Former clients recently got in touch with me because their amazing sleeper (ever since we worked together many months before) had gone off the rails.
They had taken their toddler to Paris and when they returned, exhausted and jet lagged, little Samara fell asleep in her beloved crib just fine but woke up screaming.
Ever since then, 6 days prior, she was terrified of her crib.
This didn’t seem like a straightforward case of sleep training, because she was already an amazing sleeper. Also, her screaming felt different than the crying one associates with sleep training.
It looked and sounded exactly like terror.
But we couldn’t figure out why. Nothing had gone wrong in Paris and nothing had changed in her room while they were gone.
And at only 15 months old, Samara couldn’t explain what she was afraid of.
Her parents tried sitting in the room with her but even then, Samara would stand at the crib rails and scream.
None of us wanted to ignore her fears. That idea seemed cruel. But bringing her to their bed only meant bad sleep for all of them – they had already tried that.
Then her mom, feeling desperate, got a genius idea. She crawled into Samara’s crib with her. And let Samara fall asleep on top of her.
Once Samara was sound asleep, Laney carefully crawled out of her daughter’s crib and left the room.
Laney and Rob took turns crawling into the crib a few more times that night, but otherwise, Samara slept better than she had the previous few nights. They did the same the next night.
On the third night, Samara went into the crib awake and her dad stayed right next to her for a while, then gradually faded into the nearby rocking chair. He spent two more nights sitting in the chair but eventually it became clear that his presence was becoming more stimulating than soothing and so he cautiously left the room.
Her first night alone, Samara cried for 20 minutes… but not the terrified screaming from before. Normal, tired-toddler crying.
And by the end of the week, there was zero crying. Now Samara goes into her crib awake and plays by herself for a while before drifting off to sleep.
While I am a HUGE advocate of sleep training, there are times when traditional sleep training isn’t quite right. When a child has experienced recent trauma – even if we don’t know what the trauma was – we need to be extra attentive to helping the child feel secure while also promoting healthy sleep. Which sometimes, like in Samara’s case, requires a little extra creativity!
Other times that my require an extra gradual approach include children who have experienced recent hospitalizations or unexpected separations from their grownups, children who come from foster care, and sometimes, children who have a diagnosed anxiety or developmental disorder, or children who have been cosleeping all night with their parents.
The great news is that we can still always work to improve sleep! And whatever the issue was that was making sleep hard – it always gets better with better sleep.
If your family is struggling with sleep and you’re worried you’re a lost cause… you’re certainly not! Set up a free consultation and let’s figure out a way to get your family the sleep you deserve.
Abby Wolfson is a pediatric nurse practitioner, certified child sleep consultant and certified life coach for parents. She divides her time between Brooklyn, NY and San Miguel de Allende, Mexico.