Your child's ability to settle herself when going to sleep, and subsequently if she wakes up in the night, is essential to a good night's rest for your child, and indeed you. Yet some children find this a difficult skill to master, often because they have never been taught it. Perhaps you have allowed your child to doze off on the settee or in your arms before putting her to bed for the night. Or maybe she has become reliant on the comfort of a bottle or dummy to get to sleep. As a result, she does not know how to fall asleep by herself, and has become dependent on certain external factors to lull her into a state of slumber. When, however, your child wakes in the night to find that she is no longer on the settee or in your arms, or that her bottle or dummy has gone, it is hardly surprising that she becomes confused and upset and then cries out for you. There is no right way to teach your child to settle herself, but the following three sleep training methods are all effective – it just depends on what you feel you can cope with, because once embarking on a sleep training programme, it is important to be firm and consistent.
1. Cold turkey. This involves ignoring your child so that she learns that you don't respond to her cries at night. It can however be very traumatic for all concerned and is certainly not recommended for very young children. The benefit is that it can work very quickly – in as little as four days.
2. Controlled crying. This involves popping in and out of your child's room to settle her with reassuring pats or hushes. There are two ways to do it:
a) Go in every five minutes the first night, every ten minutes the second night, 15 minutes the third, etc. until your child goes to sleep.
b) Go in after five minutes, then ten minutes, followed by 15 minutes, and so on, extending the length of time throughout the course of a single evening, and do the same on subsequent nights.
Controlled crying takes approximately a week to work.
3. Staying with your child. This entails sitting by your child's cot or bed while they fall asleep. You have to be very calm and boring to reinforce the idea that night-time is for sleeping, but your presence should be reassuring enough for them to fall asleep. Each night move just a little bit further towards the door. This gradual withdrawal method is the gentle and, as such, can take up to two weeks to work.