Sleep Training My Toddler--This Is What Worked!

The lack of sleep that parents often endure isn’t good for anybody. Studies show the overwhelming importance of uninterrupted sleep--and that goes for our kids too! But, if you are like me, you dread sleep training. As a gentle parenting advocate, I always want my kids to feel safe, love, and protected. 

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My fourth son, Quade, was a great sleeper as a baby, but he faced chronic ear infections (he’s having tubes put in soon) and this caused his sleep patterns to be erratic. At 10 months, we decided to sleep train him to much success, but sure enough, after some more ear issues, he was waking up continually through the night at 15 months of age.

Even though we sleep trained him successfully at 10 months, I worried that his older age would make sleep training harder. After all, he’s more aware of separation from mom and dad, more easily scared, and much more vocal when he is frustrated. All a part of toddlerhood!

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Still, I knew that he needed sleep and that we needed sleep. He never slept well if I tried to co sleep and neither did I. I’m still nursing him a couple times a day, but night feedings stopped a while ago, so really, I knew that for us, some gentle and soothing methods were going to be the most loving thing I could do for him at this point. I also felt that some tears were not the end of the world, and that we didn't have to leave him to cry his head off for long periods of time in order to sleep train him. 

Recently, my husband, Guy, was leaving for an extended work trip across the country and I knew that without him here to help carry the load of night wakings, I had to jump in and sleep train him on my own. So I did.

FIRST STEP: Bedtime Routine.

First of all, we established a very specific and consistent bedtime routine. Dim lights, soft voices for 15 minutes around the house. Nursing session. Bath time with dim lights and soothing voices. Baby massage with lavender lotion and then a bedtime story. Lights out with a dim night light, then I took him in my arms to sing him a song. My goal was to put him down awake, but drowsy. Then I gave him a hug, laid him on his back in his crib with his little lovey and said, “Night night time, Quade. Mommy loves you and I’m right outside your door. Goodnight!” Then, I left the room. (I put him to bed around 7 PM and I used a video monitor to watch him.)

The next method I used is similar to the little bit I read about the Ferber method, which is very flexible and can be adjusted to whatever you are comfortable with. I am not a fan of letting my child fuss or cry for more than about 7-8 minutes and the moment they cry with more volume or emotion as opposed to fussiness, I go in and soothe.

Here’s exactly what happened next and how Quade responded:
 

NIGHT ONE: 

Quade cried softly for about 3 minutes, I went in and soothed him with the same words I used earlier, then, left the room. He fussed for another 3 minutes, did a loud screech, and before I went in to soothe him again, he fell asleep! I was amazed!! He woke around 1:30 AM, I went in and soothed him with my words and a gentle pat, and left. He fell back asleep until 7:00 AM.

Night Two:

Quade cried for 3 minutes, I went in to soothe him, then he fell right to sleep. He slept straight through the night until about 6:00 AM.

Night Three:

Quade didn’t make a peep when I lay him down. He rolled over and fell asleep after wiggling for just a few moments. He slept through till about 3:00 AM, fussed for about 2 minutes, and then slept through the night again until about 7:00 AM.

It’s been smooth sailing a week later! Quade is so much happier during the day because he is well rested--and we are too! Sometimes, he will wake once during the night, fuss for a minute or two, and then put himself back to sleep. Victory! 

I have to say, that with four kids, you really do have to tailor your approach to each child. My oldest had reflux and colic and never slept until he was 3 years old. It was grueling, but I found hope! You can read about that situation here. My other two responded to sleep training better, but not as well as Quade. Really, you just have to try a few things and be consistent to see what may work, but allowing some discomfort for ourselves as parents in order to sleep train is okay. I know it can be hard, but it was honestly much better than I imagined it would be this time around. If you are a sleep-deprived parent, don’t give up. Try this approach and know that helping our kids learn any skill, like self-soothing, is a gift.

YOUR TURN! Is your toddler or baby sleeping through the night? What worked for you? 

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Amber Lia

A former high school English teacher, Amber is a work-at-home mom of 4 little boys under the age of 10. She is the best-selling author of Triggers: Exchanging Parents’ Angry Reactions for Gentle Biblical Responses and Parenting Scripts: When What You’re Saying Isn’t Working, say Something New. She and her husband Guy own Storehouse Media Group, a faith-friendly and family-friendly TV and Film production company in Los Angeles, CA. When she’s not building sand castles with her boys on the beach, or searching for Nerf darts all over her house, you can find Amber writing to encourage families on her blog at Mother of Knights (www.motherofknights.com).