Our Experience with a Sleep Consultant
About 5 months ago my 5.5 year old started having a strong fear of being alone. This included in his room at bedtime. We couldn't get a real answer as to what exactly he was scared of, but he did NOT want to be alone.
This started a slippery slope where we were laying in his room just while he fell asleep (which at first only took 10-15 minute but grew longer and longer). But then he started waking in the night and coming to our room. We tried bringing him back and sitting until he fell asleep again, we tried sleeping on his floor, and ultimately ended up putting a small mattress on our floor and telling him to just lay down there.
I felt like this was meeting his need for comfort and my need to sleep in my bed. The problem was neither of us was really getting our critical need for sleep met, we were both overtired and cranky. I had done my normal researching, and tried a lot of different tactics during the day to work on the fears, but nothing was making much of a difference.
Finally, I realized I was not practicing what I preach about reaching out when you need help. So I did some searching and found Jessica Berk (Awesome Little Sleepers). She specializes in older kid sleep issues, and was even local to Tampa. I reached out to her and we set up a 15 minute phone call to see if it would be a good fit to work together. It was so nice to receive the assurance that even with his very real fears, she could still help us!
We decided to go with her "Sleepy Mommy Package", and set up a one hour phone call where Jessica took me through her R.E.S.T. method and we made a specialized plan with the goal of getting my son to fall asleep in his bed on his own, and sleep there all night.
Jessica helped me make some important mindset shifts about sleep. She helped me see that sleep is a biological process that I can't actually help him do (only set up the appropriate environment). She also showed me how I had become his sleep crutch, and that's why he needed to find me in the night when I was "suddenly" gone.
We figured out bedtime was too late, so we moved it up an hour, and she walked me through different options for how to get myself out of the room. I talked with my son and we ended up deciding that I would start in the hallway and move down a bit each day. Now we've gotten to the point of timed check ins, where I check in every 5 -10 minutes.
We waited until the weekend to take the mattress out of our room. During the week we talked with our son about what was going to happen and why it was so important. We talked about how we knew it would be hard, but we were here to support him, and knew he could do hard things.
This is also where Jessica helped me make another mindset shift regarding rewards. We weren't going to "bribe" him to stay in bed, and I didn't want to threaten losing something if he didn't comply. I basically set up a win / win situation so that we would have a reason to celebrate in the morning no matter what. He chose extra computer time as something fun to think about while he was trying to fall asleep (instead of "bad thoughts"), and he would earn it as long as he fell asleep without me in the room and slept in his room all night (not in ours). The magic of this reward is that I was fully in control of this. So even though the first night he came to our room 40 times (I'm not even sure if this is an exaggeration because I lost count), he still earned his reward because he only slept in his room, not ours. This built up success and then we slowly moved earning the reward to something that would be more challenging - like only calling me in a maximum of 2 times in the night.
Per Jessica's suggestion, I told him ahead of time that I'm basically asleep when he comes in my room in the middle of the night, so I would just be walking him back to his room and wouldn't be able to talk with him. I would just walk him back and then go back to my bed where I belong. This took about 5 days for him to totally get the picture, with a decreasing amount of visits each night.
We're now a little over two week since I implemented Jessica's plan and last night he fell asleep before 7:30 and woke up at 6am (for school)!! It is AMAZING for my husband and I to have our night's back, and to wake up feeling rested and not immediately angry.
I highly recommend checking out Jessica's Awesome Little Sleepers website, facebook page, and Instagram account. She also has a great Facebook community- Stop the Madness! The Ultimate Sleep Group for Toddlers & Preschoolers. She offers tons of free tips, live Q & A's, and mini trainings to her group.
And BOTTOM LINE: if you are struggling with ANY parenting issue, don't go it alone. Reach out and ask for help. Send me an email - firstname.lastname@example.org - and I will help you find the appropriate resource. We were not meant to parent alone!!