No-Cry Sleep-Training My Third

img_1015With my first two babies, I followed Babywise principles* to put them on a schedule, and it involved a fair bit of crying-it-out, especially with Scout Kid (the Feral Kid sucked his thumb after about three months, so cried a lot less). When the Blue Jay Baby rolled in, having hung around with a lot of gentle/attachment parents and perhaps with a little of the indulgence that comes with your last child, I very much wanted to avoid all that crying. At the same time, I’m a lousy mother on little sleep, and having been used to scheduling, I wasn’t exactly ready to let sleeping-through-the-night disappear over the horizon, so I wondered– could I train the Blue Jay Baby to sleep all night without using crying it out?**

At just shy of five months, the Blue Jay Baby is STTN most nights, though occasionally we still get a waking sometimes between 4 and 6am. So, yes! I can. Here’s what I did:***

  1. Sleep-Eat-Wake Schedule: Starting from birth, I fed on demand, but strove to do two things: provide a full feeding (so, feeding her as long as possible, which meant changing diapers between sides, sometimes undressing/joggling/talking to her to get as much milk as possible into her before she fell into that unshakeable newborn sleep) and trying to have a wake-time after feeds. (Again, at the newborn phase, sometimes that just doesn’t happen, but we’d do bathtimes, changes of clothes, chats, etc., immediately after feeds.) Key in this system (Babywise calls it ‘Sleep-Eat-Wake’, or SEW) is not doing a waketime during the night. This means that by the time baby is two weeks old, they should be in the habit of falling right back to sleep after their night feeds, and having their more wakeful/alert times during the day.
  2. Emphasized Timing of Sleep: I used the first month to focus on the that of sleep, and the when of sleep, before worrying about the where of sleep. That’s a fancy way of saying, I was quite happy to do whatever it took to help her sleep, instead of worrying much about ‘good sleep habits’. What this looked like for us was co-sleeping in the early weeks, plenty of wearing her in my Moby wrap and my (lovely, lovely, highly recommended!) Beco Gemini, and rocking her. I did try to put her in bed when she was drowsy (so, babywear/rock her until she was on the edge of slumber and then transfer her to her crib. That way she was still accustomed to dropping off to sleep in her bed, and wasn’t freaked out waking up there.)
  3. Assisted Her In Falling Asleep: I was never reluctant to help the Blue Jay Baby when she needed it. Knowing she was used to sleeping in her bed, and accustomed to doing her drifting off there, if she was crying, I’d go and rock her. If that didn’t settle her, I’d nurse her. Having learned that overtiredness releases adrenaline, I figured nursing would release calming hormones to counteract that, and that I’d just left her too long, past the point when she could go to sleep without help. Some days, this was frustrating, when it was clear that she was tired but couldn’t seem to get off to sleep, but these times have gotten less frequent as she grows older and more comfortable with her schedule.
  4. Let Her Fuss Sometimes: Although I never left her if she got into full-blown crying, if she was just fussing (off-and-on, fading/gentle crying vs. constant crying in increasing intensity) I’d let her do this for about 10 minutes. Often it was just the grizzling of a sleepy baby (and she’d even have been doing similar in my arms before I put her down) and she’d put herself to sleep if left.
  5. Miscellaneous: I try to put her down after she yawns a couple times. Sometimes, it’s a miscue, but often it is a good indicator that she’s ready. If she won’t sleep when I think she’s tired, I will try an extra feed. Sometimes what I mistook for tired fussing was hungry fussing, and with a milk top up, she can be awake and happy for another 15-45 minutes. She sleeps with a blackout curtain and white noise– I’ve been told they learn to sleep through noise, but I’ve never seen it, and I certainly don’t expect that of myself, so why would I of my baby? Lastly, the Blue Jay Baby slept on her tummy from birth (except when we were co-sleeping.) I know many wouldn’t be comfortable with the SIDS risk, but we were fine on all the other risk factors (ethnicity, gender, temperature, sleep environment, substances, etc) and I decided I was comfortable with the small risk. She would startle herself awake all the time on her back, even tightly swaddled.
  6. Timing: The Blue Jay Baby started STTN with reasonable reliability at about four and a half months. The Babywise CIO method is supposed to get results around 12 weeks, but honestly, with neither of my older babies did I find they were really reliable until after seven months, and so this time I was willing to trade off the angst of feeling like they should be sleeping through because they already had against the later STTN the Blue Jay Baby did.
  7. Where We Are Now: The Blue Jay Baby is on a rough schedule in which she has three naps a day. Usually at least one is two hours, and the other two are between 45 and 90 minutes. I put her down no less than an hour after she wakes up, but sometimes it’s longer than two hours before she’s ready. She goes down around 7pm, and wakes around 7am the next day. She sometimes needs me to rock her to the edge of sleep, and sometimes she can get there without help.

So, that’s what worked for us. I hope it’s helpful for someone. Happy to answer any questions or provide more details on how it all played out, just ask away in the comments! And if you have any tried-and-true baby sleeping tips, again, love to hear them.

*I don’t like the tone or philosophies of the Babywise books much, but from a practical scheduling perspective, they worked for me.

**I’m not against some fussing and as a third baby, the Blue Jay has to deal with waiting for her siblings, so it’s not like she’s never left to cry, but I’m not using it as a sleep training method. Just, like, a ‘well, sometimes life is tough,’ thing.

***Every kid is different, of course, so please don’t read this as me saying, ‘Oh, here’s how you get your baby to STTN.’ I’m sharing this in the hope that some of these tips will be helpful for some people, not to suggest this is the only way.

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Toddler Tuesdays: Master List of Parenting Strategies, 1-5

IMG_0171.JPGSo, one of the nerdy things I’ve chosen to do with my life is compose a list of parenting strategies that I find fall on the spectrum somewhere from ‘useful to keep in the back of your mind’ to ‘I don’t know how I’d parent without this’. (Right now, my list is mostly centered around dealing with toddlers and preschool-aged kids, but since I’m about to have a baby, I’ll be compiling a list of those strategies over the next year.) In the hopes that this list might be of some use to someone else, I thought I’d go through and share the items on the list, a few at a time, with my thoughts and experiences tagged on. Here are the first five:

  1. Use unconditional love and praise. “I love watching you do x.” “I love you because you’re mine.” “I love you no matter what.” “It’s nice to be here with you.” A little kid’s life is full of feedback, both positive and negative, verbal and nonverbal, where it’s easy for them to link their behaviour to how much their parents love them. I try to regularly use no-strings-attached language like this to express that my happiness in them isn’t hinged on their being ‘good’, but on their being my kid and being themselves. It’s especially nice getting this parroted back to you as a little blonde boy slips his hand into yours and remarks confidingly, “I like being with you, Mummy.”
  2. “Leaving well is part of coming next time.” For regular outings, remind them that if they aren’t able to leave a place well, you will pass up the next opportunity to go there. This is a great, great tool to have in your toolkit. It only takes a couple of reinforcements for your kids to learn that you mean business (for Scout Kid, it was missing out on a special bike ride with his daddy), it’s catchy and easy to remember, and it drastically cuts back on the amount of whining that comes at the end of a fun outing. I use it for screen time as well, as that’s another situation when the end of the time often results in a lot of whining.
  3. Involve them. A kid who feels they’re part of what you’re doing will have no desire to act out. For example, I can literally not recall one instance of the boys making mischief or being defiant while we were baking together. Although I can recall plenty of instances where ingredients were eagerly dumped in at random…
  4. When their behaviour makes life easier for you, pause and thank them, and tell them in specific terms how that behaviour benefitted you: “Thank-you for being so helpful in the grocery store. When you walked nicely beside the cart, it made it much easier for me to focus on getting the things on my list.” “Thank-you for cleaning that up without being asked. Now I finished my work more quickly so we can spend time together.” I don’t like using praise as a motivator all that much (see #1 above; I want them to know that my love for them isn’t hinged on how good they are) but I think expressing it as appreciation instead of praise changes the narrative such that they can see that they’re bringing me happiness without feeling the pressure of bringing me happiness or risking losing my approval and delight in them. I’ve seen their behaviour in a few areas really blossom because of this technique, particularly the areas of ‘not being little terrors at the grocery store’ and in the area of playing together peacefully.
  5. Introduce non-verbal communication, with which you can both encourage and check your child silently. You can use the I-love-you sign across a room if your child seems troubled, or in a situation where you can’t use words without sounding angry. A stern stare or raised eyebrows can be used instead of repeating an instruction. A thumbs-up can be a moment of encouragement and connection when you’re in the middle of something but they’re looking for some input. I love especially using a little hand-squeeze when we’re walking together to say something like, “Isn’t this nice, you and me?” They notice and smile up at me, and squeeze my hand back.

I’m always looking to expand my list, so do let me know in the comments if you have any life-changing strategies or tools!

Kinderlove: Visualizing Kids’ Emotions


Recently enjoyed this post by Dr. Hazel Harrison about how to teach kids to understand what is happening in their brains when they’re experiencing big emotions. It’s a long read, but really worth it, with great kid-friendly explanations for fight-and-flight emotions and ideas for how to help your child visualize and problem-solve through these feelings. Here’s a quote:

“I tell children that their brains are like a house, with an upstairs and a downstairs… Really, what I’m talking about are the functions of the neocortex (our thinking brain – the upstairs), and the limbic system (our feeling brain – the downstairs). Typically, the upstairs characters are thinkers, problem solvers, planners, emotion regulators, creatives, flexible and empathic types. I give them names like Calming Carl, Problem Solving Pete, Creative Craig and Flexible Felix. The downstairs folk are the feelers. They are very focused on keeping us safe and making sure our needs are met. Our instinct for survival originates here. These characters look out for danger, sound the alarm and make sure we are ready to fight, run or hide when we are faced with a threat. Downstairs we’ve got characters like Alerting Allie, Frightened Fred, and Big Boss Bootsy… Our brains work best when the upstairs and the downstairs work together. Imagine that the stairs connecting upstairs and downstairs are very busy with characters carrying messages up and down to each other. This is what helps us make good choices, make friends and get along with other people, come up with exciting games to play, calm ourselves down and get ourselves out of sticky situations. Sometimes, in the downstairs brain, Alerting Allie spots some danger, Frightened Fred panics and before we know where we are, Big Boss Bootsy has sounded the alarm telling your body to be prepared for danger. Big Boss Bootsy is a bossy fellow, and he shouts ‘the downstairs brain is taking over now. Upstairs gang can work properly again when we are out of danger’. The downstairs brain “flips the lid” (to borrow Dan Siegel’s phrase) on the upstairs brain. This means that the stairs that normally allow the upstairs and downstairs to work together are no longer connected.”

I’m excited to talk this out with Scout Kid (I think the Feral Kid is still too young, and also too feral, for this talk, but I can definitely see him needing it later as his feeling brain is a big feeler!) and do some illustrations/visuals. I think I’ll lose the gender-specific names, though; that one:six gender ratio doesn’t fly with me 😉

We just watched Inside Out as a family, and although it’s a bit over Scout Kid’s comprehension level, I think it will help him understand these concepts too as he gets older.

Toddler Tuesdays: The Stay-At-Home Life

“But there’s a limited window when the kids are young and we have an opportunity to shape and share their most formative experiences. The stay-at-home life is not economically possible for many people (though I think many of us assume it’s less feasible than it actually is), and there are many in-between options that include part-time work, freelancing, job sharing, etc. But to dismiss the possibility of spending more time with your kids after just five weeks (five weeks!!) is profoundly sad.”
“Many of us who have our first kids in our 30s (or 40s) are reluctant to fully embrace fatherhood because we fear that we will become a cliché — the minivan-driving dad with yogurt stains and vomit on his sweats — or worse, a feminized loser who wipes up snot while his wife brings home the bacon. We hold fast to the hope that having kids won’t need to be disruptive and that we can still take them to hip hang-out spots or fit them into our snazzy condos. But kids are disruptive, and they should be disruptive. If they don’t reorient everything about ourselves and our identities, then maybe we are just a bit too wrapped up in ourselves.”

From Let Her Eat Dirt.