Controlled crying - what if it's not for you?

Sleep consultant Maryanne Taylor of The Sleep Works has great advice on the sleep training method of controlled crying. But what if the very thought of leaving your child to cry is unthinkable? Here, Maryanne discusses alternative methods for helping your child to settle

Your baby is waking in the night and everyone is telling you that leaving him to cry is the only option, but you just can’t face the thought of it. Sound familiar? If so, rest assured that there are alternatives to the much discussed ‘controlled crying’ sleep-training technique.

Some may call these alternatives gentler however, contrary to popular belief, a gentle approach does not necessarily mean a ‘no crying involved approach’.  Ultimately, when we change the habits a child is used to for how they get to sleep, they may initially protest these changes, which often manifests in crying. 

What is important to consider is what form this crying takes and how a parent perceives this crying. Crying in itself is not necessarily a negative emotion. It is, after all, a baby’s only means of expressing emotion – and in sleep terms, this may mean they are tired, frustrated and cross. 

So what are these alternative approaches? Before even considering sleep training, it is important to establish the foundations for encouraging your child to sleep well.

Daytime schedule Your child’s daytime schedule for naps and feeds can impact on their night sleep. If naps, and consequently feeds, are out of synch with their natural body clock rhythms, night sleep can be affected. The saying of "sleep breeds sleep" is so true. The better your child sleeps during the day, the more set up they will be for better nighttime sleep.

Bedtime routine A consistent, soothing and predictable lead-up to bedtime sets the scene for how your child will settle to sleep. Dim lights, low-key interaction and a calm environment all help with the wind-down process necessary to get to sleep.

Positive sleep association A comforter or favourite soft toy which your child associates with sleep and security can help them settle to sleep in their cot or bed without your input or presence in the room.

Consistency If there was a magic word in sleep training success, this would be it!  Giving your child a consistent response at night is the most important element in encouraging good sleep habits. Mixed responses can cause confusion and frustration, which increases your child’s crying, so be consistent in how you respond to night wakings. 

We are all desperate for clear-cut answers to our parenting questions but as we know, children and sleep are not an exact science and there is definitely no "one size fits all" solution when it comes to helping a child sleep. However, one thing which we should not lose sight of is our instinct as parents. Look to your instinct - the answers are usually there.

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