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There’s nothing quite like that special feeling of snuggling up in bed with your baby. A whisper of soft breath, that special baby smell, and the utter bliss of a sleeping child. In many cultures it is the accepted norm for children to share their parents’ bed for many years.
Many parents simply enjoy having their children close to them. But for many, the idea of sharing a bed, let alone a bedroom with their child is just not their scene. Ask anyone who has shared a bed with a restless baby or toddler. Not much sleep is had as baby tosses and turns all night long, often whimpering and moaning until finally settling in the middle of the bed, arms and legs splayed out (preferably touching one or both parents) whilst mom and dad crouch at each end of the bed, hanging on for dear life lest they fall out.
It’s no wonder that parents find that the novelty of “all in the bed” soon wears off, and a good nights’ sleep for all becomes of paramount importance. Until your baby is able to sleep through the night without needing any nutritional support, it may be easier for you to have him in the same room as you, or even co-sleep with him. This way, night feeding can take place with a minimum of fuss.
However, after the age of 6 months, babies should not require any nutritional support during the night, so as long as they are well and healthy, this is a good time to move them. It is very important that you have a plan of action to follow. This makes it much easier to focus on the long term, rather than getting caught up in the moment. If your baby has been co-sleeping with you, it will take him time to get used to sleeping alone.
Step One: For both day and night sleeps, and indeed when he wakes in the night expecting a feed, hold him close to you, rock him and soothe him until he is asleep, no matter how much he protests. When he is asleep place him in his cot. Should he wake, repeat the procedure. Bear in mind this may take a few days to perfect, so don’t give up. When he is used to the fact that he is no longer in bed with you, and is happy to fall asleep in your arms, move to the next step.
Step Two: Hold him close to you until he is drowsy, then place him in his cot. Stay with him gently stroke his back and talk quietly to him (you may have to put your face close to his) until he goes to sleep.
Step Three: Gradually decrease the amount of time he spends in your arms, until you are able to put him in his cot awake and happy.
If your baby is slightly older, and is able to roll over and sit or stand up in the cot, a slightly different approach is needed. The older baby is able to manipulate behaviour, so bear that in mind when you begin your plan of action! Controlled crying usually works well in this instance, but only if you are sure that your baby is well and healthy.
Follow Step One as above.
Step Two: Hold him in your arms until he is drowsy, and then place him in his cot, even if he starts to protest. Tell him ‘night night’, and leave the room for 2 minutes. Return to the room, pick him up and comfort him, (bear in mind this may take a while). When he is calm, put him in his cot, and leave the room, this time for 4 minutes. Continue as above, but extend the period of your separation by 2 minutes each time, until he falls asleep
Toddlers who are no longer in a cot present a different problem, as they are able to walk through to the parental bedroom and demand to be let into the bed!
Step one: Explain to him at bedtime that he must stay in his bed for the night.
Step two: This step, and step three have to be done at bedtime, and in the middle of the night when he wakes. If he demands the ‘big bed’, whether it be bedtime, or during the night, acknowledge his need, so say “I know you want to go to sleep in mommy’s bed”, then mirror the need by saying “I would like to let you sleep in my bed”, then give a reason why he can’t such as “it’s my bed, not yours”. Offer to sit with him in his room until he falls asleep, no matter how much he is protesting. When he is happy to fall asleep in his room as long as you are there, it is time to move onto the next step.
Step three: Wait until he is drowsy, then explain to him that you have to quickly pop out the room (give a reason such as going to the loo), but that you will be back. Leave for a minute or two, and then go back and reassure him. Keep popping in and out, slowly extending the period of your absence. With time, he will be reassured that you are coming back as you say, and will no longer stay awake to ‘check’ up on you.
The pre-school child needs special acknowledgement of his emotional needs. This is the time that many fears and anxieties occur. Star charts and reward systems work well – allow him to place his own star or sticker on the chart. Involve the teacher.
Try changing the configuration of his room around, with his consultation and input. Often, a simple change of bed linen will encourage him to stay put. If he has fears of monsters (or anything else), fill a spray bottle with water and tell him that this is ‘monster spray’- allow him to spray his room before getting into bed.
Place the spray close to him, so that he can use it again if he feels anxious. Encourage a “sleep time friend” such as a soft toy or special blanket. Follow the plan as laid out for toddlers (above). If your toddler is used to sleeping in your bed, it may be an idea to let him sleep on a mattress next to your bed to start, and then move him into his own room.
Should his bedroom be far away from yours, consider using a monitor, which will alert you when he cries. Encourage a sleep object such as an item of your clothing or a familiar soft toy to comfort him. Try and keep the position of the cot or bed in his room similar to that where it was in your room. Don’t be alarmed if he vomits as a ploy to get you back into the room (remember you are only doing this if your child is well, so it can’t be anything else!)
Stick to the same routine for both day and night sleeps, and for night wakings. In the beginning, expect the periods of unsettledness to be longer than the periods of quietness. Beware of sending mixed messages to your child – it will confuse him. Walk your talk – do as you say you will – he will be secure in this knowledge. Beware of overtiredness and over stimulation – this creates a needy child at bedtime, and a restless sleeper.
Have faith, with plenty of encouragement, lots of patience and a bit of luck, you will soon be enjoying a blissful nights sleep!
By Meg Faure