Self-settle - Is this important?
The short answer.....Yes
The questions that often trouble parents..... “Can my child self-settle and resettle?”, “Can I teach my child to self-settle”, “It is really that important.....Im sure my child will get it when they are ready”.
The truth of the matter is that from about 3-4 months it becomes very important for your child learn the skills of self-settle and resettle independently. Without the true ability of this skill your child will continue to have fractured or less then desirable sleep patterns. This skill does not come naturally to babies or children they need to be learn this skill. Your child may even be 4-5 years old and continuing to have broken sleep at night and/or long bed times, because this skill has never truly been learnt. The good thing is that a child can learn to self-settle and resettle independently at any age. As parents we can teach them but just understand that the older our children get the longer, louder and harder they will voice their opinion, even with the most gentle learn to sleep methods.
So what does self-settle really mean anyway? Self-settle means that your child is able to go to sleep independently without a dummy, bottle, breastfeed, rock, swing, bounce, pat, song or any form of physical interaction from us as parents/carers. These forms of affection, love and comforting can be lovely ways to help soothing your baby in the early weeks or months at bed time but as your child gets older, helping them learn a more independent style of sleep, is key to long lasting happy sleeping skills.
Having confidence in your childs ability and your ability as a parent to help them learn this skill is so important. You are 100% able to help your child learn to sleep happy and your child is 100% ability to learn how to self-settle and resettle independently. Happy and fulfilling sleep skills are such a wonderful skill to teach your child, just as important as learning to eat, walk and effectively communicate with the world.
Then what does it mean for your child to learn how to self-settle and then resettle independently. These skills are the foundation of true and restorative sleep from 3-4 months and beyond. When your child has learnt these skill they will be able to confidently link sleep cycles both day and night. Which means they will not needing you to help them back to sleep or miss out on sleep because they were unable to sleep for a full nap period (going from one sleep cycle to another). You will find that your child’s day and night sleep will consolidate, sleeping for longer periods of time during day sleep and less to no wake ups at night time. As your child’s sleep consolidates and settles, you will be able to recognise their true ability to self-settle and resettle. You ultimately be able to just your child in their own bed/cot awake and have them put themselves to sleep and sleep for as long as they need, without unnecessary wake ups.
Ok, so all this information is helpful but how do we then get our babies or children to learn this vital skill?
You can implement the “Back off” method.......If your child is being assisted partially or fully to sleep at the moment and you want them to learn how to self-settle in order to improve their quality of sleep, then you “Back off”.
Ensure your child has a regular bedtime routine with positive bed time cues. Has a happy sleep environment and is going to bed at the right times day and night for their age and sleep requirements.
Analyse how you are putting your child to sleep now and assess what needs to change in order for your child to learn how to self-settle and learn to go to sleep independently without your assistance. This may mean that you are rocking your baby to sleep and then putting them in the cot asleep. In this case you would teach them to go to sleep without needing to be rocked and put to sleep in your arm, to learning how to go to sleep in the their own bed/cot.
Once you have recognised what changes need to be make you can start to “Back off” approach. You may choose to use the same sleep time method as per normal and back off your assistance from their or choose another learn to sleep method and back off then your assistance. It is up to you, your child will learn to sleep any way you choose to teach them. But whatever you decide, stick with it and back off your assistance from their. By backing off your assistance consistent a little each day means that your child will be given the little each space needed each day to learn how to sleep in a new way. Allowing them the space to learn a little more each day is really impotant to ensure that the learning process progresses. It is also important to set realistic goal and time frames for your child to learn this new skill. It may take them a week or 4 but by consistently backing off your assistance to sleep each day the learning will continue. The ultimate goal is for your child to be able to be put to bed and then go to sleep unassisted and even without you in the room.
The first few day are always the hardest and the most challenging because you are changing your child’s normal routine. Our children look to us as parent to provide them with cues and guidance to what they need to do and what time of the day it is. When we change their normal it can be overwhelming for a while, until they understand their new normal. Understand this and that any protesting from your child is because they are confused, but by remaining consistent you are helping them learn with as least amount of confusion as possible.
Remember that consistency is Key and with your loving patients this will help guide your child feel happy in a new and independent style of sleeping. Which in turn will help everyone regain and sleep happy!
When going through the learn to self-settle process it is important to remember that your child naturally wakes slightly between sleep cycles (45 minutes per sleep cycle) and during that 3-10 minute period they may cry and yell out. But if you disturb your child during this transition period you are actually waking them up and be preventing them from being able to link sleep cycles. Consistent disterbances or sleep assistance during this transition period will lead to more frequent wake ups day and night. So I recommend waiting out this time or making sure that your child really needs your assistance day or night, and is not just in a light sleep/or transition period.
It is important to remember the golden rule: The way your child goes to sleep is the way they should wake up. If your child has any environmental changes from when they go to sleep, and during this transition phase your child’s sleep will become unhinged, as they will be frightened and looking for they way they went to sleep, to put them back to sleep. Therefore, when they learn the skills of independent self-settling and resettling, their sleep environment will have no sudden changes, meaning they will link sleep cycles confidently and without stress.
If your child has not yet learnt the skill to self-settle or resettle independently, and you are needing some extra support with this learning process then there are many ways I can help. My Learn To Sleep Programs provide a complete and step by step guide on how to help your little one sleep in a ways that suits your parenting style, contact me for a phone consult or sleep consulting package.
Written By: Che Ruddell - Dreamy Baby Sleep Consultant