On Sleep Training

I don't typically offer much parental advice here because of my fear of coming off like an authority on something I feel, to certain degrees anyway, I'm still figuring out (and questioning) sometimes daily. And while I certainly never claim to have all the "answers" in regards to child rearing - with four kids now to count as "proof" over "fluke" - in way of "good sleepers," you could say it's an area that I'm passionate about it. And I realize anything that involves the term "training" these days is not so popular. I'm just here to say what's worked for us. And how taking control of the quality of our sleep, as well as children's, has been a positive impact in so many ways. Establishing an early pattern that your family can routinely depend on means existing in a household anchored by well rested moods and happily adjusted children serving as the dividing force between sanity and self defeat. I mean, we all know how hard it is to call on our better selves in the face of such ragged exhaustion, right? And boy how a couple kids will do that to you real quick.

Sleep training is something I've been meaning to expand on here for awhile now but found perfect reason in pairing up with Bleep Bleeps this month to help spread word of their latest invention: Suzy Snooze, a brilliant little contraption who's Kickstarter campaign debuted today in hopes of pushing it into regular production to serve as a warm glowing sleep trainer and night light to kids, and baby monitor for parents. It's a sweet and practical concept behind this product which I'll be reviewing here in greater detail again once it arrives and we get to test it out ourselves, in our own home. In the meantime, you can learn more about how it works by visiting their website here. Because if luck has it, it will be readily available to us all soon here after.

A Nightly Reconnection

First off, there are three reasons I don't want my kids in bed with me. And yes, I realize how jarring that is for some to hear. But it's the honest truth.

One, I like the idea of a nightly reconnection. That comes at the end of a long day and belongs to just us. I love putting the boys to bed, turning out the lights and heading to my bed where the time is ours to indulge in adult conversations. Share things about our day or simply read in silence side by side if that's what we need on certain nights instead. I like the quiet that's kept there. By 8:00 most nights my patience is worn thin and I'm desperate to be "off the clock." I need that hour after to unwind, relax and recharge. So it's important to me that we keep that space, slim as it is, sacred that way. Two, I don't sleep well with them next to me. I have one kid who sleeps straight as a solider beside me when he sneaks in, but all the rest are like machines of jerking limps and shin kicks, which I really can't stand. Three, I like that each of them come to appreciate their sleep space the same way I do. To trust it as their own, and find self soothing means to aid in slumber, however it might come. Alone. Where I believe they build confidence in autonomy in doing so.

Starting Early

First off let me just say that as much as I know some people enjoy the perks of Attachment Parenting, it just was never right for us. After Leon was born I was feeling worn out and painfully tired most of the time. Actually, I was miserable. Arlo was still climbing into bed with us at that point and breaking up our nights, and Leon still waking sporadically in the middle of the night long after I knew he really needed to be. At a certain point I decided I couldn't take it anymore and dedicated myself to finding a new way to keep Arlo in his own room, and getting Leon to sleep through the night.

With Arlo we found a night light really helped. As well as being stern (and consistent) in denying him our bed space, even when it was more convenient in the moment to simply let him sink in. When I found out I was pregnant again, I was too tired to consider many more options for Leon so one night, out of sheer surrender, I shut booth his door and mine, and simply failed to hear him crying through the night like he was prone to, and found two days later, under the same circumstances, he was sleeping soundly through the night. All it took was me breaking the routine of answering his cries when I knew good and well he wasn't wet or hungry. Again, some will argue this method but all I know is that a full night's rest makes me, altogether, a better person in general so harsh as it might come off the results I know are evidence in their own right.

Third time around I was much more adamant about instilling early sleep training methods with Rex. He slept beside my bed for the first two months at night but I was good about laying him down for naps in the morning and afternoon when we were home at the same time every day in his crib to secure a sense of familiarity, and show him how to soothing the space could be. I didn't always nurse or rock or read him to sleep, because I wanted him to learn you can fall asleep on your own without them. And before long he was sleeping easily on his own within a matter of weeks. By the time Hayes came along we had it down so he was quick to respond to the routines we set up. So camping with a newborn, then a baby, and now a toddler, has always been pretty manageable because our focus has always been directed at creating flexible sleepers who can nap in situations where all the routines we know at home aren't available. Without that, our lifestyle would be seriously hindered. There would be no road trips, or beach days, sleep overs and hotel stays. And with four kids, one thing I've learned is that we are the ones in control. And sometimes decisions are better made from a place of intuitive choices, rather than suggested rules and guidelines.

Napping Without Options

I know a lot of my friends curse the fact of their children refusing or outgrowing naps prematurely, and maybe I've just been "lucky" but all of my boys napped routinely until they were 4 or five without option or choice. The thing is, even now, when I see they are considerably exhausted or in dire need of a little down time, I'll still make them need to lay down in their room for any given amount of time with the only instruction being "to rest" and nine times out of ten they will still fall asleep even at this age, under much looser orders.

As toddlers though I was a stickler. Nap time was the only time in my day I was able to get things done so there was never an option. Getting out of bed or refusing naps at that age wasn't something I entertained so eventually they stopped protesting. Children enjoy sleep just as much as us, they just hate admitting to it. And I would even argue that creating confident sleepers, who find relief and comfort in their own sleep space, is one of the greatest gifts I've given myself as a mother.

Napping With Noise

Another major aspect of sleep training is the inclusion of noise. This, is one thing I utterly swear by. Not getting your baby accustomed to silent sleep conditions means they are more apt to snooze in real life settings. Through vaccum cleaners, music, quarrels, visitors and traffic. What I learned to do in the beginning, when they are new and easy to sleep regardless of what's going on around them, is leave the door of their room wide open to the regular sounds of the house so it becomes common white noise as opposed to startling reasons for waking. The more noise they know early on, the better. My boys have been known to sleep through anything from a neighbors jack hammer, to a movie in the theater, to a concert in the park. If you don't teach them that sleep is only connected to quiet, they'll be much more flexible nappers. And that allows for much more freedom as a family.

Sleep on The Go

One major issue we have as an active unit who's constantly on the go, is implementing naps even when we're not at home. One thing I've learned is being consistent with the hour helps. As well as using the same bed space they come to associate with rest, when you can. Which is not to say we haven't been inventive at times when we needed to. I know Hayes, being fourth born, was trained to sleep anywhere we placed him. Given it fell in the range of his regular nap. Sleep space that has seen anything from a folded quilt in a bath tub, to a low sided card board box, to a walk in closet, and rubber flea market cart with the only key lesson being, regularity. Enforcing naps even in places or situations where maybe it's not as convenient for us to implement, but detrimental to how the rest of your day plays out, is a game changer.

When we were more prepared though we always stocked a lightweight fold away cradle in our car for newborns while we camped or visited friends that we could stick in a dark corner, or somewhere semi quiet, then graduated to a $30 pack and play we've always used up until they're old enough to climb out. At the beach we stick it in a big teepee, tent, or even under a shady palm where we are just out of sight and sound. All of which have proved successful means to alternative napping confines when we're out. Basically because they associate whatever space we've acquainted them with, with naps. And therefore learn - for better or worse - to eventually embrace it.

Sticking With the Crib

Lastly, the crib phase makes this all much easier. Once you make the jump - and we did way too soon with Arlo because we were excited to see him in his "big boy" bed - it gets a lot tricker. I say keep them in there as long as they are not climbing out. For me I always think of it, for lack of a better comparison, to a dog's crate. A space where they are confined, safe, and content. Aside from Arlo, all three of my boys were in a crib until they were three or over because it was so easy to keep them where they aren't able to up and roam because once they figure out the power of their will, everything changes. And then it's all new tricks attached to the next phase of the good ol' "sleep game."

In other sleep related topics, you can read my views on shared rooms here