It can be difficult to find the balance between all the opinions out there about sleep training. On the one hand, children need to know that they are loved and cared for by their parents; on the other hand, parents can’t survive for long if they’re up feeding Baby every hour or two throughout the night, every night, for months on end.
In a book I’ve been reading (The Happy Sleeper, by Heather Turgeon & Julie Wright), I was exposed to a sleep training method that I’ve never come across before. The book calls it “The Sleep Wave,” but I gave the method a name I feel is more intuitive. What I love about this training method is that it seems to satisfy all sides: You check on Baby very frequently so that he knows he is loved and cared for, but you also give Baby space to learn essential sleeping skills. You show Baby that you love him, but you also show him that you believe in his abilities.
*Formal sleep training methods are generally suggested for children who are at least four months old (adjusted).
This method involves very brief checks at very short intervals so that Baby learns to trust that Mom and Dad are never far away, allowing Baby to access his own self-soothing capabilities.
This method is good for:
Children suspected to have any separation anxiety issues
Parents who want to feel like they’re doing something to help soothe their child
Parents who are committed to consistency
This method is not good for:
Parents who are unwilling to be consistent with frequent checks
Parents who can’t refrain from touching and interacting with their crying baby
How it works:
After a soothing routine, lay your child down (awake) and leave the room to allow him to practice falling asleep on his own. If he starts to cry (not just mildly fuss), set a timer for 5 minutes. If he is still crying at the end of 5 minutes, very briefly go into his room, either by his door or by his crib (where he can see and hear you), and say your predetermined script. This should be something like, “Mama’s right outside. I love you. It’s time to sleep.” Do not touch Baby or deviate from the script at all, and leave immediately after saying your script (you should be in the room no longer than about 10 seconds). Do 5-minute checks with your script every time that Baby cries. If Baby cries for a couple minutes, then calms down for a couple minutes, and then resumes crying, you will re-start your 5-minute timer.
The point of entering the room and saying your script is not to calm Baby, but rather to reassure him that you are nearby. As you keep up this pattern, he will come to trust that you are nearby, which will give him a chance to turn inward to find his own way of self-soothing. Baby is highly likely to protest the change (aka cry) — even adults protest change and complain about how difficult it is — but the brief intervals (which do not ever increase) are to make sure that Baby never escalates past protest into worry or abandonment. By going in after only 5-minute intervals, you are showing him that you are still nearby, and by not doing any hands-on soothing for him, you are showing him that you believe in his capabilities to learn, progress, and achieve. Show him that you know he can do hard things!
Begin implementation of this method with bedtime, and continue throughout the night and with naps the following day. Use 5-minute checks until Baby falls asleep for bed, anytime he wakes in the night that is not for a necessary feeding, until at least 6am if he wakes early, and throughout Crib 60/90 for naps.
Make sure to not start your timer until your child starts to actually cry. We want to give Baby room to learn these new skills, and mild fussing or whining does not show that he needs reassurance that you are still nearby.
Don't let another parent (or sleep consultant!) pressure you into doing any training method that doesn't feel right for you. No method is better or worse than another -- it's just a matter of which is the best fit for your needs and your child's needs. If you time things appropriately for your child and you remain consistent, you can see excellent results with any training method. If you need help selecting or implementing a method, don't hesitate to reach out to me.