I failed sleep training my first child. It turns out I didn't have the stomach for it. By the time I had my second, I was made of sterner stuff — and also desperate. The added challenge? Now I had a loud toddler who also needed to sleep. I researched everywhere to determine how to sleep train a baby with a toddler in the house, and fortunately for my sanity, I was successful.
I found a few things that really worked, and they're not that hard. Sure, I thought I'd have to find a virgin to sacrifice or perhaps make a bargain with the devil, but it turns out to be at least nominally easier than that — no virgins needed.
I did, however, accept that I'd need to sacrifice even more sleep, at least for a while. Sleep training is not easy, and it is an endurance race. Honestly, as a marathoner, I will tell you it is way easier to run 26.2 or more miles in a row than it is to sleep train a baby — especially when you have a toddler at home.
Do you know who loves to sleep? Toddlers. And for the most part, they're great at it. They're the ones you think of when you think "sleep like a baby." They just fall over after running non-stop for several hours and that's it. Goodnight, world. Actual babies, on the other hand, suck at sleep. Sure, they do it all the time, but I make coffee all the time and I still suck at it, proving that frequency doesn't equate aptitude.
First of all, get started on a weekend. Trust me, I did it on like, a Wednesday, and because I wasn't working at the time, it was all on me. Do it when you and your partner can take turns sleeping. Also, a helpful suggestion from Dr. Craig Canapari of Yale University is to have the older child sleep in your room for the duration of sleep training if they share a room. It can be really upsetting to the toddler to see their tiny sibling crying it out.
When it comes to how to sleep train a baby when you have a toddler at home, The Sleep Lady suggested looking at your baby's bedtime. If it's too early or they're napping too late, you're just exacerbating the sleep issue, and making training more difficult. Make the change gradual and don't try to do everything all at once or you'll want to tear out your hair by the end of it.
During the days after a long night of training, understand that you'll be exhausted. This is the time for bribery if ever there was one. Bring out the big guns with your toddler to get you through it. Movies, iPads, even the dreaded Play-Doh. That $7 investment into the sweet-smelling clay may very well keep you from a Red Bull and vodka at 2 p.m. (Here's a tip with the Play-Doh — tape a plastic tarp to the floor and let them at it. Once they're done for the day, throw the whole tarp away and start fresh the next day.)
You should also keep your toddler away from your baby while your baby naps or is trying to fall asleep, noted Parents. This can be really hard, especially if their room is also a playroom, but it's crucial. This is about setting sleep boundaries and expectations, and those aren't only placed on the training baby — they're also placed on the older sibling. For us, we planned a "sleep party" for our toddler. He got a little treat for sleeping nicely in Momma and Baba's bed, and then when he got to move back into his room, we threw a little party in their honor. I may or may not have had a giant glass of congratulatory wine. (I definitely did.)
Make sure the baby's room is dark, cool, and use whatever white noise machine you've been using (if you have been) to help it go more quickly. According to The Baby Sleep Site, these are crucial elements to getting your child to sleep.
Take turns with your partner when it comes to sleep, too. Sleep training puts you in survival mode, and one of you should be at least passably functioning to parent your toddler. I'm not going to lie — it's not easy and it's absolutely no fun, but for us? It was worth it. Having a toddler and a baby is exhausting enough, but having them and also not sleeping was worse. I was a better mom with more sleep, and a happier person. In the end, it's an individual thing. You might find sleep training doesn't work for you, but you may find you're great at it. You can always talk to your provider to get more tips and tricks to help you along the way and to talk you through whatever issues you might encounter. Sleep well and good luck.