Thanks to Annina Maunula for contributing this article!

If your child is having trouble falling asleep or is waking up at night, sleep school at home is a safe way to try to change your child’s sleeping habits.

Overview of Sleep School

Sleep school is suitable for children over six months, so that the child can already cope the night without eating. The goal of  sleep school is for the child to learn to fall asleep on their own, without milk or help from parents.

There are several different types of sleep schools, but they all have a common basic idea: if a child cries when he goes to bed, the parent should go and comfort them. Soothing is gradually limited so that the child learns to calm him/herself to sleep.

In all sleep schools, the parent must act consistently. When sleep schools are consistently followed, parents should observe changes in the sleep of a healthy child within 3-4 nights.

Sleep School Basics

  • Put the child in their bed while they’re sleepy but awake.
  • Say good night and leave.
  • If your child starts to resist or cry, go visit them after a pre-determined time.
  • When you visit the child, tell them that everything is fine, it’s night and time to sleep. Always say the same thing and speak calmly. Do not lift the child out of bed. Leave the room.
  • Listen. If the child cries and does not seem to be satisfied, go back after a pre-determined time and do the same as the last time.
  • Subsequently, if the child gets upset again, wait a little longer before you go to the child’s room. In the following nights, you can extend the time even further. Continue sleep school for a week.

Here are three primary methods of sleep school:

1) The Touch Method

  • Put the child in their bed while they’re sleepy but awake. Exit. If the child cries, listen before you rush to their room.
  • If crying continues or intensifies, go to the child and place your hands firmly on the child’s back. Keep your hand still until the child calms down, but don’t let them fall asleep with your hand on their back.
  • If the child does not calm down, stroke them with noticeable, regular movements from the shoulders, back and buttocks.
  • If this does not help either, lift the child into your arms against your chest. When the child calms down, put them back in the bed. Hold your hand on the child’s back for a moment. Do not allow the child to fall asleep with your hand on their back.
  • Repeat if necessary.

2) The Chair Method

  • Put the child in the bed awake. Lie down yourself or sit right next to them. If the child is crying, comfort them by whispering or even humming calmly. Do not lift them into your arms.
  • The next night, sit right next to the child’s bed or on the bed.
  • The following night, sit a little further from the child’s bed. Over the course of the next nights, gradually move the chair away from the child’s bed until you are outside the child’s bedroom door.

3) The Planned Wake-Ups Method

  • Take notes of your child’s night rhythm for a week to find out your child’s typical wake-up times.
  • Set yourself an alarm and wake your child 15 to 30 minutes before the usual night wake-up time. Soothe your child back to sleep in the same way you have calmed them down before.
  • Follow the same night wake-up time for a few days.
  • Then postpone the wake-up time by half an hour. Follow the new wake-up time again for a few days.
  • Gradually increase the wake-up time, always just closer to the morning. If there is more than one wake-up during the night, the later one falls off first and then the earlier one.

Prerequisites for Success

Be calm and patient as the child responds to the parent’s mood. It’s better for the more rested parent to take care of the child’s night wake-ups.

Giving affection during the day provides the basis for a good night’s sleep. Keep your child close during daytime. Love, affection, and touch are basic needs for children and especially for babies.

Try not to let the child eat while falling asleep. For example, if your baby falls asleep while breastfeeding, wake them gently so that they know they’re being moved to their own bed. When a child wakes up at night, it is important for them to notice that they are in the same place where they fell asleep. A familiar blanket, soft toy, or pacifier will help your child calm down.

Children may initially react to new sleeping arrangements by crying fiercely, but they will get used to it when the parents are consistent. Regular daily rhythm is also needed for the sleep school to work.

Some babies under the age of one may still need night feedings, but for some the milk is just a habit. Start giving them water instead of milk to wean them.

You can always contact one of our mentors if you are unsure about something. We’ve had our share of sleepless nights too and are happy to provide tips and support.

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