1 May 2017

Successful Sleep Training: One Parent’s Guide

BedThe first night that my little one slept in his own room, he went down without any crying and he stayed on his own all night long! He did the same thing the next night. It was a miracle, the details of which I must share.

Sleep is really important to me, as a parent and as a human being. I’ve noticed that when I don’t get enough sleep, I have less patience for my kids (and others) and I feel generally irritable. I’m a better parent when I’ve had a decent amount of sleep.

So how did the magic happen? What did we do?

Sleep training for us happened in two parts.
  • Sleeping at night without nursing (night weaning). 
  •  Sleeping in his own room.
I’ve seen posts about infants crying so hard they vomited and parents who said it was “worth it” to “teach” the baby how to sleep. From what I can glean, the idea is to teach them that no one is going to pick them up so they might as well stop crying and get used to being on their own all night.

My experience was different.

Our kid slept in our bed with us from birth. When he cried, I nursed him. At times when that didn’t work, I’d pick him up and walk him up and down the stairs or even down the street until I got him back to sleep. Then we’d go back to bed together.

When our second baby was born, the first kiddo had to learn to wait to have his nighttime needs taken care of. That was the beginning of night weaning for him. If he cried, he often woke up the newborn, which meant I’d have to nurse her before I could help him get back to sleep. He started to understand, and got pretty good at waiting patiently. Soon enough, he started to fall back to sleep while I was still settling the newborn. Then he started sleeping through the night without waking up to nurse or cuddle at all. He was about four years old.

For the next few years, we all slept together on our king-sized bed.

Something big changed for our son when he turned six. He seemed to have an instant developmental leap and was suddenly much more mature. He went from fighting constantly with his sister as if he, too, were a toddler, to rolling his eyes and exchanging knowing glances with me if little sister was having a particularly toddleresque moment.

It also became apparent that child #1 needed a space to keep his own things. The toddler tried to scribble in his workbook and ripped apart his carefully-made projects. We began talking with our son about having his own room with some shelving and drawers for his favourite books and toys. He was thrilled!

Great, we thought. But would he want to sleep in it? I knew I was ready to no longer be kicked at night by a six-year-old, but how would he feel sleeping alone? 

He was excited!

My partner took the kids for an adventure to Ikea where they tried out all the kid mattresses by jumping on them. Our son chose the springiest one, with cheerful red sheets to go on it. We set it up at home with a nightlight. At bedtime, my partner read him a book and told him a story, as per usual, and the kid fell asleep.

It is truly brilliant to witness a child doing something for the first time exactly when they are ready for it. You get to see their interest and curiosity, as well as the joy and confidence that come from figuring it all out. My child felt proud.

When my son was an infant, friends told me that I had to "teach" him how to sleep or he’d “never learn”, that he’d be in our bed “forever.” Six years might seem like a long time, but a six-year-old child is still a little kid. And that’s okay by me.

I bet I can guess a question that might have popped into your head, though, if you read this far:

How do you have intimate time with your partner if you're co-sleeping with kids?

The kids go to sleep a while before we do, and our home has more than one room. So we hang out elsewhere, sometimes sitting on the downstairs couch, chatting (but more likely looking at our respective Facebook feeds, "liking" each other's posts). Or... you know. When we are ready to sleep, we join the kids in bed.

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