Wednesday, December 5, 2012


When Leander was 10 months old we had the idea of moving him from the crib in a bigger and open bed. He kept banging legs, arms and head against the sides of the crib and we felt it's time for him to be able to climb in and out of his bed himself. 

So we went and bought a bunk bed. We put a mattress on the floor underneath and with curtains around this was a cosy "cave like" bed for him. We put part of the playpen on one end so he would not fall out too much during his sleep. He loved it from the very first minute.

But with a bed that children can climb in and out themselves there is the thought of what is going to happen - will they stay in when it's really bedtime or will they come out again?
By that time I still nursed Leander at bedtime. So I cuddled up with him in his bed, nursed him, then put him down and stayed with him until he was asleep. Shortly after I weaned him but kept staying with him until he was asleep. When my husband put him down for the night he did the same. And in no time we had created a habit of staying in bed with Leander until he was off in dreamland.

We somehow knew that we had taken a short cut for now but quite a detour in the long run. We raised the question of how to stop the habit once in a parent consultation group but never went ahead with the advice we got (being clear, leaving while he is awake, not quietly sneaking out). Instead we kept going and at some point enjoyed it. It was a time of day when we did nothing but lie in a dark room waiting for our son to fall asleep. No phone, no computer, no book. Nothing. Just us and our thoughts. It was nice. Sometimes.
But there were days when it took Leander forever to fall asleep. And we actually had plans on what to do that evening. Work. Read. Household. It happened more and more often that we fell asleep with (or even before) him, then woke up completely knackered without the energy to do anything. So we missed out on our "spare time".
There were days when we got really angry. Occasions where I cited the book title "Go the f*** to sleep" in my head over and over again. Or even told him to "go to sleep for heaven's sake now!" in not such a nice tone. He usually did go to sleep quite quick after an outburst like that but it felt terrible to end the day together like that.

Almost 2 years later it so happened that Leander started waking up during the night again. Frequently. I had no idea why. He wasn't ill and his teeth were all where they should be. When he did wake up one of us went into his room and simply curled up next to him in his bed and kept sleeping there for part or the rest of the night. Around the same time he needed us more and more in the evening. He wanted us to cuddle up next to him in his bed until he was asleep. He wanted our arms around him very tight. And asked for the same when he woke up in the middle of the night. And while I enjoyed the evening snuggles the nighttime wakings became more and more exhausting. My growing belly did not allow me to curl up just like that next to him anymore and my husband was tired of moving beds. And with the new baby arriving in Januray we figured that it was time for some major changes here. NOW.

My husband went to the parent consultation group we are currently visiting and raised the topic. When he got back we were ready to take on the challenge. And somehow much more convinced than ever before. Because what Daniela, who runs the group and who I am doing the Pikler foundation course with, mentioned the real problem behind everything that we just figured was becoming complicated. When staying with Leander in his bed until he sleeps, cuddling him and holding him - the focus is shifted. For him this is not about going to sleep, it's about some snuggle time with us. During which he just so happens to fall asleep. But in order for him to realize that this is his bed, that it is for sleeping and that sleeping in there all by himself is good and healthy it is important for him that we shift his focus back. So this is what we were gonna do.

The next day I was not at home but Jan went ahead with "the plan" anyway. During dinner he told Leander what was going to happen that night. What was gonna be different. He told him the whole routine and what would change. "Tonight after we read the books I will not come with you in your bed. I will stay a little while with you but I will sit in front of your bed. And then I will go to the living room. If you need me, I will be there for you."
Leander's response to that was a simple "No."

Jan went ahead anyway. After he read him several books he told him again what will be different now. And when Leander went into his bed and realized that in fact his Dad wasn't coming in he started to cry. Jan stayed with him and explained it again. Leander got quiet and Jan left the room. It didn't take long and Leander came back out. This time crying and asking for Mom. Surely if Dad was weird Mom would be all cuddly and normal. But Mom wasn't there so his Dad went back with him, sent him off to bed, stroke his head, waited a little and left. Again Leander started to cry. Jan went back in again and sat down with Leander again, explaining the whole thing all over until Leander eventually said: "Ok."
Jan left and Leander went to sleep.

the next morning Jan talked to Leander about the previous night. And what was new. And Leander listened and then said: "Important."
The next evening was similar to the first and then the next challenge arose. It was my turn to take him to bed. And to disappoint him - because suddenly I was as weird as Dad was behaving lately. So he cried again and I stayed and explained that this was important to all of us. I stayed until his crying stopped but left before he fell asleep. I can't say it was easy. I was sitting in front of his bed listening to him breathing and sucking his thumb. No more crying. All good to go but to find the moment to get up and LEAVE felt like leaving a whole lot more behind. But I knew how important it was, how much I wanted this to become honest and clear. So I got up and left. I had to go back in once when he started to cry again. I said down again and told him that we were not leaving him alone. That we were there whenever he needed us. That I understood that this was new to him and difficult to accept. But that I knew that he was capable of doing this. I stroke his head and kissed him. The crying had stopped. I left. And he fell asleep.

Day after day the crying period was shorter. But more than that - from the very first night we started this transition he slept through. And when he woke up in the morning he wasn't as tired and whiny as he used to be. He got up and started talking. He was happy and in a good mood. He was active and much more aware. All that convinced us that this was the right thing to do.

After only a week it was done. We left the room and that was that. This was when Jan told me that Daniela had said: "It might take a week for him to get used to it."

Two weeks later it might be fair to say that the transition is history. Yesterday during storytime Leander said: "Mama reading book. Then Mama come bed and cuddle. Then lights out and Mama living room. I sleep."
I told him that yes, this was how we were doing things now and that it was going much better this way because we all sleep much better now. He nodded.

Another thing that feels much better now is the leaving. It's not a case of quietly sneaking out hoping not to wake him. It feels honest and right.
His crying never felt desperate. It was crying because surely it wasn't something he would have decided just like that right now for himself. So we made sure he wasn't alone when he was crying. We allowed it all to come out. Allowed him to be frustrated or even angry. And at the same time we were clear and he felt that it was really important.

Still I'm not looking back thinking "We should have done this earlier..." or anything. I know we could have but somehow we weren't ready. We didn't see it important enough to really go after it and think about when and how. It was just important that when it wasn't bearable for either of us anymore we DID change the pattern. All together.


  1. Good for you! You did the right thing for your son and family. Hearing them cry is so hard, but helping them sleep well is so important.

    1. Hi and thanks for stopping by.
      Now that it has been a few weeks I really am sure that it was the right thing to do. Sleep is so much better and it was well worth a few tears. And he wasn't alone with them. so all good.

  2. Um perfect I need this! Thank you. Going to try it out!

    1. Hi BellaMelissa,
      so, have you tried it? From what I know trying is not enough. We had plenty of opportunities to try. But in the end we had to be certain and sure to go and do it no matter what. Only when we are clear about it can we be clear about it to our children and that way they will understand much better. Would love to know how it went for you!

  3. Thank you for the story and writing. Loved the wording for the leaving: "honest and right". What a well earned feeling to have. You've a lucky little boy. Thanks again.

  4. Thanks Jesse for your comment and kind words. Even now after a few more weeks we come into the living room and say something like: "Ah it feels so much better this way." And it's the same over night when he wakes up. We go in, see what he needs and then leave at some point without hanging there waiting for him to fall asleep or fall asleep ourselves. It feels really good, yes.

  5. thanks for this article. i tried this with my daughter a few weeks ago. the first two nights were bad but ok, but after that she started getting desperate, clinging to my shirt... i was heartbroken and i stopped. any idea where i can read up more about what to do in these situations?