Z in cot

3 Things I’ve Learnt About Sleep Training

I had the perfect set up with K and Z sleeping on their own in separate rooms. Previously, I had managed to sleep train Z that I could put him down sleepy but awake in his cot and he would go sleep by himself.  But after Hong Kong where we all bundled up on the same bed, our friend, Z, has learnt that it is so nice to kuay sio (snuggle up amidst warm bodies) with a lot of people.  Thus, ever since we returned, he has been unable to sleep in his cot even after rocking and patting for hours (ok.  I exaggerate, more like 40 minutes of crying, which still seems like eternity)  So what we resorted to doing is to let him sleep in K’s room on her bed since she doesn’t like sleeping on it and I’ll have to pat him and stay with him till he falls asleep.  K too, has needed LimpehZ to accompany her till she sleeps.  This honestly isn’t the most optimal solution since some nights, we fall asleep and wake up disoriented and unrested at midnight.  I have also since moved my desktop out since it’s impossible to work with the 2 of them trying to sleep in the room.  Here are some reflections on the topic of sleep training my kids.

1. I cannot employ Cry-It-Out method beyond 8-9 months.

I’m a fan of sleep training.  I think God is merciful to me because I REALLY need my sleep.  If I don’t get sleep for 2 days, I go cranky and crazy and will give up all national secrets.  I tried the Babywise method and K started sleeping through at 4 weeks, Z a bit later at 3 months.  By 4 months for both babies, I was at the end of my tether.  I really couldn’t stand their incessant need to be rocked, carried and patted to sleep and when I gently put them down with bated breaths, they would wake up kicking and screaming because: How dare I put them down in the cot when they fell asleep?!  The atrocities of this universe!!  After a period of storming and norming and I kinda knew their pattern (chao kuan), I guess I could more or less tell when they really needed comfort and when they were just being bratty.  I tried the pat for 100 counts in my head (cuz it’s all the mind-numbing patting I could take at a time), then whether or not they fell asleep, I would put them down in the cot.  They will cry, of course, then I’ll pick them up after 10 minutes, soothe them, tell them I love them, then do it all over again.  First 2 days , I will take maybe 4-5 rounds of doing that before they fell asleep but after the third day, I saw a marked difference in the crying times and soon, the kids can be dropped in the cot and they would sleep on their own.  Yay!  Go me!!

Even for a hard-hearted mother like me, I was surprised at myself that I couldn’t use this method anymore once the kids reached an age where they are more responsive and… sentient?  It’s the age when they can call mama.  It’s as if they are not just screaming at the air but can direct their displeasure at someone.  When they scream for me specifically, I can’t help but give in to their pitiful cries.  So when we came back from HK and I tried to have Z sleep in his cot again, his emphatic screams for me just ripped my heart out and I couldn’t use the same method to train him again.  So that’s the end of CIO.  No choice.  He’s now muscled his way into his sister’s room, kicked her out of her bed and colonized it for himself.  But he’ll still need me to pat him and let him snuggle to sleep.

Worthless advice #1:  Use CIO when young and train them.  Don’t go to HK on extended holiday and ruin all the training.

2. Be patient with the child and yourself.  Sleep training can sometimes take a really long time.

When we were expecting Z, we were cheap and wanted to reuse the cot for him but didn’t want K to think we were taking her bed away from her to give to her brother.  So we bought her a mattress and told her months before Z’s arrival that she was now a big girl and can have her own bed.  But I think she was pretty overwhelmed at the sudden lack of boundaries and freedom and she came over every night to sneak into our bed.  Being really anxious about training her properly (I was somehow very fearful that if I didn’t nip this problem right now, she will still be sleeping with us till 16).  So I took it upon myself to march her right back to her bed when I found her at trying to sleep with us.  Then she would want me to lie down and sleep with her but I was also unwilling to do that.  There were a lot of tears and wailing and foolishly, I even tried locking her up with the Ikea safety gate, hoping she would cry it out and learn to sleep by herself again.  One day when being confined in her room with the safety gate, we left her to cry and we suddenly heard a loud plonk.  When we found her, she had landed on the floor, fortunately on her palms facing the floor (and not on the back of her head).  We found out later that she gripped the rail of the gate with her toes and somehow vaulted herself out.  Needless to say, that was the last we’ve seen of the gate.  She was about 18 months.  K took a long long time to learn to sleep on her own on the mattress, maybe say… almost a year!  But LimpehZ is her choice of companion so when she wakes up in the night, I will shove him out of bed.  “YOUR daughter is calling for you.”  😀

On hindsight, I think our mother-daughter fights started since then and I actually regret that whole period.  Why wasn’t I more patient with her?  Why couldn’t I see that she wanted me to be with her because she was scared and insecure?  Why was I so anxious for her to grow up and be independent when she clearly wasn’t ready?  I think… I really wanted to see myself as a strict (and maybe successful?) mother then.  Like, I really wanted people to see me and say she’s got it all together.  Her children eat so well and sleep on their own!  Etc etc…  Now I realize I can’t give 2 hoots about what people think of me.  What matters is what God and my children think of me.  Am I loving?  Am I patient, kind, long-suffering, gentle and humble?  Do I exhibit Jesus’ character? Probably not really at that time.  From then on, LimpehZ became K’s favouritest parent and I’m in the ranks of evil stepmother.  If I can turn back time, I will definitely try to be more loving and patient with helping her sleeping on her own.

With Z now, when he wakes up in the middle of the night crying, I will pack up all my stuff, make myself comfortable and lie near him.  Doing that makes him calmer faster and he settles back into sleep fairly quickly, without needing a bottle of milk.  It has worked so far and he only wakes up occasionally now when before, when we first came back, he would wake up 2-3 times every night if he realizes I’m not there.

Advice-you-can-consider #2:  Don’t do what I did with K and regret that you’ve been too harsh with your child.  They are only so small once.  Hold them while you still can and while they still want you to.  When they refuse to sleep on their own and you’re going crazy with lack of sleep, just take a deep breath, breathe in their baby sweetness and tell yourself, they won’t smell like that at 16 and you’re unlikely to have to do this till then.

3.  There is no (foreseeable) end to sleep training.  

Most parenting books only speak of sleep training for the first year.  No one ever mentions we will need to train them again and again thereafter!  I thought that after the first 4 months training them to sleep on their own, I would be set for life, but no… they suddenly change pattern and start waking up in the middle of the night.  Arrghh!!  What happened??  I guess… nothing major, just that your baby is growing up and they get more conscious and fearful of various things – it’s too dark; it’s too bright; doggie is not with me; daddy needs to sleep beside me etc.  At every stage, how we deal with their perceived fears do affect them.  Do we brush those pleas for help callously away and demand that they grow up and deal with it?  Do we go along with them and give validation to their irrational fears?  I don’t know and I suppose there’s a time and place for each response and you have to make that call as a parent.

Cover-all-grounds-hence-totally-useless advice #3:  Go with your parental instincts.  You know your child best.  

If you’ve persevered till the end of this post and feel like throwing your shoe at me for not learning anything, I’m sorry!  I guess it’s really all a learning process and every child is different right?  There’s really no one-size-fits-all method.  Learning from my mistakes, I think I will go with the gentler method of meeting the child’s calls for reassurance, however ridiculous or demanding they may seem.  As parents, by all means set standards and boundaries (e.g. for us, from day 1, we wanted to have our kids sleep independently on their own beds; no co-sleeping for us) but help them move towards these goals step by step as and when they are ready.  They will let you know and surprise you one day when they are.  As K said one day when she finally slept through on her own, “Mama, are you proud of me?  I slept well in my bed last night.”  Well done my child, well done…

Z in cot

Only realized it now. One of Z’s last few pictures of sleeping in his cot.

K and her best friend Spot

K and her best friend Spot

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