Controlled comforting or checking method

Controlled Comforting or the Checking Method (for older children) is a strategy for dealing with persistent settling and waking problems in children. It involves briefly comforting, settling and then leaving your child for short time periods so your child learns to go to sleep on their own. The purpose of this is to reassure your child you are still there and to reassure yourself that your child is OK. This can be particularly helpful for children who are anxious about going to sleep.

About the method

The idea with the controlled comforting/checking method is to give your child the opportunity to learn to go to sleep by themselves. If your child gets upset when you leave their bedroom, wait a short time before you go back to them, gradually increase the time you spend outside the bedroom before going to check on them. In this way, they are also learning that you are not far away and will return.

Before you start

Parents dealing with sleep and settling problems can become very tired and stressed, particularly if they’re losing sleep themselves. Controlled comforting is sometimes tried by parents who feel overwhelmed, or whose wellbeing is suffering. Before you start, make sure your child is getting lots of attention, time and affection during the day.

Doing controlled comforting and checking method

2. Turn baby monitors down or even off: Make sure you can still hear your child without a monitor.

3. Don’t wait outside your child bedroom: Go into another room and distract yourself – make a cup of tea or turn on the TV. Only go back to check on your child when the set time is up.

4. Talk to your partner first: Make sure that you both agree with what’s going on. Work out what role each of you will play – for example, helping with resettling or timing the intervals.

6. Avoid important commitments: Clear your schedule for the first few days after you start controlled comforting. You need to be able to see it through without a major change to your child’s routine.

How much time will I wait

Set your own intervals of time based on how long you think you can manage: For some children, frequent checking is good – say 2, then 4, 6, 8, then 10 minutes. For others, less check- ing is best – say 5, then 10, 15, 20, then 25 minutes.

Step by step

First, establish a consistent and positive bedtime routine, see the Good Sleep Habits for ideas. Also, decide on the waiting times between checks that are best for you and your child.

    • When it is time, settle your child in bed, say “goodnight” and leave the room before your child is asleep. Promise to come back and check on him.
    • Stay out of the bedroom and give your child a chance to settle by herself. Ignore grizzling.
    • If your child starts to really cry, wait the first time interval you have decided (e.g. 2 minutes) before Checking your child (see below).
    • After leaving the room, again give your child a chance to settle by herself.
    • If she again starts to cry, wait for the second time interval (e.g. 4 minutes) before going to check her.
    • Continue to check on your child as long as she is upset, gradually stretching the interval times.
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