Want your child to sleep in his/her own bed? Start off early – that way you’ll instil independence when he/she is young, say experts. This doesn’t mean you let them bawl their eyes out when they are ill or anything, just that you begin with the baby steps – pun intended – that’ll get them napping by themselves.
First things first, when should you begin?
The American Academy of Paediatrics calls for infants to share their parents’ room – not bed – "ideally for a year, but at least for six months" to reduce the risk of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS).
However, while it may both be convenient and better for the emotional health of the family to share a room, co-sleeping isn’t such a good idea. “Co-sleeping is not advised for the first year in baby’s life, as the risk of both suffocating and overheating increases while co-sleeping; a good option is to get a side bed-cot attached to the parents’ bed ( preferably on mother’s side if she is breastfeeding),” explains Malin Ghavami, Lead Midwife/Head Nurse at Nightingale Dubai.
When you are ready for the transition to own room, follow these tips to make the night full of happy dreams.
Claudine Gillard, of UAE-based firm Sweet Dreams Sleep Consulting, offers the following tips:
The bed is important. Make sure that you have an age-appropriate bed, so for children under the age of three, I recommend a crib.
Keep it cool. Set the room environment appropriately – make sure it’s nice and dark, the recommended room temperature is 16 to 19 degrees centigrade.
Nightly rituals. Make sure they start the night in their own bedroom. So part of their bedtime routine should take place in their bedroom, so that’s anything after the bath.
An example of a bed-time routine, in order of priority:
- brush teeth,
- dress for bed,
- small story,
- last kiss or cuddle, and
- into the crib or the bed.
To stay or to leave, that is the question. Staying with your child isn’t recommended by me when parents come for sleep training because usually, if you are there with your child when they fall asleep and you leave the room afterwards, when they wake up in the night, they are going to need you to come back to resettle them. This ultimately means your child doesn’t sleep through the night, which will result in them not having enough sleep. So make sure you aim for an approach where you leave the room whereby your child is still awake, so that they can settle themselves and therefore, resettle themselves overnight.
Some parents will use a cuddly toy for that, some will use a special blanket, some use special dummies, some use pacifiers – I don’t recommend those, apart for anything else, we have to go back in to replace the dummy or the pacifier, so from that position it’s not helpful because of course the parent is waking up and the child is too. Plus, the overuse of pacifier can result in bigger dental bills in the future. The dental recommendation for a pacifier is not after six months of age.
Child in discomfort? Go in of course. In terms of overnight settling, if your child needs some comfort through the night, it’s completely fine to go in and give them some assurance. If the baby wakes up or had a bad dream or tummy ache. But you wouldn’t need to expect that to happen every single night if they were settling themselves at bedtime. And if they are independent to fall asleep at bedtime, they are going to be independent through the night and only need you if there’s something unusual is going on. Whereas if they are falling asleep with you while you are present in the room, then they are definitely going to need you to resettle them.
Surroundings matter. For older children, you can make their room a little interesting and appealing. They can have some choices about what’s in their bedroom, on the wall or what kind of colours they have. But you want to keep bedrooms as plain and simple as possible and not too interesting because you want bedtime and night time to be all about sleep and relaxation, and not about fun. I tend to advise parents not to let their child play too much in their bedroom or certainly during their sleep training I would recommend that, so that there can be a distinction that the bedroom is for sleep and another part of the house is for playing.
For children under the age of say four years old, they couldn’t need an interesting or exciting or decorated in a certain way – that’s more for the parent than it is for the child.
Cecile de Scally, Lead Parent Educator at Dubai-based Malaak, Mama and Baby Care, explains a baby’s journey to independent sleeping can begin when he or she is around four weeks’ old.
“I recommend a technique that I have termed ‘hands-on’. This is not about crying, although your child may cry to settle themselves a little,” she says. First, you need to create the right environment, she says, which includes:
- Safety. SAFE: Supine (flat). Alone on a firm mattress in an empty crib (older children are safe with a snuggle toy). No cot bumpers. No duvets or pillows till much older.
- Cool not cold - a comfortable room temperature.
- A dull light in the day and dark at night.
- Use white noise which is helpful to calm your younger child and a lullaby for the older child.
- Swaddle is a must in a younger baby (zip up, allowing their hips to be free) or in an older child a snuggle toy).
- Ensure the child is well-fed and satiated before sleeping.
How to get them to sleep in the cot/bed
De Scally says one should place them into a bed aware, drowsy but not asleep. “For a small baby - rock or pat to sleep in bed (not in your arms). In an older child - you can stroke or hold hands and reassure. This will take around 20 minutes but requires you being consistent and persistent.
“Try ‘Hat’ and ‘Easy’ along with ‘hands-on’ to establish a flexible baby-led routine. ‘Hat’ is the amount of time a child is awake at a time before they need to sleep; and is guided by the age and their cues. ‘Easy’ is commonly used to describe an ‘eat, play and sleep’ routine although I do like to add in a small feed before sleep for smaller babies.”
Babies don’t like change – but they adapt easily; be strong, your child will be sleeping peacefully in no time.
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