We know that, for some of you, 2012 was an exhausting year. You may have spent many nights up with your sleepless baby or wide-awake toddler, or you may have endured a number of longs days, wishing your little one would just nap already!
As we look ahead to 2013, we’re offering you you 7 tips for better baby and toddler sleep in the new year. We shared these at the beginning of 2012, but they’re so helpful, they bear repeating.
1. Be realistic
Having realistic expectations is key in working to improve your baby or toddler’s sleep. Rome wasn’t built in a day, and a baby or toddler with bad sleep habits won’t improve 100% overnight.
Here’s what Nicole had to stay a year ago about being realistic:
All babies will not sleep through the night at the same age, weight, or other arbitrary quality. Your baby is unique and may be 6 months or 8 months or 13 months old when she finally sleeps through the night. Once you do start “working” on sleep, your baby may or may not respond as quickly as some of the lucky few who have success in one or two nights. I wish they all did, but frankly, if they did, I wouldn’t have this site because my own son would not have been as challenging as he was and I wouldn’t have had to obsess about his sleep as much as I did! Please have realistic expectations for your baby that while he may respond in a few days to a week, he might not or he will and then backslide. If you are realistic, you will have less frustration and more success, since you are less likely to give up before he has time to learn. This is especially true for slow-to-adapt babies. It’s easy to read through our testimonials and get very excited that we can help you overnight, but that will only be true for some of you. Our track record is good, but some parents send just one e-mail, receive a sleep plan, and away they go, while others consult with us for 30 days where we can touch base very frequently to tweak their plan. A family’s solution is as unique as their baby, sometimes.
2. Be consistent
As we frequently preach to our clients, consistency is key. Inconsistency is confusing to both babies and toddlers, and it undermines your sleep training efforts.
As Nicole pointed out,
Boring, I know. “Consistency is key” is something we all hear all too frequently, but I can’t emphasize this enough. When we read through family histories, certain things jump out at us and lack of consistency is a huge factor. Sometimes it’s not your fault. It’s hard to know when to feed, when not to feed, when it’s okay to rock them to sleep, when you should try to have them learn to fall asleep on their own, etc. If your toddler is playing with the trash can, if you sometimes let him and sometimes not, he won’t understand the rules and what’s expected from him. Look at it from their perspective to see how your inconsistency could be confusing your baby. This typically increases crying, rather than lessens it, and none of us want that.
3. Make smaller goals
Sometimes, a big problem can seem so overwhelming, you can’t even muster the energy or courage to start solving it. Inertia sets in. Sleep training may feel like that for you — maybe your baby’s or toddler’s sleep issues are so far gone, you don’t know where to begin.
It’s best to start by creating small, manageable goals. Nicole explains it like this:
One helpful step you can make is to set (realistic) goals for your baby’s sleep. Even better to choose baby steps in sleep training. If you don’t know where you want to go, it’s very hard to find a path there. And, you should be more specific than making “sleeping through the night” your goal. That is too broad and you may be disappointed. You might first decide “Go to sleep without breastfeeding.” Then, you might say “Wakes up for less than 4 night feedings.” And, so on. Make smaller goals to help yourself see progress and avoid giving up before you achieve your granddaddy goal.
4. Make a plan
We’re not urging you to carve your sleep training plan in stone — as parents, we all know from experience that our best-laid plans often go haywire, thanks to our little ones! Rather, it’s best to have a general overview of how you’re going to go about sleep training your baby or toddler, and then to build in room for flexibility.
Here’s Nicole’s advice about making your plans:
After you make your goals, decide on how you’ll achieve those smaller goals. If you’re going on a road trip across country, most people make some sort of plan. Some of us will plan it down to the finest details, including where we will eat a meal or go potty or what specific hotel to stay in. Some of us might make loose plans such as what city we’ll stay for the night, but if we are making good time, we might go further or, if we are tired, stop sooner. We see a lot of different personalities in our personal consultations. Some need to know every little detail about what they need to do and ask a lot of “What if?” questions (which is a big reason why we’re here!) while others don’t. Whether you are type A or type B or go where the wind blows you, success usually starts with a plan, even if it’s not super detailed.
5. Take the first step
The first step in any new endeavor is usually the hardest. But once you’ve taken that first step, you gain momentum, and the rest of the journey (usually) seems easier:
Once you have your plan, taking that first step is often the hardest. Very often we build up how terrible sleep training will be in our head and, often, it’s worse in our head than in reality (unfortunately, not always). We’re afraid we’ll be sleep training a tortoise and we’ll feel guilty because our baby won’t sleep because it’s our fault and how guilty we feel that we’re changing the “rules.” The first step in solving any problem is usually the most difficult (usually admitting there is a problem or that you need help), but one of the most important.
6. Gather Your Support
Once you’ve started sleep training, it’ll probably be easier for you to manage if you have a good support network in place:
Whether it’s another friend going through a similar situation, your partner/spouse, a friend on Facebook, your parent helping you through, or us, one thing that helps you succeed in making a big change in your life is your support network. Holding yourself accountable by “checking in” with someone also helps you succeed. So, try to get your support lined up before you start. Someone who is non-judging if you make mistakes and someone who can empathize.
7. Expect backsliding
When your baby or toddler starts to shown signs of progress, by all means, celebrate! But don’t count yourself done too quickly. Some backsliding is perfectly normal during the course of sleep training:
No doubt that just when you figure out the first thing, a second thing pops up: “She was sleeping great and then learned to roll! AAAHHH!” When we potty train, we are not surprised by accidents, so I’m not sure why parents sometimes expect perfect sleep after sleep training. Your sleep training progress might look more like a roller coaster than climbing to the top of a mountain.
Was 2012 a sleepless year for your family? Are you making any plans to sleep train in 2013?
Adding sleep training to your list of new year’s resolutions? Please be sure to pick up your FREE copy of 5 (tear-free) Ways to Help Your Child Sleep Through the Night, our e-Book with tear-free tips to help your baby sleep better. For those persistent nighttime struggles, check out The 3-Step System to Help Your Baby Sleep (babies) or The 5-Step System to Better Toddler Sleep (toddlers). Using a unique approach and practical tools for success, our e-books help you and your baby sleep through the night and nap better. For those looking for a more customized solution for your unique situation with support along the way, please consider one-on-one baby and toddler sleep consultations, where you will receive a Personalized Sleep Plan™ you can feel good about! Sometimes it’s not that you can’t make a plan. Sometimes you’re just too tired to.