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My child needs a specific item or person present to fall asleep

Some children are unable to fall to sleep without the presence of a special person, thing or activity. This can stop children from falling asleep at the start of the night, and make it hard for them to get back to sleep when they naturally wake in the middle of the night too.

Free helpful sleep strategies

  • Sleep Associations

    Some children are unable to fall to sleep without the presence of a special person, thing, or activity. This can prevent children from falling asleep at the start of the night and make it hard for them to get back to sleep when they naturally wake in the middle of the night, too.

    Key features are:

    • Your child needs something (e.g. music, a particular toy) or someone (e.g. mum or dad) to get to sleep.
    • If that something or someone is not present, they will not be able to get to sleep at the start of the night or fall back to sleep overnight

    The key to having your child sleep through the night is to help them learn to fall asleep on their own at the start of the night, so they can put themselves back to sleep when they naturally wake up during the night. Before making any other changes it is essential to set up good sleep habits. This is discussed in the Good Sleep Habits handout and the Normal Sleep.

    If your child can’t get to sleep without a particular activity…

    If your child associates an activity with going to bed and this activity also keeps them awake overnight, slowly remove it from their bedtime routine. Common activities include watching television and using computers or mobile phones. Gradually reduce the amount of time your child spends doing the activity before sleep by 10 minutes every night.

    Remove screens, such as computers, televisions and phones at bedtime.

    Children over two years old may respond to rewards, such as a special sticker in the morning. See the Rewards handout for more information about this. If your child falls asleep watching video or listening to audio, these should be turned off when the child is drowsy but not asleep.

    Did You Know…

    Does blue light from computers, TVs, smartphones, etc., block the production of our natural sleep hormone, melatonin? Kids who use these devices just before bedtime may not make enough melatonin to fall asleep!

    If your child can’t get to sleep without a special thing…

    If your child can’t fall asleep without a particular thing, such as a dummy, then not being able to find it may keep them from falling back to sleep at night. You may need to remove it from their bedtime routine slowly. Allow your child to have the object as usual, but remove it when the child is drowsy but not asleep.

    DUMMIES: Teaching children eight months and older to replace their dummies overnight is also possible. Attach a short dummy chain (less than 10cm or less) to your child’s clothing. At the start of the night, guide your child’s hand down the chain onto the dummy and back to their mouth. Do the same if the dummy falls out overnight. Your child might take 3-4 nights or more to learn to do this independently.

    If your child can’t get to sleep without a particular person…

    If your child cannot get to sleep without you (or another particular person), you will need to help them learn to fall asleep without you being there. After you have run through the bedtime routine, the aim is for you to be able to quietly leave the room when your child is in bed, sleepy but awake.

    If your child cries, you can choose to use the Controlled Comforting / Checking Method or the Camping Out Method. For more detailed information, look at the information sheets for these methods.

    Controlled Comforting / Checking Method: You do brief and boring checks on your child at regular time intervals while they are upset. This will reassure your child that you are still there and reassure yourself that your child is ok.

    Camping Out Method: You start by sitting right next to your child’s bed until your child falls asleep. Every few nights, you move your chair further away from the bed until you and the chair are eventually outside the door.

    If your child can’t get back to sleep DURING the night, use the same method (Checking or Camping Out) you do at the start of the night. If doing this interrupts your sleep, you can place a mattress on the floor in your bedroom and allow your child to sleep there (only if they don’t wake you).

    Be consistent

    Keep at it! Research shows that most children will naturally begin sleeping through the night within 1 to 2 weeks of falling asleep quickly and easily at bedtime. Keep trying and encourage others caring for your child to use the same strategies. Being consistent will increase your chances of success with improving your child’s sleep patterns.

  • Controlled Comforting or The 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.

    Starting Controlled Comforting and the Checking Method

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

    • Camping Out is a strategy for dealing with persistent settling and waking problems in babies and young children. It can also be helpful with older children who are having issues getting to sleep, particularly if they feel anxious or frightened.

    Camping Out step by step

    Make sure you have a good bedtime routine in place; when doing Camping Out, you sit next to your child’s bed and gradually (overnights) move further away. Each night, you stay with your child until they fall asleep, and then you leave the room. This helps children learn how to settle themselves to sleep rather than needing you to be nearby.

    Stay on each step: For a few nights until your child gets used to this new arrangement. Use the same approach whenever you settle your child for sleep, such as if they wake overnight and for any daytime naps.

    1. Place your chair next to your child’s bed or cot. Sit and pat or stroke your child off to sleep.
    2. With the chair in the same place, sit next to your child, but do not touch them until they fall asleep.
    3. Move the chair away (half a metre or so) from your child’s bed or cot. Sit there until your child falls asleep.
    4. Continue to gradually move the chair toward the doorway and out of your child’s room over one to three weeks.

    Reward

    Reward your child in the morning for being able to stay in their own bed at the start of the night (this is discussed more in the Rewards strategy). If things haven’t improved after two weeks, talk to your doctor or child and family health nurse. They’ll be able to help you develop a program tailored to your child’s needs.

    Tips for settling your child

    • Sleep time, not playtime! If your child tries to play with you, calmly say it is sleep time and that you will only stay if they lie down. If they continue, leave for a short time (a minute or two). When you return, again, say you will only stay if they lie down for sleep.
    • Avoid making eye contact: This tells him that playtime has finished. It might also help to close your own eyes.
    • Some younger children get angry that their parents aren’t picking them up. Please resist the temptation to pick them up. If you do, you may reinforce this habit. She will eventually learn that you are there for comfort but not for picking up.
    • Extinction burst
    • After a few good nights or even weeks, your child may suddenly start doing the old behaviour more often or more strongly than before. This is known as an extinction burst, and while disheartening, it is temporary. If you can continue the strategy, the behaviours should stop after a few days. If you can’t keep going, you can try again later, but future attempts may be more challenging.
  • Bedtime Fading

    If your child is taking more than an hour to fall asleep after your chosen bedtime, you may find that trying to put your child to bed at an earlier time results in bedtime struggles. For some children it is best to gradually make their bedtime earlier, starting at the time they are naturally tired and ready for bed.

    Setting a suitable bedtime

    Work out when your child is naturally falling asleep and set this as the temporary bedtime. For example, if you want your child to go to bed at 8:30 pm, but they usually do not fall asleep until 10:00 pm, choose 10:00 pm as the temporary bedtime. Once they are falling asleep easily and quickly at this temporary bedtime then make their bedtime earlier by 15 minutes. When they are falling asleep easily and quickly at this new bedtime then bring it forward by another 15 minutes. Keep on doing this until you have reached the bedtime you want (for example, 8:30 pm).

    Mon Tues Wed Thu Fri Sat Sun
        10:00 10:00 9:45 9:45 9:45
    9:30 9:30 9:15 9:15 9:15 9:15 9:00
    9:00 8:45 8:45 8:30      

    Get morning light

    Morning light also helps set an earlier bedtime and helps keep the body clock on the right track. Open the curtains in the bedroom, eat breakfast in a sunny area, or spend some time outdoors.

    Be consistent

    Keep trying for a number of nights, and encourage others caring for your child to use the same strategies. Being consistent will increase your chances of success in improving your child’s sleep patterns.

  • Rewards

    Rewards can motivate a child to improve their behaviour. They work best if given soon after the behaviour, not after a few days. After a couple of weeks, they may not work as well, but by then, you hope your child’s behaviour has improved! Reward charts are appropriate for children three years and over.

    Set up the chart

    • Create it: You can choose from lots of different styles of charts, or make one yourself. Older children might like to create their chart, perhaps with a drawing or photo of the reward they’re trying to earn. You can also download free charts from the internet. E.g. try searching for “reward charts to colour in.”
    • Place it: Put the chart where your child can see it. Remember that your older child might prefer a private spot – for example, his bedroom, instead of on the fridge.

     

     

    Rewards can motivate a child to improve their behaviour. They work best if given after the behaviour, not after a few days. After a couple of weeks, they may not work either, but by then, you hope your child’s behaviour has improved! Reward charts are appropriate for children three years and over.

    Set up the chart

    • Decide which stickers or tokens to use: star stickers work well for younger children, whereas older kids might like points or other markers.
    • Keep rewards small and cheap, e.g., stickers, stamps. It is not necessary for rewards to be expensive, but rather a small symbol that you are happy with your child’s behaviour.
    • Choose short-term rewards: Most children start by liking the idea of collecting stickers or tokens, but the novelty can wear off quite quickly. When this happens, swapping the stickers or tokens for short-term rewards can help them keep their eyes on the main prize. You could let your child choose from a range of objects, events and activities – for example, getting to choose an activity for special time with mum or dad, e.g. a trip to the park, a family bike ride, going to the swimming pool, or watching a favourite movie (but not just before bed!).
    • Try not to make food the reward
    • You can build on rewards, e.g. 4 stickers = a lucky dip (remember to keep the prizes small and cheap), a park trip, or a DVD choice after dinner.

    Rewarding your child

    • Choose the behaviour you want to encourage: Use clear and positive descriptions, and talk with your child about the behaviour you want to see.
    • Increase your child’s chance of success to begin with: Make sure your child has a chance to get a few rewards over the first few days. For example, at first, you may reward them for staying in their room at the start of the night. Once they can do this, you may reward them only if they remain in their room all night.
    • Give the reward as soon as possible after the excellent behaviour, e.g., first thing in the morning. Some specific praise should remind your child why she’s getting a sticker or token. For example, “I like the way you stayed in your bed the whole night. Here is a star for your chart.”
    • NEVER take away a reward: If your child has earned it, they keep it! If your child doesn’t earn a star, just move on. Focus on encouraging your child to try again.

Or get started with Kips free Ebook

Struggling with kids' bedtime woes or early wake-ups? Kip's Sleep Strategies are here to help! These expert-approved tips and a bit of magic will make bedtime a breeze, ensuring everyone gets the restful sleep they need. Ready to turn those tough nights into dreams come true and joyful mornings? Let's start this journey together!

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