I have really exciting news: Jack has gone to sleep by himself in his room for the past two weeks!! Okay, so it may not make the evening news, but if you have a child you've been putting to sleep every night since he was born, you realize what a big deal this is. Here's how it happened:
Since Jack was born, we have put him to sleep by rocking him and then as he got older, by sitting or lying down with him in his bed until he went to sleep. When Jack was about eight months old, he realized we were indeed still in the house and accessible while he was asleep in his crib at night, and he began waking periodically to cry for us. So, after several months of making many, MANY trips to his room during the night to put him back to sleep, I finally put him in bed with us. I was exhausted and willing to do anything to get some sleep. After some time of Jack's getting in our bed every night around midnight, we decided this was not a temporary setup and bought a king-sized bed. It turns out, I (and Jack) actually sleep better with him in our bed, because I don't feel like I have to keep one ear open to hear him if he calls from his room. I don't think Jason feels quite the same way, but he tolerates it. Jack is now almost three, and we've all been fairly content with his sleeping in his bed the first part of the night and getting in with us after we go to bed.
After the holidays this year however, Jack went through a period of time where he was not sleeping well at all. He woke up a lot after being put to sleep, even before Jason and I had gone to bed. This seriously hampered our typical relaxing evening on the couch together. He had a series of preschool induced colds, which contributed to his not sleeping well and thrashing around in the bed at night, which seriously hampered his parents' sleep in addition to his own. And I'm sure all the holiday hubub and disruption to his routine didn't help either. This lead us to start thinking maybe it was time to up the ante in our expectations for night time behavior. Maybe if he went to sleep by himself, he would stay asleep better (as all the experts claim.) I starting thinking about how independent Jack had become the past several months, going to school and doing so many things by himself. I thought maybe he was ready to put himself to sleep without the transition being too traumatic. So...
Step 1 - Preparation:
We started talking about it. I mentioned to Jack how big he was getting and how he could do so many things by himself now - put on clothes, use the potty, etcetera. Then I said, "Another thing you're ready to do is go to sleep in your room all by yourself!" I really did it up, making it sound like an exciting rite of passage instead of something scary and difficult. To my surprise, I got buy-in from Jack. He grinned from ear-to-ear about the idea of being such a big boy.
We also set up a digital picture frame by Jack's bed. He picked out the pictures he wanted on it - some of him as a baby, our family and his grandparents. This, I figured, might distract him from the fact that he was alone in his room until he fell asleep.
I bought a book called All By Myself, which shows the character, Little Critter, doing all sorts of things by himself and ends with him putting himself to bed after his Dad reads him a story. We read it several nights at bed time before...
Step 2 - The big night:
We talked it up again like it was a really cool big deal Jack was going to go to sleep by himself. I was careful not to say the word "try." We just acted like that was what was for sure going to happen that night. By the way, I picked a Wednesday night, because Jack goes to school Monday and Wednesday, and I wanted him not to have to go to school the next day, in case this new bedtime "excitement" caused him not to sleep as well at first.
We did our normal bedtime routine. Then, I told Jack I'd cuddle and watch his pictures with him for five minutes (which I normally did) but then I was going to kiss him goodnight and leave the room. When I left, I reassured him I'd be right outside his room in the computer room. I also said I'd be back to check on him in five minutes. He seemed a little nervous when we got to the part of my leaving, but he also seemed really comforted by the fact that I'd be back to check on him.
Step 3 - Checking back:
When I checked on him at five minutes, he was a little weepy. I kissed him again and told him he was doing really well and that I'd be back to see if he was asleep in ten minutes. At ten minutes, we did a repeat, and I said I'd be back in fifteen minutes. When I went back at fifteen, he was sound asleep.
Over the next few nights, we did the same thing. Sometimes, Jack would get a little nervous or upset, but he was never all-out crying. The first few nights it did take him a little longer to fall asleep than usual, but after that, he actually seemed to fall asleep faster than when one of us was in the room.
Step 4 - Reinforcement:
Jason and I praised him a lot for staying in his bed. I told his grandparents and friends about it in front of Jack to reinforce what a great thing this was. He was so proud of himself. It only took four or five nights before he was smiling when I kissed him and left the room, and I could hear him talking happily to himself before he fell asleep. I've started cutting down on the check-ins, too. Pretty soon, I figure we'll be to the point where I don't have to check in at all.
Why write about this? Well, part of it is, as Simon Cowell would say, "self-indulgent nonsense." I am simply very proud of myself for coming up with something that worked. Also, though, I did want to provide some ideas for anyone else motivated to get their child to go to sleep on their own. There are, however, two things I want to point out.
Number one: I think the biggest reason this worked for us was timing. We recognized that Jack was ready, since he has been becoming more independent lately. I don't think the same procedure would have necessarily worked six months ago. Also, we picked at time we could be consistent about it and devote attention to it - not during the holidays when everything's a little nuts.
Number two: Just because this worked for us, doesn't mean it will work for you. For instance, while the digital picture frame calms and reassures Jack so he can go to sleep, it might actually keep another child awake. Jack also likes his door open. I think hearing us in the house is a comfort for him, while that may be a distraction for another child who would do better with a closed door. I put together how we were going to do this with ideas from various sources: another parent's blog, an article on the Dr. Sears website and, of course, my knowledge of Jack's personality. There is no one-size-fits-all procedure for getting your child to do anything.
In conclusion, we are thrilled that this transition is going so smoothly. I anticipate that we will be even happier about it when the new baby gets here in a few weeks. Jack is still getting in our bed around midnight every night, and that is okay for now - one thing at a time.