Among the many, many challenges parents face, lack of sleep is potentially the most universal. So until recently, many of us on team Doddle were in a sleep-deprived-slash-desperate camp. But then we were referred to Kimberly Walker, a New York-based consultant (who also does consultations over phone so fear not if you're not in NY). We kid you not: She not only taught our co-founder, Nicki’s baby to sleep through the night at 9 months, she also coaxed the completely un-trainable son of our editor who never slept through the night—for two years!—to, well, do exactly that. She’s legit. So while she can’t give away her secret sauce, she can advise on what we’ve been doing wrong. And there are some universal mistakes we certainly had been making out of convenience and most likely, sleep deprivation (funny that, the cyclic hell of it all). Here’s what she had to say...
1. You put your child down when they are already asleep.
When your child falls asleep in your arms, on your bed, in the swing or wherever it may be and then you transfer them to their own bed/crib, when they wake up, they are startled and confused. Often, you go and pick your child up only to put them to sleep again and then put them back in their bed. The cycle continues. It is the equivalent to you falling asleep in your bed and waking up on the kitchen table… You would be confused too! It is very important that your child put themselves to sleep from the beginning of bedtime and in the same place that they will be sleeping all night.
2. You start "sleep training" in the middle of the night.
Similar to putting your child down when he/she is already asleep, you should not start sleep training in the middle of the night. This means, do not put your child down asleep and then when they wake up during the night, try to teach them to go back to sleep in their own bed/crib. You must start at bedtime.
3. You use a pacifier to teach your child to sleep. [ed note: We agree here!]
If you want to teach your child to sleep and your child is too young to roll around the crib and consistently find the pacifier and put it in their mouth themselves, then I recommend you take the pacifier away at night. I am not against pacifiers for day, but losing them at night will require a little adjustment. Your child will wake up and search for the pacifier when it falls out, and inevitably cry when it can’t be found. Alternatively, if your child is old enough to put the pacifier in their own mouth, I recommend flooding the crib with them—make sure your child has 5 or more handy to replace if one falls out.
4. You feed your child when they wake up. Inconsistently.
Lots of people will tell me they tried to teach their child to sleep and it did not “work.” When I inquire about specifics, I often find that the parents were not ready to give up night feeds and so they decided, for example, “If my child wakes up before 12am then I will not feed them and make them go back to sleep by themselves, but if they wake after 12am, I will feed them one time.” The problem with this is that your child does not know time. When they wake at 11:30pm, they do not look at the clock and say, “whoops, it’s not 12am yet, I have to go back to sleep.” They learn through consistent behavior. If you feed them sometimes when they wake up and not at others, the confusion makes things worse. Notice I said “the parents” were not ready to give up night feeds… of course, there are babies that still need night feeds, but talk with your pediatrician about this and remember just because your child wants to eat, does not mean they need to eat.
5. You let your child be the boss.
This mostly applies to toddlers, but I cannot tell you how many people call me and say things like, “I try to put my child in his crib and he won’t let me, “ or “Our bedtime routine is so long, I try to read only a few books, but she makes me read more and more” Or, “My child makes me stay in his room until he is asleep.” This is a mindset problem and this means that you are not clear in your own mind, and are not sending a clear message to your toddler about who is in control. If you find yourself even thinking, “My child makes me do ________ “ or “My child will not let me _______ ” Then my recommendation is every time you find yourself thinking these things to change your mantra and say, “ I am the parent and I make the decisions and even if my child is unhappy, they are going to be OK.” Your toddler cannot make you do anything. You can put them in their crib. What this usually really means is, “I try to put my child in the crib, but they do not want to go.” And, “I would like to read only 3 books, but my child wants more.” That is OK! They do not have to like what you are doing or be happy about it. You are the parent. You are the boss. I know toddlers can be strong willed and stubborn and every other word possible, but realize it is best for them that you be the parent, believe it or not, they rely on you to be more strong willed then they are!
THANK YOU (x's a million) KIMBERLY!