We transitioned Finn from sleeping with us to ”Jelly Cat,” a year and a half ago. He proved much better at helping him sleep through the night than we ever did. After some recent sleep glitches, Jelly Cat is at it again, with a little help from Daddy.
Sleep Apnea is a big ball of suck. Remember those glorious days I used to brag about, when we would situate Finn in his crib? He would smile and fall asleep without crying. Then there was Obstructive Apnea. Then surgery, and recovery. In the middle of all that we transitioned him into a real bed so we could lay down with him, taking the path of least resistance, because our little guy couldn’t help that he was waking at night. All of it was horrible. Mostly for Finn, but I felt pretty bad for my husband and I for having to negotiate with Apnea (and its friends: night waking, sleep terrors, stuffy nose, and the cranky sleepy toddler) and what it did to our collective hours of sleep as a family. After being in and out of Finn’s room since September, we are finally back on track.
My husband, who is a tall drink of spectacular, has been the go-to for Finn while I nurse our infant, Charlie, at night. Before birth, I spent many pregnant nights in Finn’s little bed, with his arms wrapped around my giant belly. It was sweet, except for the uncomfortable, [not] sleeping with a sweaty toddler wrapped around me part. But Adam has been gradually working his way out of Finn’s room (now that the Apnea is gone, as are his tonsils and adenoid…) and I love how successful he’s been. Oh, and I love that HE’s doing this and not me. With the needs and expectations of a new baby in the house, it would be extremely difficult for me to put the time into Finn’s sleep; Adam has been putting so much love and time, patience and thought into our sleep training regimen. He’s been working towards this goal with such ease and grace and consistency (the most important part!); sometimes waiting an hour or more for Finn to fall asleep at night and then coming out of Finn’s room to clean up the kitchen and fold laundry while I bounce on the giant ball of happiness to get Charlie to sleep. I’m a lucky woman.
We’ve (and by we, I really mean Adam. I’m just a strategist on this one.) been working on Finn’s sleep for about 8 weeks now. Last night, Finn fell asleep on his own, without ANY crying. This was the first event of its kind in 7 months! It was awesome! We celebrated with a stout each, and chocolate, for we not only had one sleeping child but TWO. Go Charlie AND Finn! Finn didn’t sleep all night long, but we don’t expect him to at this point. We just want him to be able to put himself back to sleep without help. Adam tucked him in, left the room and voila – he fell asleep on his own. This is not a big deal for parent’s whose kids do this all the time, but after weeks of working towards this goal, we felt pretty smug. Here’s what ‘we’ did.
- Really gradual changes over a long period of time; it feels like we’re going at the rate of continental drift.
- We moved a little further away from him every week, but only making one change a week.
- Here’s where we were each week when Finn fell asleep: wk1) Laying in bed with him wk2) Sitting up next to him in bed wk3) In a chair touching the bed wk4) In a chair about a foot away from the bed. wk5) In a chair in the middle of the room between his bed and the door wk6) In the doorway wk7) Outside his room with door open – we’d close it after he fell asleep wk8) Closed the door after night-time routine and ‘let’ him fall asleep alone.
- Every night Adam reviewed what the night-time routine would be and then asked Finn to repeat it. Repeating the routine seems to set his mind at ease.
- To deal with night waking Adam has been going to Finn, tucking him back in and then sitting down in the chair the same distance away from Finn as he did when putting him to bed. Of course, now he is simply tucking him in and then walking out and closing the door since we are in the last phase of our plan.
- Every night we explain to Finn that if he can make it through the night without calling for Mommy and Daddy, he will get a big star on his wall. So when that happens, we have a star hanging ceremony first thing in the morning. Finn loves getting these stars, and totally enjoys being bribed into better sleep patterns. So, all of you parents who never do ‘tit for tat’ with your kids based on moral principle are seriously loosing out. I kid. Kind of.
Coming up with our own form of sleep training, once again, led me to reevaluate advice given to us regarding sleep training from the people who write books about this topic – sleep specialists. We loved the specialists we worked with, and I haven’t devalued their suggestions at. They were amazing; they helped us make the right decisions about his apnea, and for that we are incredibly thankful! But for what to do afterwards, I realized they went from medically motivated responses to personal responses based on their own experiences. Like we all give when it comes to sleep. One specialist we saw suggested that we get Finn back on the right track (after surgery and healing) by hopping of the fast train – “Close the door. Let him scream it out. Three days max,” she said. Another doctor said it would take one week after we think we’ve hit the hardest part to get him sleeping without crying. Another doctor told us to do gradual extinction. Another recommended revisiting Ferber, while another doctor suggested that Ferber rarely works on toddlers over a year old. So, remember that a sleep specialist is great for physiological and neurological stuff – they’re great at the medical treatment of sleep when sleep need be medicalized. But, when it comes to falling asleep on one’s own, they’re most likely telling you what they did with their kids, and they all did something different. They all tried something that fit in with their specific family needs and parenting styles. We’ve been going at this for about 8 or 9 weeks now. You could certainly get a whole lot farther with sleep in a shorter amount of time if you make the big change all at once and deal with some screaming. But one sleep specialist suggested this method to us, and we liked it.
What we’re doing with sleep right now would be a great way to transition a co-sleeping toddler from their parent’s bed to a toddler bed too (I covered how to transition a co-sleeping and nursing child into a crib here.)We’re doing this because our toddler got in the habit of needing us by his side when he had Obstructive Sleep Apnea, but toddlers often have sleep issues with night waking and nightmares for that matter. Manifolds of toddlers, who never co-slept as babies end up in their parent’s bed, or the parents in theirs at some point. Just when you think you’re done sleep training you have to start all over again! If you are still nursing, you might want to try this night weaning plan first. Consider your child’s temperament though, some kids ARE very sensitive to small, gradual changes and will fuss every time you move further away. If it’s a little crying, it still might be worth doing. If your child is going to cry for hours every time you move 6 inches away, then you might be doing your family a favor with a little CIO. I never thought I would say that, but after talking to so many parents and having to seek Ferber out for my 13 month old at one point, I’ve realized that some kids need clear and concise changes and some need gradual ones, and some may need fortified boundaries at one age, but a more gentle approach at another. You know your child, and that’s why YOU get to make that choice – not Sears, not Ferber, not the Baby Whisperer whatever her name is, not your doctor and certainly not me. You do!