourages bedsharing and babywearing pretty much constantly during a child’s early years.
I systematically went through Sears’ list of references that he used to “prove” that sleep training is harmful. And here’s what I found.
There was not a single article there that looked at children who were being sleep trained.
His article referenced 21-day old rat pups separated from their mothers or children in long-term stressful situations, like living with domestic violence or homelessness.
Sears was trying to extrapolate from that not-particularly-relevant data to “prove” his point.
Meanwhile, studies have been done on actual children being sleep trained. And not a single one showed any permanent damage to children.
The conclusion of a meta-analysis (comparing results between studies) of 52 studies done by the American Academy of Sleep Medicine found that "94% of sleep interventions were effective with 80% of infants showing improvements in sleep for 36 months."
Negative side effects of sleep training were was not found in any of the studies and in fact, “infants who participated in sleep interventions were found to be more secure, more attached, more predictable, less irritable and to cry and fuss less following treatment [sleep training].”
In other words, sleep training was not found to be harmful and in fact, babies who were sleep trained were found to be more securely attached and less fussy than babies who were not! Also, 80% of babies showed a positive effect on their sleep for thirty-six months. That's a pretty long benefit for a few nights of crying!
Anecdotally, I fully support this conclusion. I have not worked with a single family over the course of two years who said, at the end of their two weeks of coaching, that their child was harmed in any way by sleep training.
In fact, nearly every family has remarked that their baby or child was actually happier after sleep training.
It makes total sense.
With a securely attached and healthy child, the parent remains attuned to the needs of the child during the day. So their connection is continually reinforced during the day despite crying at night. And the child finds, yes, by crying herself to sleep, that she is capable of independent sleep. Which means the child feels pride in herself and ends up getting a lot more high-quality sleep. And a well-rested child is a happy child.
(I do not recommend less-than-gradual methods for a newborn in the first 6-12 weeks of life, a foster child or newly adopted child, or any child who has recently experienced trauma. These children can still be sleep trained in most cases, but they need their adult to be much more involved.)
If you have been hesitant to sleep train your child, fear not. Your child, assuming he is not in the situation of the paragraph above, knows that he is fiercely loved. Continue loving him and being responsive to him during the day and get him the rest that his body desperately needs (even if he doesn’t know that) during the night.
But you don't have to go it alone. Sleep training can be nerve-wracking and stressful. Set up a free discovery call and we can discuss if having a sleep coach would help your family get the sleep you deserve. I'll also give you solid advice for free to start addressing your situation, whether you decide to work together or not.
"Before working with Abby, my three-year-old nursed. All. Night Long.
It was affecting both of our sleep, and also negatively impacting his teeth.
I worked with Abby to create a really clear plan to wean my son off nursing at night.
She took the time to really hear my goals and understand our relationship. She understood my priorities.
She gave me guidance on how to gently prepare him for the transition so that he felt like a participant in the transition. He understood the change that was coming so that he could get on board and be excited.
I had been dreading the transition for months and months, and had been wanting to make the change for a year... but avoiding it because I just didn't know how.
Within one night, we made the transition and it changed everything for us.
I'm getting better sleep, Jude's getting better sleep, and his teeth are healthier.
Abby's way of working with people is incredibly nurturing, customized, and effective."
Parents of anxious children face a conundrum. They know that better sleep can only help… and they don’t know how to get there. Because insisting on new sleep boundaries is only going to make both sleep and anxiety worse, right?
Sleep training does not have to be traumatic. It does not need to make anxiety worse. In fact, successful sleep training can really help anxiety.
I’ve worked with two children with anxiety in the past two weeks and sleep training was a huge success for both.
Here are their stories. After that, some tips for working with anxious children. (Note: all young children are anxious at times, and you don’t need a diagnosis of anxiety to struggle with these issues, or to use the technqiues outlined below.)
First, Liam. Liam was a skin picker when he felt anxious. He had multiple scabs on his body as a result. His parents worried that sleep training would make things worse. It was a battle to keep bandaids on him and they were worried about the risk of infection.
Here’s what his mother said after our two weeks working together,
“To my shock, his skin picking didn’t get any worse with sleep training.
And what’s more, I actually saw that setting clear boundaries around sleep really helped him. As a result, I started setting more clear boundaries at other times and you were right, when he had a tantrum about a boundary I set (he wanted more bread and I said no), I just waited. Afterwards, I didn’t discuss it with him, I just said, “do you want a hug” and he did, and after that, he was calm. I couldn’t believe it!”
Child number two, Layla. Layla is almost two-years-old and has always had a fiery temperament, unlike her even-tempered twin sister. Layla’s mother was nursing her all night long, in an attempt to get Layla the rest she desperately needed, even though it was physically painful for Mom. Any time that Layla’s mother tried to refuse to nurse, Layla got furious. She would leave the family bed and go sit in the corner of their bedroom and refuse to come back. She also had night terrors.
Less than a week after starting sleep training, Layla is peacefully sleeping through the night. In the family bed. Her night terrors have disappeared. She is sleeping many more hours, and goes to sleep peacefully at bedtime as well as nap time. While she still has a fiery temperament, her mom can see a huge change in her – Layla is more easygoing and happy now.
Tips for working with anxious children:
1. Anxious children need extra time to prepare for big changes. I recommend starting to prepare toddlers and preschoolers three days ahead of time. Have a family meeting, make a social story to help explain the upcoming changes, and continue to remind them of the upcoming changes over the three days prior to making them.
It’s important to talk, talk, talk about what is going to happen… even if your child gets mad. The anger is actually very healthy, because it means she is starting to process the changes ahead of time, which means the day you make the change will be that much easier. So don't stop talking when she gets upset!
Also, if someone took away your beloved morning coffee or evening Netflix, you’d be mad, too. You like your routine… and so does she! Let her have space to be mad…. And show her that you will love her through it!
2. Anxious children may need to make changes more slowly. This requires extra patience from you. In Layla’s case, we had her dad stay with her at bedtime to get used to not nursing to sleep. Once she was used to that, he started to gradually withdraw his presence after lights out. With zero tears.
3. Anxious children need boundaries even more than other children. It is an act of love, not cruelty, to establish and maintain boundaries. When children rule the household, it gives them the scary feeling of too much power. Young children don’t want that… even though they resist boundaries. Know that it's a child's job to test boundaries -- it's his way of figuring out how the world works -- and it's your job to maintain them. Even in the presence of meltdowns.
4. Emotions are never a problem. Let her have her big feelings… without changing the boundary. Stay close during a tantrum, stop talking, avoid eye contact. Just sit down and wait. Let her yell and cry. Stay silent. When it’s over – I promise it won’t last long, even if it feels like an eternity – quietly offer a hug. And be amazed that your child feels better after releasing those big emotions.
I know it is scary to set new boundaries with anxious children. You don’t have to go it alone. Set up a free discovery call and find out how much happier your entire family will feel – most especially your anxious child – when you all get the sleep you deserve.
Abby Wolfson is a pediatric nurse practitioner, certified child sleep consultant and former NICU nurse. She divides her time between Brooklyn, NY and San Miguel de Allende, Mexico.