Everything You Need To Know About Sleep Training A 1-Year-Old
Once your child passes the 1-year mark, they're able to make their opinion known loud and clear, which sometimes makes sleep training them (specifically teaching them how to fall asleep on their own and stay asleep for a long stretch of time) a bit trickier than their younger counterparts. But, have hope — it is possible to sleep train a 1-year-old, but you’ll want to mentally prepare yourself for the experience.
Of course, no child is exactly alike and sleep training will look differently for each family, but these tips cover the bases for dealing with an older baby. If you tried sleep training when your baby was a few months old but it didn't stick, you'll likely need to adjust your strategies now that they're technically a toddler and are set in their ways. “It is not too late, but it will be really hard because by 1, a solid routine has probably been established,” Elizabeth Murray, assistant professor at Golisano Children’s Hospital tells Romper on behalf of the American Academy of Pediatrics. Natalie Nevares, sleep consultant and founder of Mommywise works with parents of with babies and toddlers alike, and from her experience, there are key differences between the two age groups. “There are different obstacles,” she says of dealing with the older set, from establishing new routines to dealing with all the safety issues that come with raising a curious, mobile toddler.
Some of these tips are pretty intuitive, but some of them you may not have thought of trying yet. Approaching sleep training with an open mind and some serious willpower will can make sure that both you and your tiny tot will make up all of that lost sleep in no time.
1. You Can Try Methods Besides Cry It Out (CIO).
As your baby develops more abilities to communicate, their cries will take on new meanings, and you might even be able to translate their cries. Although modified CIO approaches to sleep training have worked for many parents in the past, it can potentially send confusing signals to older babies. Knowing the difference between a toddler who can put themselves to sleep but chooses not to (toddlers are known for their strong wills, right?) and a toddler who just hasn't learned how to sleep alone yet is key to choosing which method you'll use.
Nevares is actually an advocate for letting your baby cry in general — the term cry it out she wishes we could do away with. “We can’t make a baby stop talking. Crying is the way that babies talk,” she says. “We use a pacifier and a boob and a bottle to plug babies up because we're just uncomfortable with the cry. Instead, what I think is more valuable for learning how to sleep is learning your baby’s voices. Is she crying because her arm is stuck, or is she crying because she’s tired and trying to find her pacifier?” If you can distinguish the difference between the two, you’ll know whether you actually need to go inside the room to help her.
2. They’ll Need New Sleep Associations
The fact that you’re reading this article probably means that your child’s current sleep associations are things that you can’t (or don’t want to) offer them throughout the night: You or something you have to do. Forming new sleep associations (that are manageable) is important in helping Baby sleep on his own. For example, if you've been nursing your baby to sleep, or every time he wakes during the night, you'll need to replace that association with a new — and safe — one if they're going to sleep without you feeding them during the night.
3. It Is Important To Have A Routine
“Think of sleep as a learned skill and part of a routine that a child needs to learn,” Murray tells Romper. “It’s important to remember that as parents, we are creating our child’s reality. This may sound strange, but an infant has no concept of what bedtime should be like or what will happen until we set that expectation”
Nevares gives an example of what a good sleep routine looks like: Give your child a bath if necessary (not every night), dim the lights and bring the noise level down once you enter their room, put their nighttime diaper and pajamas on, sing a song, and read some books. One mistake she sees a lot of parents making is feeding their baby to sleep and putting them down with a full stomach because “that’s when babies throw up.” And it makes sense: “You’ve had eight ounces and you’ve fallen asleep that way, and then all of a sudden somebody puts you in a crib and you’re crying. This is where people tend to give up on sleep training,” she explains.
4. It Helps To Use Verbal Cues
Although they may not be able to say many words just yet, don't underestimate your 1-year-old’s ability to understand what you're saying. “Use more body language and talking. Tell them what to expect: Tonight’s going to be different. We're not going to rock you to sleep. We’re going to put you down… Even though the baby doesn’t cognitively understand all of the words, they’re going to understand the parents’ tone, their energy, and their body language. They’re going to understand: Woa something’s different. They're talking to me in a different way, and the lights are on, and we’re having this conversation,” says Nevares.
5. It's Important To Be Calm, But Firm
At this age, your child is able to understand the concept of boundaries. Dr. Sears recommends using a calm but firm voice when laying your child down and telling them it's time to sleep. If you're not committed to the plan, why should they be?
6. It May Take A While
Don't expect your 1 year old to sleep all the way through the night after only a few tries, though it is possible to accomplish it within a few days (2-3 nights), says Nevares. Having reasonable expectations walking into this process can make the training period easier for both of you — especially knowing that the end result involves more sleep.
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