There's one essential ingredient for sleep training.
And nope, it's not crying.
Or white noise. Or any specific sleep environment.
It's actually the essential ingredient in changing any human behavior. It's even necessary for changing the behavior of other mammals, too.
It's so easy to forget about. But once we remember, it's so helpful.
Case in point: my four-year-old had a habit of swallowing the water she uses to rinse her teeth after I brush them.
It drove me batty. Because she's not supposed to swallow fluoride toothpaste. Fluoride is a known neurotoxin. Ingesting small amounts are almost certainly not dangerous but all the same, I'd rather not risk it.
So it became "a thing" between us. Every night she would defy me when I asked her to spit. And every night I would get frustrated. And then she would laugh. Delighted that she had power, once again, over my emotions.
Until finally, I came to my senses, and tried a new strategy.
Before I brushed her teeth, I said, "Hey Amelie, I bet you can't remember to spit in the sink after you rinse your teeth!" (Four-year-olds are total suckers for reverse psychology.)
I could see her eyes brighten at the challenge. Game on.
I brushed her teeth then handed her the cup of water. She rinsed and spat and turned to me with a triumphant gleam in her eye.
"Whoa! What??? You did remember! That was AMAZING! Give me a high five!"
And that was the end of that battle. As long as I remember to occasionally praise her for spitting out that toothpaste water, she's delighted to comply with my preferences. Eventually, the behavior will become so automatic for her that I won't need to comment on it anymore.
Likewise, when we want to change a child's behavior around sleep, the easiest and most successful way to do it is by focusing on the positive. Find the one thing, no matter how small, that your child did right and praise it to the skies. Make him a sticker chart and use it to acknowledge even the smallest of successes. If you only had to silently return your child to bed 20 times last night and it was 30 times the night before, celebrate! Make a huge deal of it. Give hugs and verbal praise along with the sticker.
Likewise, if you are using a baby gate or Door Monkey to keep your child safe in his room at night, he still gets a sticker or a prize in the morning for staying in his room. Why not? There is no harm and lots of benefit to celebarating the positive.
Along with that, we will totally ignore the negative. We think that commenting on the behavior we don't like will help change it, but it rarely does. So say nothing when your child gets out of bed for the 11th time. Just lead them back to bed without a word. Don't engage. Likewise, if they are yelling or falling asleep at the baby gate, leave them be. Wait for the morning and then celebrate the positive. It will change your child's behavior so much faster.
This approach works even with much younger children. If you are waiting until 6 am for the first time to go get your baby from the crib, make sure to have a huge smile on your face when you go into the room. Scoop her into your arms and smother her with kisses. Hide your frustration from your child and let your love shine, no matter the age.
The best thing I ever read about this was this Modern Love piece from the New York Times, published for the first time more than a decade ago, and reposted recently: What Shamu Taught Me About A Happy Marriage. I highly recommend this entertaining read!
Having trouble finding the positive in your child's anything-but-sleeping behaviors? Schedule a free consult and let's get you and your little one the sleep you both deserve.
It's that time of year again. Where the powers that be decide to torture the parents of small children. The dreaded time change.
The good news is that "fall back" is a lot easier to manage than "spring forward." We can put off thinking about that misery for another six months.
While you can do absolutely no preparation for the time change, this may result in early wakings and disrupted sleep for your family for a few days.
Instead, I recommend you take a few days to transition yourselves. By moving bedtime just a few minutes later each day, you can gradually shift it without causing early waking (read more about why this happens at why-does-my-child-wake-up-so-darn-early.html). You can also shift mealtime a few minutes later each day and this will also naturally help your child's body adjust to the new time.
So let's say your child normally goes to bed at 6:30 pm and gets up at 6:30 am with naps at 9 am and 1 pm. Meals are normally at 7:30, 12, and 5.
Start the transition at bedtime. I'll show a 4-day transition here but if you have time to do it more gradually, all the better!
Night One: Bedtime at 6:45 pm. Try to leave her in the crib until 6:45 am. Naps at 9:15 and 1:15. Meals at 7:45, 12:15, and 5:15.
Night Two: Bedtime at 7 pm. Try to leave her in the crib until 7 am. Naps at 9:30 and 1:30. Meals at 8, 12:30, and 5:30.
Night Three: Bedtime at 7:15. Try to leave her in the crib until 7:15 am. Naps at 9:45 and 1:45. Meals at 8:15, 12:45, and 5:45.
Night Four (the night that the clocks actually fall back): Bedtime at 7:30. And the next day, the wake and nap times will be at the correct standard (not DSL) time. So wake time is at 6:30 am standard time, nap at 9 and 1, meals at 7:30, 12, and 5.
Of course, babies are not necessarily going to immediately fall into line with their new time zone. You may see earlier wake times, disrupted naps, and even poor eating. But if you are consistent -- while also being flexible with nap times and bedtime when your child starts to show signs of being overtired -- you should have your happy, well-rested baby back within the week.
Daylight savings ends on Sunday, November 3rd for of the United States and Canada.
Daylight savings ends in Mexico on Sunday, October 27th.
Still struggling with early morning or middle of the night wakings? Let's chat and get your family the sleep you deserve.
It's 4:30 am. You went to bed too late last night because you finally had the chance to unwind at the end of another hectic day. It was so delicious to relax and enjoy yourself that it was hard to make yourself get up off the couch and go to bed.
And now your beloved child is babbling in the crib. You pull the pillow over your head and try to ignore it but soon the babbling turns to whimpers and then crying. You sigh in resignation and wearily climb out of bed.
You are not alone.
The number one question I get from parents is: how can I get my child to sleep later?
Believe it or not, the culprit is nearly always a too-late bedtime.
What? How can you possibly make bedtime any earlier? You are already rushing from work/daycare/afternoon baby group/walking the dog/picking up the siblings/making dinner. Plus, won't an earlier bedtime make him wake up even earlier? You can't possibly bear that.
Actually, when children miss the ideal window for bedtime, they have more trouble falling asleep and they wake up earlier. This is because their bodies produce a stress hormone, cortisol, when they miss their ideal bedtime. The stress hormone winds them up -- producing that wicked second wind you might observe at bedtime -- and making it harder for them to sleep.
I recommend that children under age 6 have about twelve hours in bed at night. And the ideal wake time is around 6:30 am, from a biological perspective. Counting back from that, the ideal bedtime is around 6:30 pm. Some babies and toddlers can't even make it that long and go to bed as early as 5 pm.
And unfortunately, we adults can't control these times very well. Baby and toddler sleep times are biologically driven, based on the times the sun rises and sets. It's also affected by the rhythm of their meal and play times. Despite the fact that the sun rises and sets at different times throughout the year (unless you are lucky enough to live close to the equator), these times seem to work best for most babies in terms of getting the highest quality sleep.
It's very hard to move bedtime earlier. I know.
My older child, when she was four, was going to bed at 6:30 pm. We also had meltdowns every afternoon at pick up from PreK. She would lie down in the hall of the big public school and refuse to walk. She was also very shy in class and would only speak to one friend.
And then we had a week off from school and I noticed she was sleeping late every morning. So I pushed her bedtime back to 6 pm and suddenly the end-of-the-day meltdowns stopped. Even better, she started speaking up in class. She was a happier, more confident child with that extra half hour of sleep. It made all the difference.
But was it easy? No. We didn't get home until 5 pm. I had an infant to tend to once we arrived. It was a mad scramble to nurse the baby while feeding my four-year-old and getting her ready for bed within the hour. Family dinners went out the window. It was stressful and hard. But it was worth it. And six months later, she didn't need as much sleep and we pushed her bedtime back to 6:30, and then 7.
The very early bedtime is hard work. It may mean that a working parent doesn't get to see his child at night. That's painful. But just like we wouldn't deprive a hungry baby of food, we shouldn't deprive a sleepy baby of the sleep his brain desperately needs.
There are wonderful things about an early bedtime, too. With your child going to bed earlier, you get to start your evening relaxation sooner. Ideally, you set an alarm on your phone to force yourself to go to bed earlier, too. And then working parents can set an alarm to get up extra early, get themselves ready, and then enjoy some wonderful early-morning (but not too early!) quality time with your well-rested little one before work.
And sometimes, an earlier bedtime is all the sleep training you need to do. The middle of the night and early morning wakings can just disappear with the appropriate bedtime.
Best of all, you will likely see dramatic changes in your youngster. After a great night's sleep, he will be calmer, happier, and more able to focus on his play. You will see him developing at his highest potential. Mornings will be less harried and rushed with everyone getting the sleep they need.
Give it a try for two weeks and see how it goes! What have you got to lose besides some sleep debt?
Want some support in making these changes? Set up a free fifteen minute chat with me.
You've taken the baby out for an outing. She got plenty of fresh air and had lots to see.
Now you are back home and it should be time to sleep. But your little darling just won't go to sleep.
Your mother suggests the baby isn't tired yet, "Here, give her to me! She just needs some time to play with her Grammy."
Your best friend is puzzled and suggests you are trying too hard, "I just didn't worry about it. Little Johnny would just drop off wherever and whenever he was tired. Maybe you are stressing the baby out by focusing on the nap so much? Just live your life and don't worry!"
But neither of these strategies are working very well. By the end of the day, your baby is fussy and frazzled. And so are your nerves.
But when you try to have her nap on a schedule, that doesn't work either.
What's a tired parent to do?
Rest assured, you are on the right track. Your baby does need a nap. Sooner than you realize.
Nearly all the time, the issue is that parents are missing the ideal window for a nap. When that happens, your baby becomes overtired and her body produces cortisol, a stress hormone that makes it harder for her to sleep.
Which can lead to lots of crying -- not only from the baby -- and miles of walking the hallways of your home, patting the back of your fussy little one.
The key to avoiding this is prevention. Watch your baby carefully and put her down for a nap at the first sign that she is tired. These signs include yawning, avoiding eye contact, rubbing her eyes, or staring into space. Waiting longer to make sure she's truly tired enough to sleep will generally backfire. Once she's fussy, you've missed the magic window of opportunity and it will likely be harder to get her to sleep and the nap will likely be too short.
For newborns, you can expect the first yawn after as little as 45 minutes awake (including the feeding). It will feel like a very short time awake. This is normal!
As your baby gets older, you will be able to stretch her time a little bit. But you still want to watch your baby, not the clock. Some days she will be able to stay awake as much as an hour and a half, but other times, it will be less. Again, watch for the yawns.
It may take a few days, but if you follow her sleep cues carefully, you should see a dramatic improvement in her mood as well as more consistent, longer naps.
Want some help figuring out her cues? You aren't alone. Schedule a free chat with me or sign up for my newborn sleep consulting or child sleep support package.
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.