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"No-Drama Discipline" is a great read. Some of the wording is different than what we use at Our Neighborhood but the ideas are very respectful and the brain research backing up this more peaceful approach is clearly explained. The book is funny and quick with lots of practical advice for parents. You won't come away from this book feeling like you are wrong but rather with ideas of how to connect and support cooperation from day one. "No-Drama Discipline" is one of our favorites and we certainly recommend it as one of the first few parenting books to get you started. The authors have also developed a refrigerator sheet that's a great resource for grandparents and babysitters!
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We wrote this as one large section because there are important things happening in these months but the specific age of these changes are very dependent on your child and your routine. The method for helping infants four to eighteen months to sleep is the same. We recommend offering your child the least possible help as she works towards independence.
Around four months most infants have settled into a sleep rhythm, but then some big developmental changes might make sleep more difficult than it was a few months earlier. Sometimes in the early months a pacifier or swaddle was what helped your baby to calm but now she may be able to keep herself awake.
This can be so frustrating for families if you know your child is tired and yet right as she is falling asleep she cries, wiggles, or even pokes herself in the face to stay awake. When she is fighting to stay awake she's telling you she is afraid. Consider how we call it falling asleep, that's because it takes letting go. Falling, letting go, and drifting into another state takes a lot of trust that you are safe and that you will wake back up. So hold on to that as you're with her. Sometimes saying aloud, "It's hard to let go and sleep, you're safe." helps you stay calm and empathetic while reassuring her. You could even say, "You wanted to play and play. You have so many things to work on. Rest will help you have more energy for play when you wake up."
This is time to set a clear and positive sleep routine, read more here. Establish a simple and clear routine that's moving you closer to calm and restfulness. Watch closely for signals your child might be getting tired. You want to mindfully avoid letting your child get overtired and slow down stimulation as nap or night time approaches. Your child will probably be awake 60-120 minutes between naps from 4-8 months. Around 8 months you will notice your child napping about 3 times a day. As you are finding this pattern and introducing more regular meals you can use a set time for naps instead of basing the timing off the child's last waking. Most mobile infants nap 2-3 times a day and sleep 10-12 hours at night. A common schedule at this age would be 9 am nap, 1 pm nap, 3:30 nap, and 7 pm bed but you want to choose a routine that works for your child and your family. Observe your child for a few days and give it a try. Routines and rhythm help young children to feel safe and begin to understand their world. Between 12 and 18 months infants drop to one nap. Read more about that process here.
During the course of these months you will likely move from holding your child to fall asleep toward her falling asleep more independently. Sometimes a blanket or a lovey will help in this process. You're going to offer your child the least possible help she needs to fall asleep. If she is calm and you think she might fall asleep in the crib after your routine simply say goodnight and let her fall asleep independently. We recommend making that transition by holding her, calm and still, until she is just drowsy, then letting her fall asleep in her crib. If your child cries when she is falling sleep either in the crib or your arms pause and notice your anxiety. You're biologically designed to respond to your child's cry. Look at that cry as communication. Try not to 'fix' her cry by swinging or shushing but rather just listen and acknowledge. You might say lovingly, "You're having a hard time finding your sleep. I'm here with you, you can do it." Offer the least help, the reassuring words or a hand on her chest might be all she needs. If she is in your arms, hold your child, calm and still, and remember your child is crying to let out frustration and energy. Cries communicate and your job is not to fix, but to listen and try to understand. For some families the process of moving toward more independent sleep is a priority and for others, they don't mind the cuddly drowsy time. When you're ready you can back off the help more and more so your child is going to sleep independently.
Example: As the routine finishes dad lays his daughter in the crib. She begins to cry. The first least possible intervention, dad returns to the side of her crib. Maybe she stops crying looking up to him. She is reassured and snuggles down into her bed and he can walk away or stay a minute then walk away. If she continues to cry, dad is still trying to intrude as little as possible. Dad looks at her and starts singing their goodnight song very softly. If she continues to cry in distress or escalates, a third small step of additional help is offered. Dad leans down rubbing her back as he says, “You’re safe. You’re really sleepy.” As he rubs her back, he sings. Once she is calm he slowly helps less and less. If she continues to escalate, dad may offer a fourth minimal intervention. Dad picks her up, holding her until she calms, two minutes pass, or she pushes him away. Then he lays her back in her crib, “You’re safe. It’s time to sleep.” he whispers. If she continues to cry, he will continue this fourth step until she falls asleep in her crib. This is a time intensive process but it includes a relatively low amount of crying.
We like this least possible help method because the expectations are clear and respectful. Parents are responsive but the expectations don’t change. Many parents like this way to help their child learn to sleep because they feel like they are doing more than just letting the child cry and the parent is seeing progress towards more independence. Other parents find it exhausting and frustrating and it may not be the best plan for their family. Different children react differently, but in our experience the process of offering the least possible help, while sometimes exhausting in the moment, helps children learn to sleep completely independently within a week or so.
The short of version:
- Expect it will take time and tears to learn to sleep.
- Be present with your child and offer a little help through calm words and loving touch.
- Be consistent and follow your child's natural rhythm.
- It won't be like this forever.
People often throw around the phrase 'sleep training'. For different people it can mean different things but most often it involves a schedule of minimal responses to your child's crying until your child finally falls asleep. For many families they have no idea what else to do and give 'sleep training' a try.
A few things you should know about sleep training:
1. It is really hard. It goes against all instincts to hear your child cry and not go to them to offer comfort. Parents often find it really difficult to follow through with the plan and often don't feel good about the sleep training process.
2. It doesn't last. Many families think that if they just go through the few days of crying the child will sleep good forever. The truth is as a parent you have signed up for being sleep deprived. Even children who learn to sleep through the night will regularly have periods of disruption brought on by physical or mental growth spurts or illness.
We recommend against sleep training . If you decide to let your child cry, our recommendations are that you first say to her, “I know you are safe in your bed, you are upset but I know you can do this. I love you, goodnight.” We encourage you at the very least to call it learning to sleep so that will help you be in a better mindset going into it.
You should also know that there is no research that sleep training is harmful to your child's development socially, emotionally, or physically. We often say, "A baby has never died from crying." If you are exhausted and frustrated and your child is clean, fed, and safe, taking some space for yourself might be the best thing for everyone. If you fear you might hurt your child, place them in their crib and give yourself some time to cool down.
If you have been using the least possible help method since your child was young, by toddlerhood you will likely have settled into a good rhythm . Your goal in these toddler years is to continue to offer the least possible help. There will likely be ups and downs. Things might be disrupted by travel, developmental changes, or life changes.
In the toddler years parents can become frustrated because they know their child can sleep independently and expect that their child will always choose to sleep independently. All caregivers know this struggle. When young children are for whatever reason unable or unwilling to do what we know they can do, we have to try to keep perspective. Consider as an adult you know how to make dinner and that is the healthiest and most cost efficient thing but it doesn't mean you're always able to do it. When you're child is asking for extra help falling asleep, try to be empathetic. Sometimes it's hard to fall asleep even if your child can do it themselves. They might need a little extra help now and then. Below are a few more resources to help toddler parents deal with some of the challenging times.
If you just found these resources and you're child is already a toddler it's not too late to work towards more peaceful sleep. The very first step to a more peaceful sleep is to talk openly about what's not working. Read through the resources on setting a sleep routine and get some ideas about a plan that will work with your family, then have a conversation with your child.
Find a time when you're child's open and more talkative--maybe when you're drawing at the dinning room table or swinging on a swing and start the conversation with, "I have been reading and learning about how to help you sleep and I realized that what we have been doing isn't working. What do you think?" Hopefully your child will engage with you but if not you might say, "I don't like feeling so frustrated at bedtime. I know sometimes I raise my voice and I want to try something new. I was thinking you and I could work together to come up with a better plan for bedtime." Make it safe for your child to speak openly about how they might be feeling at bedtime. Your child might say, "I hate going to bed." Validate their feelings and help them commit to working with you on a solution. You could respond, "I have noticed it is a really difficult time. I'm thinking we could find a way to make it better." Even with a young one year old or two year old this conversation about your plans for change is important.
When your child has agreed that you should try something new, work to write down a new bedtime plan. For a young toddler you might say, "What will we need to do at bedtime?" You might need to lead a bit, "Do you think you'll want your pink blankie in our new plan?" Then talk about what your new plan will entail, "We will have our bath. Maybe we could have a sleepy song, which one do you think?" If your child's older you might start with, "What are the parts of bedtime we should keep?" If you need to lead a bit you might say, "Well, do you like reading a book together at bedtime?" If you have a problem you expect to surface like asking for more water, getting out of bed, or wanting you to stay forever, address that in the planning. You might say, "What will our plan be for when you want to get out of bed?" Try to be flexible to your child's ideas and come up with a plan that works for everyone.
Once you have your plan that both of you agree on, then you can put it into action. Hold yourself to not rushing your plan and hold your child to what you have set out. If your child asks to change the plan you can say, "This is what we agreed on and we are going to try it for tonight (or this week) and we can talk about it again to see if it is working for everyone." When your child complains or cries, offer empathy but don't change your expectations. You might say, "I know it is hard when it's time for me to go. I love you, I'm near, I'll see you in the morning."
It won't be like this forever!
Around Our Neighborhood CDC you’ll hear teachers and parents talking about the three main inspirations that form our philosophy, Reggio Emilia, Conscious Discipline, and Resources for Infant Educarers (RIE). As a learning community there are many other resources that we draw on, reflect on, and explore. These three inspirations fit together seamlessly for Our Neighborhood teachers because all three are based on a strong view of children, seeing young children as independent people, competent, and capable. However each aspect drives particular parts of our philosophy. The schools of Reggio Emilia drive our curriculum and how we view children’s learning. The work, research, and documentation that comes out of Reggio inspire our project work, aesthetically pleasing environments, exploration of diverse materials, and documentation of children’s learning. Our Reggio inspiration is a big driver of our view of the program’s role as a learning community. The schools of Reggio Emilia serve infants, however little of their infant work shares how to shift teacher’s perspectives toward seeing infants as competent and able. Further, the Reggio documentation of infants' work does not address the big part of the day that is spent care giving and supporting children’s basic needs. RIE steps in here and clearly articulates the role of respectful care giving in working with young children. RIE overlaps some of the curriculum aspects of Reggio, complementing one another in terms of learning materials, environment design, and supporting children to be self directed learners. RIE clearly speaks to how everyday care supports children’s explorations, attachment, and learning. RIE materials help teachers understand how to view infants as competent and able and create a respectful learning community for our youngest citizens. Conscious Discipline, full of brain research, focuses on how teachers and parents address emotions and challenges in a respectful and productive way. We know that to succeed as drivers of their learning children have to be able to regulate their emotions, reflect on their actions, and solve problems. Conscious Discipline provides the teachers skills to help children process their big emotions, problem solve when challenges arrive, and build children’s ability to self regulate so they can learn to their full potential. That’s how our philosophy has been shaped through the inspiring work of the schools of Reggio Emilia, Dr. Becky Bailey’s Conscious Discipline, and Resources for Infant Educarers, as well as other current child development research.