Gradual withdrawal sleep training.
Gradual withdrawal is a gentle sleep training technique that allows you be a comforting presence as your child learns to sleep without you. You start by the cot or bed and move further away until you are able to leave the room and your child settles to sleep independently.
How do I do it?
After a good wind down routine, put your child into the cot or bed relaxed and ready for sleep, but still awake and aware of his surroundings. Sit right next to your child on a chair or a cushion. If your child cries or fusses, you can stroke or pat him intermittently (not constantly, because you want to avoid creating a new negative sleep association). You can do more touching on night one, then taper off as the nights go on. It’s also important that you control the touch rather than your child (children love to grab and hold a finger or hand). Only touch on and off and be conscious of the amount of touch you are giving. It will be different for a sick or frightened child in which case a little more touch may be necessary. Try not to pick your child up but if he’s extremely upset, go ahead and pick him up. Hold him until he’s calm but keep it brief, then put him down again whilst he’s still awake. You can sing during the ‘getting ready for bed stage’ but at sleep time, just use your voice to shush. If you close your eyes it can make it easier not to talk to your child as well as modelling to him that it’s time for sleep. The main thing is not to overstimulate him. Just be ‘boring’ and stay there until he falls asleep.
Move your chair about halfway to the door (if the room is small this may have to be all the way to the door). Continue your shushing and soothing sounds but stay on the chair as much as you can. You can get up to pat or touch your child a little if necessary but try not to pick him up unless he’s hysterical. If you do pick him up, follow the same steps as the first three nights and stay on the chair until he falls asleep. If you go to the cot or bed side and pat him until almost asleep, this will defeat the whole purpose of moving the chair away.
Move the chair to the doorway inside his room. Continue the same soothing techniques from the chair, intervening as little as possible. Try not to worry if he cries a bit, just keep on reassuring him. He’ll know you’re there and he should fall asleep.
Move into the hall with the door open a little so he can still see you and keep making some shushing sounds, not constantly, but enough to let him know you’re close by and responsive. Stay until he falls asleep. NB: Make changes every three days or less, as dragging it out longer will make it harder, not easier, for your child.
Nights 13 and on…
Most children will already be falling asleep and staying asleep by now on their own, with hardly any intervention, however you may need one more step: give your child the opportunity to fall asleep without your presence. You can stay in the hallway at this stage, or almost in the room, where your child can hear you but not see you. You can make intermittent shushing sounds and if necessary, you can check on your child from the door occasionally, without going all the way into the room. Be calm and reassuring: try not to convey any anxiety. This step is often harder for parents than the child. Your child might cry a little for a few nights but don’t rush to them prematurely. Have faith that your child can and will settle to sleep without you.
- Can be combined with the ‘Pick Up Put Down’ technique.
- Expect there to be some crying as your child adjusts to a new situation.
- If your child is overly upset on day four, when you are supposed to withdraw your touch, you can go to the cot or bed side and soothe your child with touch at intervals e.g. five, ten, then fifteen minutes, remembering that you are still working towards no touch. If your child wakes overnight crying on day four for example, when your chair is away from the cot, you would go into the room and to the chair and soothe your child with no touch if you can (you would not go straight to the cot or bed).
- This process requires a lot of patience. You need to be prepared for the process to take between ten and fourteen days, until your child begins to settle to sleep independently.
- It’s important that you continue to move your chair further away every three days, regardless of whether your child has fallen asleep successfully or not, just in case there is a regression e.g. If on day six, your child is put down and goes off to sleep straight away, you would still move the chair further away from the cot or bed until you are near the door, by about day twelve. This is just in case your child wakes crying a few days into the process, in which case the chair will be a visual reminder of where you should place yourself when you re-enter the room.