When we are going to sleep, the art of actually falling asleep comes from a three step process.
First, we need to wind-down and prepare for sleep, then we become drowsy and then we finally fall asleep.
The falling asleep part is quite challenging for some children, and even adults!
In many cases, when you assist your child to sleep, you are actually completing all these three steps for your child. You are getting them ready for bed., winding them down, making them drowsy and then putting them to sleep in the created form. This may be rocking, bouncing, feeding, cuddling, swaying...and anything else that works!
So when you go to move towards encouraging self-settling, your child won't just lay down and go to sleep. They need to LEARN to wind-down. They need to LEARN to find a way to reach the drowsy state and they need to LEARN to close their eyes and fall asleep.
As an adult, to start your sleeping process, you might read a book, watch TV, scroll Facebook, or talk to your partner. Then once you're becoming drowsy, you switch off your phone or put down your book, roll into a comfortable and preferred position, close your eyes and wait to fall asleep.
Children don't typically naturally have this process, they need to find one that works for them. Some children will play with their comforter, fiddle with their dummy or their fingers, sing or chat to themselves or even crawl or walk around their cot.
When you're at the stage of encouraging self-settling and your child is not upset, give them time! Patience is key! For your child to learn this 3-step process, they need the opportunity.
Remember, going to sleep isn't just falling asleep. It's about winding down, becoming drowsy, closing their eyes...waiting...and then...finally falling asleep!
Shereen Nielsen is the founding director and senior sleep and behaviour consultant. She has multi-level qualifications and is also a lecturer and mentor to students on their journey to becoming qualified sleep consultants.