A parent told me this recently and I had to laugh. And agree.
Every sleep book out there will tell you to put your child down in the crib “drowsy but awake.”
And parents the world over strive for this goal and then wonder what they are doing wrong when they carefully rock or feed their baby to a state of drowsy calm, gently place said baby in the crib… and the baby erupts in angry howls of protest.
Parents, it’s not your fault.
It’s bad advice.
Forget you ever heard “drowsy but awake.” It doesn’t work.
You have two choices. You either feed/rock/bounce/walk your child fully to sleep, or you put them down fully awake.
If you do the former, your child will more than likely wake up at some point, wonder where your loving arms -- the last thing they remember -- went, and start to cry for you to come back and repeat the process. It’s not your child’s fault. He or she just doesn’t know how to put themself back to sleep.
Imagine if you went to sleep in your cozy bed, surrounded by fluffy pillows and your soft comforter, and woke up on the hard living floor. You wouldn’t know how to go back to sleep either.
The same is true for your child. If she went to sleep in your warm embrace, she doesn’t know how to go back to sleep without the same conditions.
This is why I always recommend putting your child in his bed fully awake. If this is new to him, yep, he’s probably going to cry.
But not because he’s afraid, or feeling abandoned (pro tip: children can’t even understand the concept of abandonment before late toddlerhood), or in pain, never mind traumatized.
He’s crying because he’s tired and he doesn’t know what to do, becuase you’ve always helped before, and he’s probably angry that you’ve changed up the routine that he liked so much.
Imagine if someone told you, “from now on, you will no longer be having coffee in the morning. Good luck.” You’d be pissed as hell. And so is your confused kiddo. And being that he’s so little, you can’t explain.
Don’t feel guilty. He’ll get over it. The best thing you can do to help him is to be strong and consistent. Don’t cave. Ever. Well, at least not two weeks. Otherwise, all that crying will be for naught. After two weeks, once the new habit is strong, you can make the occasional exception.
I promise that if you stay strong, he’ll get it, and not only that, he’ll be happier than ever!
Of course, if you are able to rock/feed/bounce/walk your child to sleep and she stays asleep, rock on. (No pun intended.) But if that was working for you, you probably wouldn’t be reading this blog post.
This is not an easy transition. Be kind to yourself. Know that it's supposed to be hard. Remember when you started a new exercising or organizing or flossing habit? It was super hard at first, right? But then you started to get used to it and little by little, it got easier and easier until it was second nature, at least most of the time.
The same is true for your child. She'll get there. She just needs time and your loving consistency.
You don't have to make the change alone. Let me help. Set up a free discovery call and let's get your family the sleep you deserve. You got this!
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.