Everyone has brief wakeful periods during the night between moments of deep sleep. While most adults aren’t aware of waking, because they wake for less than three minutes, a young baby who wakes up won’t know how to go back to sleep. Therefore, when they’re awake, you’re awake. The secret to your child sleeping through the night is for them to learn to soothe themselves back to sleep. Babies and younger children who can’t sleep without being rocked, cuddled, or having milk have developed an association between you and getting to sleep. Just as they’ve learned this association, they can learn to get themselves back to sleep without getting you out of bed, too. Helping your child learn to self-soothe is a great way to help them – and you – enjoy a good night’s sleep.

How Do You Teach Your Child To Self-Soothe?

Research shows that you can train your child to sleep on their own by gradually letting them spend longer amounts of time by themselves at night.1 Eventually, your child will routinely drift off alone. When your baby is between 6 and 12 weeks old, start putting your baby down to sleep when they’re drowsy but still awake. Occupy them with a favourite toy. This is the first step towards self-soothing. If your baby starts to whimper, they may settle down, but don’t leave them to cry for prolonged periods.

A few months later, you should have set a consistent bedtime routine – read more about this here. Once you’ve got this sorted, you can start teaching your child to fall asleep independently.

After the bedtime routine, say goodnight and leave the room. Remember that, the first few times your child notices a change in their routine, they’re likely to be upset. If they cry out, call, or scream, wait a few moments before returning to check that they’re alright. Gently but firmly tell them that it’s time to go to sleep, but do not pick them up. Don’t stay for longer than a minute, as staying too long could encourage your child to cry as they want you to stay. If your baby continues to cry, check on them again after a few minutes. Keeping your visits brief and boring will encourage them to just go to sleep.

How often you check on your child, and how long for, will depend on your child’s temperament and your tolerance for hearing them cry. If they’re comforted quickly, keep your visits short. However, if the visits themselves are unsettling, it might be better to leave longer gaps between the checks.

It’s typical for a baby to cry for around forty-five minutes the first night, and they’ll often cry for longer the second night. However, within a week, most children are starting to sleep by themselves – so remember to be patient and consistent.2

Gradual Self-Soothing

Most parents find it hard to hear their child crying so, if you’d prefer not to leave your child upset for too long, there’s another way to help them self-soothe. You could try staying in the room while your child sleeps, but gradually move yourself further and further away from them. Do this for a week or two, until they’re by themselves and you’ve reached the door. However, this method will take longer for the baby to learn to self-soothe.

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Footnotes

  1. https://www.sleepio.com/articles/parent-sleep/early-sleep-training-learning-to-go-solo/
  2. https://www.sleepio.com/articles/parent-sleep/early-sleep-training-learning-to-go-solo/
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