sleep coaching a toddler

I met with the sleep coach a week ago, and I’ve been meaning to sit down and write about it ever since then, but I was too exhausted to actually implement any of the suggestions she gave me, and too exhausted to write about it, because, you know, my kid doesn’t sleep and that makes me tired. (Catch-22, anyone?)

Anyway, before I met with Pam from First Daze and Nightzzz, she sent me a questionnaire to detail Lucy’s history, so she could figure out where we were going wrong, and how to implement a solution that would work for us.

One of her questions was to list the things I had already tried. And I realized that this is a really long list.

This is what I sent her:

1.) Implementing a set/predictable bedtime routine that allows her to gradually calm down & get sleepy.

2.) When I suspected teething, I tried giving her either Motrin or Tylenol at bedtime.

3.) Trying the “cry it out” method. This doesn’t work because she gets so distressed that she makes herself vomit.

4.) Letting her sleep with me. This doesn’t work for a few reasons, but primarily because she wakes so frequently and is such a restless sleeper that neither of us was getting any rest.

5.) Moving her from a crib to a big-girl bed. This was probably a bad idea in hindsight, but it worked really well for my first daughter. Of course, the crib broke when I was moving it, & I cannot justify shelling out more money for a new crib that will likely only get a few months’ use. So we’re committed to the bed now. (It has a guard rail so she can’t fall out.)

6.) Trying the method of sitting next to her bed as she fell asleep, then over time gradually sitting closer and closer to the door as she fell asleep. Now I sit in the hall, but if she can’t see me as she falls asleep, she gets up and comes looking for me.

7.) Trying the “Supernanny technique” of not saying a word or giving her any feedback at all (neither positive nor negative), just simply picking her up and putting her back in the bed every time she got up. I did this for WEEKS. It never worked.

8.) I’ve given her Benadryl. Terrible, I know. And it had no effect whatsoever.

9.) A few weeks ago, out of desperation (because friends & pediatrician both recommended it), I took her off the bottle cold turkey & now only give her sippy cups.

That’s a lot of stuff, right? I also had to write out logs for at least 48 hours and make notes of when Lucy slept, how often she woke up, what I did to get her back to sleep, how much she eats during the day, etc. I left a notepad on my nightstand and scribbled down the times when Lucy woke up.

Normally, when I wake up in the morning, if you asked me how many times Lucy was up during the night, I would have no idea, because it all sort of blurs together. Seeing it all written out made me realize exactly why I’ve been so tired. Like the night that she woke me up 6 times. Let me repeat that: SIX. TIMES. And that’s not unusual! I mean, newborns wake you up less than that, right?


So, we came up with a plan, and I’m tackling it now.

1. Lucy has had eczema since she was a tiny baby. I normally put cortisone cream on it, and that keeps it sort of in check, but she scratches an awful lot (mainly her hands and feet). One of the ideas that Pam mentioned is that perhaps she sleeps so restlessly because her skin is itching. (Why that never occurred to me, I don’t know.) So I took Lucy to a dermatologist last week, and we got a new cream for her eczema (which I can already tell is helping), as well as a prescription antihistamine that is specifically designed to deal with itching. (I got excited when the dermatologist told me that the antihistamine “may make her a bit groggy.” Reality: it makes her slightly groggy. Mostly it makes her meaner than a damn snake.)

2. We had a “family meeting” (well, Lucy and I did, Catie was like, “this is boring,” and took off to play on her iPad) to discuss that our new friend the Sleep Lady is going to teach us how to help Lucy sleep at night. Hard to have a real discussion with a 20 month-old, and I don’t know how much of it she understood, but I’ve been repeating this theme a lot (learning to sleep in her own bed, etc.), and hoping that it’ll sink in.

3. I bought a My Tot Clock, which is blue at night, and turns yellow in the morning when it’s time to wake up. Lucy is a big fan of colors, so she took to this pretty quickly. When the clock turns blue (normally when we’re in bed reading books), she points at it and says, “Boo! Nigh-night!” Yes, baby, blue means that it’s night-night time.

4. In the vein of basic behavior/reward charts, I’ve created Lucy’s “sleep manners” chart. Obviously she isn’t old enough to read yet, so I googled some clip art to make it something she can understand visually.

Lucy sleep manners
(Click to enlarge.)

A lot of the things are easy, like putting on her pajamas and brushing her teeth – I help her with those, so they’re kind of automatic wins for her. (The idea being to kind of boost her up a little, rather than just, “Well, you sucked at everything yesterday, didn’t you?”) I also bought some smiley face and star stickers to decorate it when she accomplishes the items on her chart.

5. Using the “chair method” of sitting in a chair next to the bed while she falls asleep for 3 nights, by the door for the next 3, in the hall for the next 3, and finally out of sight (with lots of returns to check on her). I thought I was already doing this by sitting on the floor next to her & gradually moving out of her sight, but the chair does make it a bit more of an official, “this is where Mommy sits” spot.

6. Putting the baby gate in the doorway to her room. Several people suggested this to me, and I was very hesitant to try it, because I’m pretty sure that if Lucy was pissed off enough, she could throw herself against the gate and knock it down.

Pam said to phrase it so that it isn’t a punishment, and more like, “Since you keep popping up and forgetting to stay in your bed, this is going to remind you that you need to stay in your own room instead of running to get Mama every time you wake up.”

Again, not sure how much a 20 month-old is going to understand out of all of this, but the idea is just to keep repeating it and eventually it’ll sink in.


So, it’s a lot to take in, but the good news? Last night, Lucy slept through the night for the first time in ages. I have no idea if it was just completely blind, dumb luck, and we’ll be back to waking up 6 times tonight, or if it’s the start of a new trend. Obviously I’m hoping for the latter, but bracing myself for the former.

New big-girl bedding is both Lucy and Catie-approved.

Keep your fingers crossed for us. I sure could use it.

sleep training begins, kinda

It’s generally a bad idea to talk about a particular parenting style on the Internet, because it always leads to disagreements – breast versus bottle, stay-at-home moms versus working moms, natural childbirth versus medicated… all of those arguments we’ve had a hundred times or more.

Which is why it’s probably a bad idea for me to write about this, but a couple of posts this week got me thinking about it, so here it is.

I’ve started sleep training Lucy.

Let me back up: for the past four months, my mom has been living with me, so the idea of letting Lucy cry it out simply wasn’t an option. My mom is respectful of my parenting decisions, but she’s also a grandma, and it goes against her instincts to let her grandbaby cry. Besides, I never would’ve let Lucy cry it out when she was younger than 6 months old anyway.

But lately, bedtime with her has turned into this ridiculously elaborate dance, and it basically feels like she’s training me, instead of the other way around, and I have to put a stop to it.

Lately, Lucy’s sleep routine has been:
* Bathtime.
* Bottle.
* She starts to fall asleep on the bottle, then wakes up and wants! to! play! (Which, WTF? Wasn’t the whole POINT of the bath to make you sleepy, kid?).
* She rolls around on the floor and plays for at least an hour, sometimes longer.
* She eats some solid food – because I figure what the hell, we’re awake, and maybe having a little extra in her tummy will make her sleep longer. (Tip: it doesn’t.)
* Play some more. I get increasingly desperate for sleep.
* Another bottle. This time, she falls asleep while drinking it.
* Burp.
* Caaaaarefully transfer sleeping baby to crib. If she wakes up, she screams bloody murder, then I have to pick baby up and rock her until she falls asleep again, then repeat transfer process. (This may take up to 5 times or more, before successful crib placement actually occurs.)
* I crawl to bed and collapse, and pray that she sleeps through the night. Which she’s done, like, maybe 4 times in her life. Normally she wakes me up after 3-4 hours.

So. That’s completely ridiculous, right? I mean, I know it is.

The thing is, when I’ve tried to let her cry it out, I end up caving in. She screams and screams, and eventually I just can’t take it anymore, so I go get her. (Of course, the message she receives from this is, “If I scream loud enough, Mommy will come back and get me.” So that’s completely useless.)

Last night, she woke me up at 4 a.m., as per usual. I gave her a bottle, burped her, and put her back in the crib. As soon as I set her down, she woke up and started shrieking. I sat down on the floor next to her crib, reached through the slats, and tried to pat her and comfort her, to get her to go to sleep on her own.

I did that for half an hour. She never stopped screaming.

Finally, I couldn’t take it anymore. I could feel myself starting to get angry – which is completely irrational, I know. She’s a baby, she can’t help it. But she had me up past midnight, then woke me up less than 4 hours later, and I was just exhausted and I couldn’t take it anymore. So I left.

I lay down in my bed and I stared at the clock. Lucy screamed for 22 minutes, then she finally fell asleep.

(For the record? Catie slept through the entire thing.)

I don’t feel that guilty about it – I mean, she wasn’t hungry, she wasn’t sick or in pain. She was just pissed off and didn’t want to sleep. Or she didn’t know how to get herself to sleep. Which is mostly my fault, because I haven’t made her figure out how to soothe herself yet.

I don’t know if this is something I’m going to do long-term. All I know is that I’m raising these 2 girls by myself, I don’t have a partner who I can tag-team for nighttime duty. And I have a full-time job, and I am useless during the day if I don’t get enough sleep. So I have to do something.

This is less about a particular parenting philosophy, and more about basic survival.

Trying SO HARD. But so far she can only go backwards.

Besides, based on the smiles and laughs I got this morning when she woke up, I’m pretty sure no major long-term damage has been done. Yet.