We asked Brenda Hart from Cocoon UK to give us some tips on sleep training. So many mothers tear their hair out over sleep, finding and successfully implementing a routine for their babas. Cocoon is a fantastic service providing practical and emotional support for all mothers and families. 

The sleep training road is not an easy one but if you embark on its journey you will come out of it happier and more confident and your child will feel more secure.

When I qualified as a Nursery Nurse in 1979 sleep training was unheard of. It is a relatively new service which has arisen through the ‘night nanny’ and ‘super nanny’ phenomenon. In years gone by we relied on our mums (grannies) to give us advice and support when learning to be a new mum.

My way of sleep training is to take a more teaching approach. Give me 2.5 hours of the parents focused attention and I will arm them with all the information and confidence they need to sort out their child’s sleep issue, whatever it may be. By taking this approach they achieve success themselves, understand where they need to make adjustments, learn from the process and feel elated at the end when they have managed to get their child to sleep through the night.

Parents are often very tired once they decide to call upon help and of course they can be very emotional. They did not envisage having to sleep train their child. I had 15 months of it myself with my own son. They should not despair as it can be turned around in two to three days. They just need to get over that initial hurdle.

I am not just talking about 4 month babies, toddlers climbing out of cots and children who back chat to you. This can be a child of any age with often is not just a sleep problem but an eating issue as well and behaviour which needs better management. I start the ball rolling with the parents and child at the consultation, so I can give them practical help there and then. This is much better than reading a book or something online.

At the end of the consultation everything about the 24 hour routine, hour by hour, step by step with different scenarios will have been explained. Their confidence will be higher.  If they need the overnight support I will offer it but if I have done my job properly and given them a comprehensive answer to their questions they will not need me, 98% of the time they don’t. I then make myself totally accessible 24 hours a day so they can text or telephone me for further help at any time. This continues until the child is sleeping through the night.

My passion for the job, a comprehensive answer to their sleep issue together with a non-fussy clear approach will guide them down the sleep training road and they won’t look back. When I get feedback such as ‘Brenda, you are a miracle worker’ or ‘I can’t thank you enough.’ It makes my job the best job in the world.

The essential keys to sleep training your child are:

  • Be supported by your husband/partner/extended family/nursery/school. Everybody has to be in agreement. 
  • Have the right routine for your child’s age, growth and development.
  • Be consistent.
  • Be confident. To do this you may need to enlist the help of a professional sleep trainer who does not have an emotional attachment to your child but can give you an experienced overview of the situation.
  • Choose a time when there is stability i.e. no holidays, days out, illness, visitors, etc.
  • Give it your best efforts and don’t give up.
  • Have a plan to work towards so you can make the adjustments ahead as your child grows and develops and they will always sleep well.

 To help you on your way here are some guidelines to follow:

  • Organise a good bedtime routine especially if you have more than one child so it is calm.
  • If Dad comes home when the bedtime routine has started he should try to quietly get involved without creating too much excitement.
  • All babies and children have to be awake when put in the cot/bed so they are fully aware the ‘big sleep’ has started.
  • Have realistic expectations and put your baby or child to bed at the appropriate time.
  • Be positive. Once you have said good night to your baby or child leave the room and don’t go back. Your body language conveys your evening has started and they now need to go to sleep.
  • If your child wakes in the night crying, don’t rush in but wait 5/10 minutes so they have a chance to settle themselves.
  • If you check your baby or child in the night keep everything ‘low key’ and do whatever you need to do with the minimum of fuss and the minimum of time.
  • Most children get up around 7am. If they sleep beyond this time it should be counted as part of their daily nap time.
  • For older children aged 3+ years use a ‘bunny clock’ to help them understand when they can get up or come to your room.

By Brenda Hart, Cocoon UK