If you have not already done so, please read Blog Posts 1 through 5 that describe how sleep is important and beneficial. I will post specific information for parents and children based on my book, “Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Child.” Please do not be put off by my book’s length. This is a reference book. Read only the topic of interest to you.
All the items listed below in “WHAT A PARENT CAN DO” contribute to the prevention of sleep problems developing in the first place; the earlier you start, the more likely your success. Also, all of the items listed below in “WHAT A PARENT CAN DO” also contribute to the treatment of sleep problems, but they might not be sufficient. Specific family circumstances (Blog Posts 14 and 17) and individual differences in babies (Blog Post 20) might make this difficult to accomplish and a sleep problem (difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep) might develop in your child.
Two safe and effective treatment strategies that do not involve letting your child cry are ‘Fading’ and ‘Check and Console’ (Blog post 19).
Two safe (Blog Post 24) and effective treatment strategies that do involve letting your child cry are ‘Graduated Extinction’ and ‘Extinction’.
Because of differences in specific family circumstances and individual differences among babies, it is difficult to give specific advice regarding which method best suits a particular family. Nevertheless, here are some general observations that might help you:
Graduated extinction means that after a bedtime routine including soothing, at sleep onset and in the middle of the night, you let your baby fuss or cry for a predetermined brief period, say five minutes. It may be a little less or more. Then you pick up your baby, talk to him, feed him if hungry, and do whatever is necessary to calm him down. You might either calm him to a drowsy state or to a deep sleep state and then you put him down and possibly leave the room. On a given night, you might keep the interval constant, say five minutes, or progressively increase the delay interval by, say five minutes, with each episode. Or, on a given night, keep the interval constant, but on each subsequent night, progressively increase the delay interval. During one of these delays, your child learns to fall asleep unassisted because he is learning self-soothing skills.
Extinction (you are extinguishing the habit expectation that crying out always brings parental attention) means that after a bedtime routine that includes soothing, at sleep onset and in the middle of the night, except for feeding, changing, and any suspicion of medical distress, you let your baby fuss or cry without time limit until the morning.
Your child learns to fall asleep unassisted because he is learning self-soothing skills.
Neither Graduated Extinction nor Extinction will work if:
(To be continued.)