Sleep training: Day 7 update

March 10, 2006 | 3 comments

I have a lot of thoughts and am not quite sure how to organize them, but I’ll do my best to make it as easy to read as possible.

My Favorite Sleep Training Book
First of all, why is Kim West’s book Good Night, Sleep Tight not considered *the* book on sleep training? I have read each of the books by Pantley, Karp, Ferber, Sears, Ezzo, Brazelton, Weissbluth and Hogg cover-to-cover (in some cases multiple times) and didn’t find any of them nearly as helpful as this one. Yet I’d never even heard of Kim West. I just randomly happened upon her book at the discount rack at the grocery store of all places.

I love this book is because:

  • It’s tough-love enough to be effective, yet it’s much more gentle than Ferber and some of the others.
  • The author is very respectful of parents’ needs to make their own decisions and occasionally go against her recommendations. Most of the other sleep training books just tell you, “Don’t do XYZ — period” and offer no alteratives. West makes recommendations, but also includes suggestions for how to work it if you’re just not comfortable implemeting her recommendation. (For example: for parents who are having trouble with co-sleeping she recommends getting your child to sleep in his own crib. But she also says she understands that that just doesn’t work for some people and includes a section on sleep training while co-sleeping).
  • It’s written by a mother. She understands how difficult it is to make some of the changes she suggests and her tone is very encouraging, supportive and understanding.

My Plan
The plan I’m following is from West’s book. Basically, you start out sitting right next to the crib. Then, slowly, over a period of a couple of weeks, you go from lots of physcial and verbal reassurance to just verbal reassurance as you gradually move your position out the bedroom door. (This is the plan for 17-month-olds, might be different for other ages, I didn’t read those chapters). Although I’m stuck in the “right by the crib” phase since he’s not adapting to it all that well.

The Best of Times, the Worst of Times. (But mostly the latter).
I’m not really sure how to say sleep trainig is going. On one hand, an amazing, astounding thing has started occuring that I never thought I’d see in my lifetime: my son has started asking to go in his crib. Asking. To. Go. In. His. Crib. I wouldn’t believe it if I hadn’t seen it with my own eyes.

Oddly, as soon as I put him in there at night he starts screaming. He doesn’t do this during naps or in the middle of the night but for some reason night time is the end of the world. I’ve tried moving his bedtime earlier in case he’s overtired and putting in a brighter nightlight but nothing works. And the length of time he cries is actually increasing rather than decreasing, which is unspeakably depressing.

I’ve experienced this before. When I got desperate and resorted to Ferber’s method (leaving the room but returning at regular intervals for reassurance) when my son was about nine months old, I did it under the premise that it “always” works in three days. That’s what the book claims and that had been the experience of every single person I knew who’d done it. I knew probably eight or nine people personally and countless women on message boards who’d done Ferber with their babies and they all reported the same thing: first night is terrible, second night is bad, third night is pretty good, and then it’s pretty much smooth sailing from there.

Not so with us. My child is strong-willed and intense and does not give in easily, to say the least. After 14 days of Ferber with little to no improvement I decided that I couldn’t live my life this way anymore and threw in the towel, resinging myself to many more months of exhaustion. And I’m afraid that’s what I’m facing now. I know that it’s important to pick a plan and stick with it since drastically changing the routine is confusing and unsettling to children. But at the same time I can’t listen to my son scream bloody murder for an hour every night indefinitely.

My New Pet Peeve
One clear thing that’s come of this situation is that I have a new pet peeve: people assuming that all babies are just like their own. I’ve had to mention to quite a few people that I’m doing sleep training because I’ve had to cancel all my plans for the next few weeks, and that has resulted in all sorts of advice. A couple of people I know who have docile, easy-going little girls have told me that I’m wasting time sitting next to his crib and I just need to give him a lovey and leave the room, and he’ll “fuss” for a little bit but get over it within a day or two. The sheer fact that they honestly think that my son would do anything with a “lovey” other than make it a projectile and that they think that I’m dealing with “fussing” rather than agonizing, top-of-the-lungs, shrieking is a clear indicator that they are completely unfamiliar with children of my son’s temperament.

Where to Go From Here
I am so confused right now. If things were uniformely bad it would be clear to me that this just isn’t going to work and I’d feel comfortable giving up after another day or two. But I have seen some absolutely incredible improvements, such as him asking to go into his crib and putting himself to sleep all on his own without crying at nap times and night wakings. Yet the nightly scream-fest at bedtime just breaks my heart and ruins the evening every time, and the fact that it’s getting worse instead of better makes me wonder how much more I can take. But I want this to work so badly since co-sleeping is a problem for us and I’m going to have a newborn in four months who needs my attention.

So that’s how it’s going. In some ways, wonderful. In other ways, terrible.

Advice is welcome. And my eternal gratitude to anyone who can figure out why my son now asks to go in his crib and eagerly climbs in yet screams once he’s in there (mostly just at night time, although he sometimes fusses a bit at naps).

And thank you again for all your support and encouragement.


  1. SteveG

    Alright! I am first up and I am going to take a stab at this based on my vast experience in sleep training techniques…NOT!

    I mentioned earlier the sleep training that I saw the Supernanny (hereafter referred to as SN since I feel silly writing Supernanny) used to great effect over and over. It actually sounds a good bit like what you are doing with a one MAJOR difference which I am suspicious of.

    Here’s how it went on the occasions where I saw it done for kids your son’s age.

    *Lots of stories, hugs and cuddles, normal bedtime routine, then dad or mom, literally lay the child down in the crib with final hugs and kisses and finish with ‘Time for bed’.

    *The parent then sits relatively close (within view) to the crib (better be comfortable), but turns sideways to the child. This way the child knows the parent is present, knows that they are not alone, but no eye contact is made, and no verbal or physical response is made.

    *The child’s response the first time is to either scream their head off or if possible to climb out of the crib.

    *If the child manages to climb out, the parent gets up, and gently place s the child back in the crib and says ‘Bed Time’. The verbal reassurance is given ONCE and only once.

    *If the child continues to climb out, the parent silently, and without reacting either verbally or physically simply places the child back in the crib and goes back to their sitting position.

    *This is done as many times as needed. No talking, no eye contact, no response other than to the parent’s presence (this appears to be really tuff the first night or two-especially on moms).

    *Then, slowly, over a period of a couple of days, you gradually move your position out the bedroom door.

    …This worked even with kids who were really strong willed and had terrible (much worse than you’ve described) sleep issues.

    So here’s my amateur observations.

    While the more ‘active’ reassurance seems more compassionate in one sense, it seems that it’s sending a message that if I cry, I can get a reaction, or a response out of mom. It seems that the ability to create a response is if anything a reinforcer for the behavior.

    How does she suggest that a very strong willed child such as yours is going to wean from that?

    I would think that as long as he can get a desired physical or verbal reaction from you, he’s going to keep up the thing that produces that. Indeed, I’d think it would make sense that once he’s learned to do that, he intuitively can figure out that if he ratchets things up, he’ll eventually get the real response he wants (back to mom’s bed).

    The thing about the SN’s method is that it struck me as at once fairly compassionate (you are in the room after all, and haven’t ‘abandoned’ the child), but at the same time it makes it pretty clear that ‘while I am here for you with my presence, your actions won’t get the reaction you want.’

    That strikes me intuitively as a reasonable balance between the non-responsiveness of Ferber’s method, and the highly responsive method Ms. West is suggesting.

    I’ve already admitted that we are co-sleepers, so I have no ‘dog in this fight’ other than that you have some success in this, so I offer this as an outsider looking in at the methods involved and offering what jumps out at me.

    Hope it is some food for thought…probably not.

    I’ll keep praying for you.

  2. Jennifer F.

    Steve – great thoughts, as always.

    Unfortunately I have cut out the reassurance part. After the first night I saw that he got all riled up every time I patted him and it only made everything worse, so now I pretend to be asleep. Even when he throws things out of the crib, stands up, or whatever I just act like I’m sleeping.

    My big debate is about moving closer to the door. He’s doing so poorly with it as it is I feel like I shouldn’t make more changes right now, but who knows, clearly I don’t have great instincts for this.

    Anyway, thanks!

  3. Colleen

    It is incredibly forward for this childless wonder to weigh in but I can’t help it. It sounds to me like you could leave the room altogether, at this point and then, as needed, go back in to assure him that you are nearby, as often as need be. Also, I wonder, have you tried any special “tricks” to ensure he is sleepy when he goes to bed at night? I have in mind that old standby a tryptophan rich snack (as in yogurt, warm milk, etc,).

    I found a few more “tricks” when I was perusing the literature. If you want any more, just let me know.

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