A Gentle Method to Teach Children To Fall Asleep Independently… Even If You Currently Lie Down With Them At Bedtime
You may be dreading teaching your child how to fall asleep independently. Perhaps you try to remember “they are only little once” as you stifle a sigh and you lie motionless in the dark, waiting impatiently for your little one to drift off so you can begin your “second shift,” -- cleaning up the kitchen, unpacking and repacking lunch boxes, finishing the work you couldn’t quite get to during the day. Or perhaps you even have hopes of a little time for yourself, just to relax and recharge for the next day.
Great news. There’s a gentle way to teach your child to fall asleep independently.
This method is best for children ages 2 and older. It’s called the Reverse Sleep Wave. It’s primarily for use falling asleep at bedtime, as opposed to night wakings.
The reason that falling asleep independently is so important is that children who can’t fall asleep independently at bedtime are much more likely to have night wakings. If they can fall to sleep independently, they can fall back to sleep independently after momentary night wakings.
The most important thing, as with any changes to the sleep routine with a child over two, is to talk, talk, talk about it first. Help prepare your child ahead of time and the change will be much easier. Make a plan together with them. Not at bedtime, but at a Family Sleep Meeting, perhaps on a relaxed Saturday afternoon.
Here’s how it works.
Tell your child that you will check on her automatically, every 5 minutes, without her calling to you.
That way she doesn’t have to create a crafty excuse to bring you back. You are going to come back no matter what. Kids love this. It makes them feel safe and secure. And makes them relaxed and thus, more able to fall asleep.
Just tell her, “you have to wait quietly in your bed and Mommy/Daddy/Designated Grown Up will come back.”
Demonstrate how you will stick your head inside the room and quietly say, “I’m checking on you. I’ll be back in 5 minutes. Love you.” Make sure he understands that you won’t be having a conversation at this point or any other time after lights out. You'll just say these words and leave again. Practice during the day.
The first time, wait only 30-45 seconds before checking on her. After all, she can’t tell time! The goal is to check on her before she has gotten out of bed, called out, or started to cry.
Then stick your head just inside the door, quietly say, “I’m checking on you. I’ll be back in 5 minutes. Love you.” Leave again.
Gradually increase the waiting interval until your child can wait 5 minutes between checks. Then continue 5-minute checks until your child is asleep.
Over the next two weeks, the number of checks needed before your child falls asleep will quickly drop. Usually, a child can fall asleep within three 5-minute checks after a couple of weeks. He will likely be very excited at first, but as your routine of 5-minute checks becomes very predictable for him, he will gradually relax.
Make sure you use a timer so you aren't late for your checks!
If your child is not yet able to stay in bed even long enough for you to leave the room, you’ll need to start with timed checks or the standard Sleep Wave, but can revert to the Reverse Sleep Wave once your child can stay in bed independently for short periods.
The Reverse Sleep Wave is a wonderful way to peacefully teach your child to fall asleep independently and peacefully, without tears.
PS If you would like to institute major changes in your child's bedtime or sleep routine but aren't sure how to start, why not schedule a free consult? I'll tell you all about how the process works, and there's zero obligation to buy.
PPS I also have a free Facebook group called Sleep Deprived Parents. Come on over! You'll get support from other tired parents and tips from me, too. I can't wait to "see you" there!
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.