The Fastest Way To Break An Unsustainable Sleep Association

Sleep associations are an action that has to be done in order for your baby to fall asleep. That could be driving them around in the car, rocking them to sleep, feeding them to sleep, bouncing, swaying… you get the drift. I’m sure you get it so well that you are about to pull your hair out just thinking about it. 

I’ve totally been there, and it was not fun. At all. 

When we allow our babies to develop sleep associations (because, duh, we are exhausted and just want them to get some sleep) it can lead to a vicious cycle where we create something much more difficult to deal with than if we would have taught them good sleep habits to begin with.. which, I truly believe, basically all mothers have experienced. 

In this blog, I am going to explain what we can do to help a toddler with sleep associations, but it can be applied to other ages as well with some minor tweaking to the methods.

Retrain The Sleep Association 

When we are working on a sleep association, we want to start by retraining the association. This will be much harder to do with an older baby compared to a younger one because they are very set in their ways (AKA, their sleep association is strong). So be aware that there will be some protesting (crying) involved. Does that mean you are going to leave your baby to cry themselves to sleep? No, it doesn’t. But it will involve tears simply because they are so set in their way and they are going to really protest this new change happening, which they probably aren’t too happy about. They would prefer you sat there and rocked them (feed them, drove them around, etc.) to sleep, which clearly isn’t sustainable anymore or you wouldn’t be reading this blog.

The biggest aspect of this is that we don’t use the current sleep association anymore. So if that means you are driving your toddler around to get them to take a nap, then that will have to stop. Same goes for if you are rocking, feeding, bouncing. Whatever the sleep association is, it needs to come to an end so that we can retrain them with something more sustainable (for a short period) until they are at a point where they can fall asleep on their own with no assistance from you whatsoever. 

Establish A New Sleep Association

Once we have taken away the old sleep association, we want to replace it with a more sustainable one which will lead up to them not needing your assistance at all. There are many ways to go about this. With a younger baby (0-6 months), you can implement very gentle sleep methods that encourage good sleep habits without many tears, such as the shush/pat method, or the 5 S’s. With a toddler, this will be a bit more difficult to implement so you will need a firmer sleep method, while still providing them comfort throughout this big change. 

For a toddler, you can teach them active settling. Which is when you are present for the settling, but aren’t giving them as much attention as you would a younger baby. This is also only sustainable for a short time and not something you will want to be doing forever, so only do this for a few days to get them used to being in their room and their own bed (as opposed to being driven around for sleep, held or fed to sleep, among others). This isn’t meant to be something that goes on for months. Some ways you can do this are the Chair in Room method, cuddling them or even laying down with them. This will reassure them that they're going to be okay in their own bed/room and eventually will teach them how to fall asleep independently, without your assistance. The whole point of this is to get them used to sleeping in their own room/bed (if they aren’t used to that yet) and then we can move on to removing your assistance to get them to sleep. If your child is already used to sleeping in their own room/bed and it's you helping them to sleep that is the issue, then you can move on to the next step of removing yourself as a sleep association. 

Slowly Remove Yourself

Once your toddler has gotten used to sleeping in their own bed/room (which may take a few days), it is time to start removing yourself as a sleep association. There are some things you can do to encourage good sleep in this situation, without having to use yourself as a component in it. 

Giving your toddler a lovey (stuffed animal) that they cherish can be very comforting to young and older babies alike when going to sleep. Also, make sure their sleep environment is promoting good sleep habits; a sleep sack (if toddler is under 3 or still in a crib), white noise if they are sensitive to sound, and a pitch black room can all be very helpful. This sets them up for a deep, restful sleep.

At this point, it becomes important to make sure your toddler is awake, but ready for sleep, when you put them down for rest. Make sure they are getting the proper awake times and nap time so that they aren't under or overtired when it comes time for sleep. It’s imperative to make sure that you are not assisting them to sleep anymore with any association connected to you when doing so. Feeding, bouncing, sleeping next to, holding… all of these props are assisting them to sleep and should be avoided. If you want to implement a method such as the Chair in Room method because your toddler is getting very upset without you being in the room with them, then that is okay. But remember, this is also an association that needs to be broken. 

The next step is to teach them to sleep independently, and that means removing yourself from the equation completely. Start spending less and less time in the room with your toddler until it gets to a point where all you have to do is say your sleep phrase to them (“it’s sleepy time now”) and leave the room. You can do this over a span of a few days or a week or so. It all depends on how consistent you are and the temperament of your toddler. Once you can successfully do this, they won’t need you to help them to sleep anymore. Can I get an AMEN?!

In Conclusion, it will take a few weeks to implement this sleep method with a toddler because they are so set in their ways and used to their sleep props, but it is possible as long as you can stay consistent with it. A younger baby may only take up to a week to get the hang of this. Either way, you can break an unsustainable sleep association with practice, time and patience at any age. It’s important to train your toddler to sleep in their own bed and to learn how to sleep independently as this sets them up for good sleep habits now and later on down the road… not to mention it makes life ten times easier for you!

If you liked this blog, then you would love my group called 
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