Solve Your Child’s Sleep Problems

Essential parental skill

I was trying to think of the book that has had the greatest effect on my life. Books like Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance , or The Fountainhead carried a lot of philosophical weight at the time I’d read them in college but they seem like junk upon re-reading them now. So, I asked myself again, what book has really changed my life? Then it hit me: it was, without a doubt, Richard Ferber’s Solve Your Child’s Sleep Problems.

We have two kids, one age six, the other 11 months. When our six year old was a baby, we put her to sleep by holding her and rocking her. She would wake up every couple of hours, crying for us to come back and rescue her. We finally gave up and let her sleep with us. It was the only way we could get any sleep. To this day, she demands that one of us crawls into bed with her until she falls asleep.

When we had our other daughter, she would cry for us every hour at night. The whole family was exhausted from the ordeal. Would we have to suffer this ordeal for three more years?

Some friends told us to “Ferberize” her and we’d all be able to sleep soundly. We were skeptical, but we bought the book and followed the instructions faithfully. In a nutshell, Ferberization entails putting your baby in her crib, kissing her goodnight and walking out of the room. She’ll cry, of course. After five minutes, you walk in and reassure her, then walk out again. This time you wait ten minutes. You repeat this, adding five minutes between return visits. It sounds cruel. As a parent, your instinct is to run to your baby as soon as she starts crying. But in this case, not following you instincts is the best course of action. It took exactly two nights to Ferberize our baby. She has learned to fall asleep on her own, and when she wakes up at night, she knows how to fall back asleep on her own. Best of all, she is happy, confident, and well-rested. And so are we. We have our nights, and as a result, our days back.

While this was truly a life-changing book, you really don’t need to read it. Other chapters address the nature of sleep and how to deal with more unusual child sleep problems, but for most people, the procedure I described above is all you need. Reading the book, however, made me feel better psychologically about going through with it.

-- Mark Frauenfelder 04/6/04


Better than lying with your toddler or young child until he falls asleep at night is for him to fall asleep with a "transitional object" -- a stuffed animal, a doll, a toy, a special blanket. The toy will often help him accept the nighttime separation from you and can be a source of reassurance and comfort when he is alone. It will give him a feeling of having a little control over his world because he may have the toy or blanket with him whenever he wants, which he cannot expect from you. His toy will not get up and leave after he falls asleep and it will still be there whenever he wakes.

(I have three kids. This method works. -- KK — editors)

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