A lot of parents who have more than one child usually say “I wish I did it differently the first time” and “wow, if only I had known it was that easy”. It is so easy to go to your crying baby right away and soothe their worries and wipe away their tears. A lot of parents cradle and rock their baby to sleep but doing this each time actually makes them rely on these habits and therefore it is harder to break them down the line.
Here are a few tips on how you can teach your baby to soothe themselves:
1. Change the way you think
As a parent it is horrible to see your baby cry and of course, you want to make them feel better and if that means rocking your baby for hours on end until you colapse, many of you will do so. But it is now time to realise that this has a downside to it. Your baby finally goes to sleep but you are exhausted and now the baby thinks they can do this EVERY time!
Every baby experiences stress in some way or another. It is not a stress because of lack of food or affection, they get stressed because their dummy has fallen out or they can’t sleep. Our job as parents isn’t always to save them from every discomfort but rather equip them to handle the discomfort.
Letting your child soothe themselves helps them experience what its like to fall asleep on their own. As soon as YOU believe your baby can do it, you must follow through with determination and positivity.
2. Establish a good routine
Regular schedules provide the day with a structure that runs a young child’s world. Although predictability can be boring for adults, children thrive on repetition and routine. Schedules begin from the first days of life. Babies, especially, need regular sleep and meal programs and even routines leading up to those activities. The predictability helps a baby feel less anxious when they know what to expect. They are also less likely to disrupt the schedule when they know what is coming.
When it comes to establishing a good routine, you need to categorise the main events of the day such as:
Then with each of these events, you can have a mini routine for it. For example meals should be at the same time each day. What do you do to prepare your child for that meal? What do you do exactly the same every day to prepare your child for bed?
Try and do the same things around the same time each day. If you go off schedule, at least try and stick to the same order of things.
3. Don’t pick up your baby right away
It can be easy to stop what your doing as soon as you hear your baby groan or cry and go and pick them up. However if you do this every time:
• You get stressed out!
• Your baby will not have the opportunity to learn to calm themselves down.
• Your baby associates waking up with the need for external sleep aids to help them get back to sleep.
• Your baby will sense your stress and anxiety and will feel the same way and this will not help them to calm down.
I am not saying ignore your baby. You can go to them but remember not to overreact and pick them up immediately as if their crying was the end of the world. If you were doing the dishes, finish doing them. Not picking your baby up right away doesn’t magically mean they will go back to sleep but they learn the value of waiting and they will develop a little patience. Discomfort is inevitable but they will learn in time thats its ok to wait.
4. Don’t always swaddle
Swaddling is wonderful especially when your baby is just born as it mimics the coziness of the womb and therefore soothes the baby. When your baby grows out of the newborn stage however, it is good to let your baby nap without always swaddling them. One of the biggest comforters for a baby is sucking their little fingers/hands. If the baby is swaddled, they are unable to move their arms and therefore can’t have a little suck to soothe themselves. This way, if they drop their pacifier/comfort object (if you choose to use one), they can substitute with their little hands.
5. Put your baby in their bed, sleepy but awake
It is very common and normal for parents to get their baby to sleep and then put them in their crib. However – a lot of babies wake up shortly after realising that you are no longer there, holding them. When this happens, they normally like you to start the rocking process all over again! This is very draining and tedious for you and your baby will never learn how to get themselves to sleep on their own.
The trick is to make sure your baby is very drowsy so sleep comes easily but not so sleepy that they don’t recognise their environment. It is OK for them to lie there awake for sometime as most times, they will eventually fall asleep. If they begin to fuss and cry, its ok to pick them up and rock them back to the “sleepy but awake” stage before putting them down again.
Don’t panic if they do not sleep at your “exact time”. Follow their lead and look at this time when they are awake in their bed as an opportunity to self soothe.
6. Feed your baby after they have woken up
Like the other methods I have mentioned, another easy way to get your child to sleep is to feed them before hand. This can be good sometimes (at the bedtime feed) but not all the time… If they get into this habit, then they will find it difficult to sleep any other way. Feeding your baby after they wake up is great for your child to realise that milk is no longer an external sleep aid needed to fall asleep.
It also encourages them to find different ways of falling asleep such as sucking his/her fingers, following the mobile shapes etc..
7. Give your child a comfort item
A comfort item is exactly what it sounds like. It is an object that you can give your child to help soothe them. It could be a pacifier, a blanket or a teddy bear. If you allow them to have this object only at sleep time, it will become a good habit to soothe them. The only problem with this is that if you lose it, you will be in trouble!
Self soothing is absolutely possible if you as a parent thinks it is. Yes, your baby may cry and may not like your change of routine in the early days but persevere with positivity and they will soon get used to the way things are now done. It is important that they learn to do this so you are not bouncing around the house at all hours trying to rock your tired baby to sleep. If you get this sorted as early on as possible, then the toddler years and their sleep pattern will become a lot easier.