Q.Our daughter is 10 months old, naps twice a day for two hours each time and goes to sleep all right at night.
But she wakes up within two hours and I have to rock her to sleep again, only to have her wake up as soon as I put her in her crib. And then I have to rock her to sleep again. And again. And again. I have to do this five to 10 times every night before she finally goes to sleep for about three hours, to which we can only say, “Yeaaa!”
Is there something we can do to get our little girl to sleep more easily?
A. Parents used to think that it was perfectly all right to let children cry themselves to sleep until Benjamin Spock, the guru of parenthood in the 1950s, told us that we should go to our children whenever they cried. And so we did. Unfortunately, we often went a little too soon.
While we took Spock’s advice, the French took a different approach, says Pamela Druckerman, the author of “Bringing Up Bébé.” The results were also quite different.
According to this method, parents shouldn’t go to their children too quickly at night, because everyone wakes up every couple of hours and then they fall asleep again — unless, of course, someone talks to them, plays with them, or picks them up and rocks them back to sleep.
Instead, parents should let their baby toss, turn, stare at the ceiling and give a squawk or two so her synapses can begin to connect. Once that happens, a child can put herself to sleep when she’s 3 to 4 months old, which is the age when French children usually start sleeping 10 and even 12 hours a night.
Perhaps it’s time to catch up with the French.
Because your little girl will soon be giving up her morning nap, which usually happens between 10 and 13 months, you may as well speed the process along so she will be sleepier at night. To do this, give your daughter some lunch and then put her down for what will probably be a much longer afternoon nap. After that, she should get plenty of exercise, by climbing up and down the stairs (if you have any stairs), crawling or toddling around the living room floor, and scrambling on the play equipment at the park. The more tired she gets, the better she’ll sleep, especially if you keep her up a little longer at night.
You also should end her day quietly, with a warm bath, very little stimulation and little or no roughhousing. Instead, she needs for you or her daddy to read a couple of classic board books to her, such as “Goodnight Moon” by Margaret Wise Brown and “Guess How Much I Love You” by Sam McBratney. The cadence of Brown’s book will comfort your child as much as its words, and McBratney’s book will remind you that parenthood is a privilege, the greatest one of all — even when a lack of sleep makes you punchy.
For bedtime itself, you’d be wise to follow the routine laid out by the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) in “Sleep,” its new book edited by Rachel Y. Moon. Its ideas make sense, and they’re more like the French method than the advice we got from Spock. The AAP promises parents that their babies will sleep at least five to six hours a night, every night, as long as they follow its suggestions consistently.
You should still rock your daughter until she’s drowsy, and in a dim room, too, the AAP says, but lay her down when she’s still awake so she can try to put herself to sleep. You also should go to her when she cries, but wait a few minutes to see whether she’s just settling down or if she really is unhappy. If it’s the latter, then pat her back a few times and lay her down again, but don’t say much and don’t play with her, pick her up or rock her at all.
Even though she may cry loudly and often that first night (and for the next few nights), you should take a little longer to go to her each time, but without making her wait more than 10 minutes. If you follow this routine, your little girl should learn to soothe herself to sleep in about two weeks, which will be her first step toward independence — and yours.
Good habits can be learned just as fast as bad ones.
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