I’m pretty sure I stumbled upon the trick to sleep training. It may even be the key to parenting, period. When I say “stumbled upon” I mean my mom told me. And not only that, I’ve probably been told these things both by my mom and many others for a long time but never listened. But it got to the point where I was dreading bedtime with my 18 month old and desperate times call for desperate measures (such as taking the good advice you’ve been given repeatedly). And I’m SO glad I finally listened because this recipe has really worked for us!
To be clear, we are not sleep training in the sense that River is being moved to his own bed, he still sleeps with me. But I have no doubt that this method would work for moving a baby into their own bed, or just getting them to bed no matter what you guys do at your house.
Every night it would take me up to 2 hours to get River to sleep after we were already in bed. He would settle for a little bit and just as I was tricked into thinking he was nodding off, suddenly it was party time. He would go from laying down taking his bottle to immediately standing on the bed practicing his trust falls and the high-stepping jog in place move from Flashdance. If I told him to lay down or actually pull him down he thought it was hysterical and this would turn into a game for him. His next move was to climb out of bed to go find my make up, which is his favorite thing to play with. (I realize as I’m typing this there may be some signs here that one day I’ll look back on and think, hmm, we should have known all along) Anyway bedtime was always an ordeal and I hated it.
I would call my mom during the day and have desperate, long talks with her and finally the stuff she had been telling me all along sunk in and IT WORKS. Not only has it made putting River to bed a breeze, but I feel like a better mom all together and now I’m going to share it with YOU.
Basically there are 3 pieces to this and they are all equally important, they are; schedule, repetition and will.
Now, I know what you’re thinking; That’s it? That’s your amazing information? Those aren’t tricks! I hate you!
Just believe me when I tell you doing it this way will give you the result you’re after far quicker than you think, so bare with me.
Schedule: This refers not only to putting your child to bed at the same time each night, but creating a full regimen before bedtime. These will be your child’s subconscious signals that not only is bedtime coming, but that it’s time to get sleepy. These are things like baths and stories, putting on PJs, brushing teeth, etc. For River and me it starts off with taking the dog outside and looking for the moon, which he is obsessed with. Also about an hour before bed I start making it dimmer/calmer in the house. My house is typically lit up like Las Vegas, so I turn off about 42 lights and just keep on 1 or 2. I also turn down the volume on the TV if it’s on (who am I kidding?) and don’t roughhouse with River, only quiet playing or reading. This last part is easier said than done when dad’s home, we’re still working on sleep training him.
Repetition: As a hypnotherapist I have a fair amount of knowledge about habits, both breaking them and creating them. Good sleep behavior is a habit, so anyone can get there (even babies), it just takes time and effort. They say practice makes perfect and there’s a reason for that.
Neural pathways are the little roads that neurons (nerve cells) travel on. These are how nerve signals travel to and from the brain. Like real dirt roads, every time a path is traveled down, it gets deeper, wider, easier to pass through, and we know that energy will take the path of least resistance. Therefore, doing something repeatedly makes it easier and easier to do until it just becomes “habit” or subconsciously driven. Meaning you no longer have to “try” it’s just automatic.
But here’s the best news of all, somehow the lucky number seems to be 7. For some reason our brains really like this number and if we can push ourselves to do something 7 times, our subconscious seems to be more likely to accept it and absorb it after reaching this milestone.
So couple this with your schedule and bedtime regimen and remember to stick with it and don’t take a day off. Keep in mind that every night you don’t stick with your bedtime plan, you are actually reinforcing the opposite of what you’re trying to achieve.
Will: This is the step that I really feel unlocked a new level for me as a mom. All babies and kids test limits, it’s what they do. It’s how they get to know the world around them, and it’s up to us as parents to makes sure the perception of the world we are helping them create not only works for them/us immediately, but in the long run as well. It’s far too easy to give in and I did it all the time. But now I realize it’s my absolute duty to follow through, if I say no, I have to keep correcting him until he listens, even if it means prying my fat ass off the couch to go stop him. (Being a mom is hard)
In some ways it’s made me choose my battles, some things I don’t love I’m just going to let fly. But in those times I have to remember not to say no even once, because if I do, I have to follow through whether I want to or not.
When putting River to bed, it was always a battle of wills because somewhere down the line he learned he could break me. I was so annoyed and tired that I’d say f*ck it and just let him get out of bed and go play in his “salon” so that I’d get a break from fighting him.
In order to break this habit, I had to show him that my will is always stronger than his. If I lay him down and he stands up, I lay him down again. If he stands up 184 times, I have to correct him 187 times, because if I stop at 186, I’m only reinforcing that he can always get his way if only he keeps trying. This builds up HIS will and next time he’ll be prepared to stand up 200 times if that’s what it takes.
So I’m going to tell you now, the first night of this new “sleep training” is going to suck. If you’re trying to get your baby to lay in their crib, or a child in their own bed, it’s the same thing. You have to keep correcting them until they finally lay down and stay there and you can’t give up. Ever.
I told this to myself the first night, I knew it was going to suck so I mentally prepared to be up until 3 that night. Fortunately it took way less time than I thought, about 45 minutes until he finally gave up and just laid there. I sat there next to him kind of in disbelief as he just stared up at the ceiling, and then his blinks got heavier and heavier and he fell asleep about 20 minutes later. That was HUGE for us. I’ve literally never seen him do that.
The second night also sucked, but just a liiiiittle bit less than the first. I had to lay him back down over and over for about a half hour this time, and then same thing, he laid there for about 20 minutes, blinking, until he fell asleep.
I should also mention that will is not just about laying him down. I also don’t engage him at all. I don’t speak to him, not even to say “no” or “lay down.” I don’t cuddle him or kiss him or sing to him or pat him on the butt. Once the lights are out, that’s it. This is also really not easy to do, but it’s important.
So every night got a little bit easier. I was worried when we had a family emergency about 5 days into this and we needed to travel, but I stuck with my 3 rules as much as possible while we were away and it didn’t seem to set him back too much.
Now I honestly can’t believe how great bedtime is! I lay him down with his bottle (we’re still working on getting rid of that, at this point it’s mostly water but I’d like to get rid of it as a crutch) and he drinks the whole thing quietly and without trying to get up. When he’s finished he literally hands it to me (which makes me laugh, idk why), then rolls over on his tummy and makes a few little baby babbles and lays there until he falls asleep! I would not believe it if I didn’t see it with my own eyes! Actually, the past 4 nights in a row he has finished his bottle, handed it to me, then found my lips in the dark to give me a kiss, then rolled over for bed like we are a married couple. It’s the funniest thing ever.