Posted in Amelia, Amelia on sleep, Baby sleep, Blog, Mother, Teething

Sleep plan, take 3: This time I need help

We have finally found ourselves on the other side of a particularly difficult patch of sleeplessness; after finishing E’s 18-month sleep regression, we had a month of our regularly scheduled programming. And then (dun dun DUUUUN!) the incisors hit. I’ve actually taken to calling them Devil Teeth, that’s how incredibly disruptive they have been to our family’s life.

Oh, it was bad. The worst night we had E was up from 12:30 to 5:30. Most nights weren’t that dramatic, but there was a lot of night waking and extreme difficulty in settling. Our sleep routine went completely out the window. The most frustrating part of it was that we could get her back to sleep in our arms–and I mean snoring and twitching and the whole nine–but the second we put her gently back in her crib, she would wake up and start crying, forcing us to start all over again. And the getting to bed part? That bordered on ridiculous. Picture this: twiggy mama cradling her closing in on 27lb. toddler and trying to dance her around the room like I did when she was 3 months old. This is a girl, who, when things are going smoothly, *asks* to go to bed.

After about 2 + months of this, I decided to ask for help. Because it was really affecting my ability to be present as a parent. That and the spontaneous bursting into tears wasn’t so fun anymore.

Through a friend of a friend, I learned about a woman in Boulder, CO, named Eileen Henry, who is a sleep consultant. She does a 10-minute free consultation with you, to see if you like her vibe or whatever, so I thought, why not, what the heck, etc. Well my friends, in that 10 minutes she dropped a gem on me that worked like magic. Seriously, MAGIC! I wasn’t able to get an appointment with her for a couple of days, and so I was like Dude Throw Me A Bone, and she said this:

If, when putting your child to bed (in her crib–and she ordered me to stop using the mattress on the floor that we had been experimenting with, out of sheer, sheer desperation), she starts to cry and won’t lie down, say to her very calmly and lovingly, “I’ll come back when you’re ready to lie down.” And then leave the room for a minute. I was all psssht there’s no way that’ll work for my escalator crier but I was in no position to NOT try something. So I did it. And holy shinoly if it didn’t work! It took a time or two of me saying that and going, but she lay down and let me cover her up. (Note: It still works–it’s my go-to tactic to get her to lie down. I don’t even actually have to leave the room anymore–she heads for the pillow immediately after I say it.)

I had asked Eileen if it was OK to hold E’s hand, and she said yes, but to tell her a time limit. So when E asked me to hold her hand, I said, calmly and lovingly, I would hold her hand for 5 minutes, but then it was time for me to go. And thus, a routine was born.

My actual consultation was a few days later. In some ways, just having that one-on-one dialog with someone who understands and has helped parents with this many times over was comforting. Here are some gleanings from our talk:

  • Talk with E–tell her what is going to happen and what I feel she is capable of, and especially articulate my compassion with her struggle. Then congratulate her on her success. Letting children struggle, as developmentally appropriate, helps them gain agency with the world.
  • Similarly, never sneak out of the room; always tell her what you are going to do and then do it.
  • Acknowledge, empathize, and reassure, but don’t try to “fix” sleep for her–that the longer I try to do it for her, the harder it will be for her to sort it out on her own, and that’s something that, as a toddler, she is developmentally capable of. In this methodology, you have to be OK with a little crying–Eileen asks you to discern between crying that is complaining and crying that is truly suffering. Complaining is OK; suffering warrants comfort (acknowledge et al, above).
  • Be consistent; admittedly, we were being inconsistent because something would work to soothe E for a short time and then it wouldn’t work so we’d have to try something else (and before you know it bedtime was taking AN HOUR AND A HALF).
  • And of course, be present and loving, always.

She gave me a lot of handouts, which I found useful, and I wound up distilling them into my own sleep plan, which I wrote out and taped to the door. Plan number 3, that is. I know, I know, you’re thinking, Lady, what’s up with you and the 8 million sleep plans? But this is what I know: We had to work our way here. None of us were ready to start with this current iteration. First we had to co-sleep. Then we had to move to graduated extinction. And now we are ready for this. Each built on the foundation laid by the other, and I am happy we did what we did for each period.

Presently, we do the same routine we’ve done for a year–dinner, bath, stories, nursing, and then bed. When I put her down, I tell her that she is snug and safe in her bed (note: this book describing a family’s bedtime routine really helped us), and that mommy and daddy are just in the next room if she needs us, but that she is our brave, strong girl who knows how to put herself to sleep. I also tell her that I will come and check on her later. So now, her asking me to hold her hand has faded, but she will say “Check on you?” as I’m putting her down. I reassure her that I will check on her, and I do, before I go to sleep.

So here is our new plan, and Dude It Totally Works.


(~6-~7:30) Dinner; bath; stories, snuggles, prayers; nursing; mommy leaves room ~7:30

  • If she is not ready to lie down, say “I’ll come back when you’re ready to lie down” and leave the room for a minute.
  • When she is lying down, cover her up and talk to her: “You are snug and safe in your bed, you need your rest, sleep helps you grow etc., Mommy and Daddy are right in the next room, Mommy/Daddy will come and check on you later.”
  • Tell her “I will hold your hand for 2 minutes, then it is time for Mommy/Daddy to go.”

Night waking:
Go in and cover her up/replace pacifier/etc., tell her “It’s time for sleeping. I hear you are having a hard time. I know it’s hard to fall asleep sometimes but I know you can do it. You are a brave, strong girl and I know you can do this. You have done it so many times before. I will help you by holding your hand for 1 minute then I am going back to bed and I’m going to stay there. Mommy and Daddy love you very much.” Don’t go back in.

Day starts at 6:30 every day.

  • If she wakes before this time, go in and say “It’s not time to get up yet.” Cover her back up and leave the room.
  • Open blinds, turn off white noise.
  • Say “Good morning!” and ask her if she would like to get up.
  • Be encouraging: “You slept through the whole night! Nice job!” “I heard you wake up last night and get yourself back to sleep! Good going!”

During the day:

  • Talk about sleeping through the night (“We all need to sleep through the night—E, Mommy, Daddy, etc.”)
  • Talk about what will happen if she wakes in the night (“I know it’s hard when you wake up in the night, but Mommy and Daddy are in the next room and you are safe in your bed. You have your lovey to keep you company. If you really need us, we will come to you, but we know you can go to sleep by yourself.”)
  • Practice putting dollies to bed, demonstrating what will happen at bedtime.
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  1. Hi,
    I am wondering if this method ended up giving you long term sleep success with your daughter. We have tried so many things and many of them work but only for a short time.
    Many thanks,

  2. Hi Kim,

    Yes, this method is the one that worked best for us long-term. All of the other things we did built on each other (e.g., sleep training at 10 mos. etc.), but the “I’ll come back when you’re ready to lie down” bit really worked; we still use it, though she doesn’t dive for the pillow like she used to. We’ve had setbacks during sleep regressions and teething, but for the most part the above is our strategy. Talking to Eileen Henry, the sleep consultant, definitely helped, FWIW.

    I think for anything to be successful, you just have to do it consistently, giving it at least a week or two before trying something else. Also developmental stage might be a factor; say you try something and it doesn’t work, it could be too early to try it.

    Good luck, I know how tough it is, truly. I wish you all the best!!!


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