A few posts ago we talked about sleep dependencies and how healthy sleep dependencies can make for a good night’s sleep, while unhealthy sleep dependencies can cause all sorts of problems. One of the most prevalent unhealthy sleep dependencies that I see with children is parent presence. Many children need a parent with them in order to fall asleep, and if the parent manages to sneak out once they fall asleep, they tend to wake back up later in the night and need their parent again. Teaching your child how to fall asleep independently is a tough job, but time-based visiting is a great gentle tactic that can help!

In my last blog post, we talked about why the “cry it out” method often fails. Rather than just going cold turkey and hoping you and your child can survive the first few nights, there are some gradual and gentle methods you can try instead. One of my favorites is called time-based visiting. In this method, the caregiver does check-ins and provides brief attention, according to a schedule, regardless of the child’s behavior. I’ve found time-based visiting to be incredibly effective, and reasonably easy for parents to implement, but I think it’s essential to work with a sleep coach to help you determine the right schedule for your check-ins.

Here’s how time-based visiting works. First, we develop a visit schedule like the one seen here.time-based visiting schedule The idea is that the visits happen pretty rapidly at first on night one so that your child doesn’t have time to get stressed or nervous, and they don’t have the time to even think about engaging in challenging behavior like getting out of bed, leaving the room, or crying out. Gradually, we start adding a little more time between each visit. Each night the schedule also progresses, so that we start with longer and longer visits each night, and fade the number of visits. Our goal is that eventually the caregiver can put the child down to bed, turn out the lights, leave the room with no stress and no tears, and then just do one quick check-in later. The exact schedule is individualized based on the child and what we think they can reasonably handle while being able to stay calm and relaxed.

When I work with families implementing a time-based visiting schedule, I typically have them print the schedule out and hang it outside their child’s room and keep a pencil and a watch on hand so they can keep track of time and where they are at on the schedule. Once you tuck your child in and say goodnight, you walk out of the room and out of sight of your child, and then when the first time interval has elapsed (usually just a few seconds), you walk back into the room quietly, give a brief goodnight, perhaps a quick kiss, tuck them in a little, and then exit again and wait for the next time interval to pass. Each time you do a visit it should be very short, very calm, and very quiet and there should be pretty limited interaction. The idea is to teach your child that all they need to do is lay quietly in bed and you’ll keep coming back. It’s a bit like a promise of safety and security, and it’s taking the responsibility of figuring out how to get you back away from your child- which can be a welcome change for everyone! Instead of calling out, crying, getting out of bed, or engaging in other challenging behavior to get your attention, your child gets to just lay back and relax knowing you’ll be close by and coming back soon. For most kids, once the pressure of the battle for adult attention is gone, they are able to relax and fall asleep pretty quickly.

When you are doing time-based visiting, if you enter the room and you notice your child is asleep, you should just

bedtime kiss, tuck in, time-based visiting

quietly leave, still complete your next scheduled visit, and then if the child is still asleep you can end the visits for the night. If your child gets out of their room (which rarely happens if the schedule is set correctly) you should just neutrally and gently guide them back to bed without making a big deal of it, tuck them back in, and reset the timer for the interval you are on.  If your child begins to call out or cry out between visits, that’s ok- just keep with your schedule and reassure them you’re coming back the next time you visit.

After about a week of doing time-based visiting you should be able to fade the schedule down to just a once-a-night check-in about a half hour after your child goes to bed. With the help of a sleep coach and a properly constructed schedule, you can go from parent-dependent sleep to independence in a gentle and pain-free way for everyone! As always, feel free to contact me if you need help with a time-based visiting plan!

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