The Method Behind the Madness: Demystifying Sleep Training Methods

I love that information about sleep - babies' and children's sleep in particular - is increasing. There are blogs upon blogs, loads of books and Sleep Consultants popping up on every corner. And then, of course, everyone and her sister's got her own opinion and experience (positive or negative) to share with the world.

Having a whole lot of views and opinions out there makes it pretty difficult to figure out what's going on, and what's best for your family. So let's break it down.

There are 3 common ways or "methods" to teach your child to sleep independently: Cry It Out (or CIO)/Extinction, Leave and Check or Stay in the Room, and below them, my take on them all.

CIO/Extinction - How it works: Put your child in is or her crib, turn off the light, walk out and close the door. Do not go back in until the morning.

Cry it out is probably the best known method, and also the most controversial. Those who love it say that all it takes is 3 nights and you're done. Those who hate it say it's hard on mom and baby. The truth? Both are true. CIO can be very effective in a very short amount of time, however, many parents find it extremely difficult to maintain the consistency necessary for any program to be successful in the face of their child's hysterical cries. Parents should also note that CIO should not be used with a child below 6 months of age (adjusted).

Leave and Check (or Ferberizing) - How it works: Put your child in his or her crib, turn of the light, walk out and close the door. Come back to reassure the child in increasing intervals of time until the child falls asleep. Repeat for mid night wakings.

The leave and check method was popularized by Dr. Richard Ferber, a sleep doctor in his book, "Solve Your Child's Sleep Problems," and is therefore commonly known as Ferberizing. As with CIO, leave and check should not be used with infants below 6 months of age (adjusted).

Stay in the Room - How it works: Put your child in his or her crib, turn off the light, and sit beside the crib, offering intermittent comfort until he or she falls asleep. Over the course of a week and a half, slowly move yourself away from the crib and out of the room as your child needs your presence less and less.

The stay in the room method has become a lot more popular over the past few years as a gentle sleep training method. It allows the parent to be present to comfort the child (and also allows the parent to be calmed by knowing that his or her little one is safe and well). Most parents find this method the easiest to stick to, though it will usually take at least 10 days to complete the program.

What do I do? I don't like to stick to any one method. While I'll tend to move toward a gentler approach, as that is easier on both the parents and the child, I don't use a one-size-fits-all plan. Every plan I build is customized based on the needs, sleep history, family dynamics etc. of the family I'm working with.

I think it's important for moms (and dads) to be aware of their abilities and limits, and to choose the method that will work best for them, based on their personal circumstances. I encourage my clients to share their stories with me and make sure they're comfortable with the plan that we've mapped out for them.

That being said, I REALLY don't like CIO. While I love watching my children gain independence in various activities at age-appropriate times, children need physical touch and affection as part of their development. So, while I do expect my 18 month old to play on her own for a stretch of time, I also expect her to come over to me and want to sit on my lap with a book.

And when my children are learning a new skill, or going through any rough patch in life, while I know that there are some things they're going to have to figure out on themselves, that does not mean that I step back entirely. As a parent, I view my job to be there to encourage them, empathize and simply show my support. Whether learning to stand or walk, dealing with friendship drama, starting a new school or learning to sleep, being there to support our children is an important part of our relationship with them.

And the bottom line is - be consistent. Whatever plan you choose, stick to it - both while you're teaching your little one to sleep, and during any regressions he or she might encounter.

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