Whether you’re headed to Ellen Barron, Tresillian, Karitane or a private sleep centre like the Brisbane Nurture Centre, you’re going to want to make the most of your time with the professionals.
I’ve had success at sleep school with all three of my babies, and I think I’ve pinpointed the five ways that our success was maximised. I want to share these with parents who are contemplating or have secured an admission to a sleep school.
1. No Wagging!
Be present. At Ellen Barron, at least, there are several education opportunities. Some of the sessions I attended were: Responsive parenting, Understanding your toddler, daily playgroup, Stress management, Circle of Security, parenting together, Sleep and Settling. The nurses encourage you to attend, and you can take your awake baby with you, or they will care for bub if he or she is asleep. If education sessions aren’t offered in your centre (I don’t know if they all have them), consider using some of your time to research online. I found that I had more time on my hands in the centre than I ever do at home, because the cooking and cleaning essential to daily family life is removed – your meals are prepared for you and you only really need to tidy up a bit.
2. Don’t flunk out
Stay in school. On my most recent visit, I didn’t notice anyone dropping out, but the first couple of times I went, there were some new faces on the second and third day, who had come on short notice to replace families who had left early. Now, some may have left due to illness (the centre is very protective of its families and their health, so if you get sick, you go home), but I know for certain some left because they didn’t like the methods used. What these families would never know, is that on the third and fourth day, things really turn around. As if by magic, these sleepless babies begin sleeping through the night. Over breakfast on the Thursday, there’s a unanimous vote of confidence in the centre’s method amongst the parents.
It is really hard at the beginning – for you and your baby. You’re probably changing everything you do at home, and it’s a big adjustment. But it’s so worthwhile if you can stick with it, I promise, so breathe through the stress, and persevere.
3. Listen, watch and learn
Just like at real school, you have to draw upon the knowledge and expertise of the teachers. Don’t resist, it’s one of those times you have to suck it up a bit and do what you’re told. Of course, if something’s bothering you, speak up – it’s your baby after all, and everything is negotiable. But remember that these nurses are sleep experts, and you’re there for a reason – you haven’t managed to fix your child’s sleep problems at home; you need to accept some help. Some of the clients could be heard pooh-poohing the system in the communal areas, which wasn’t helpful to anyone. Try to be positive and open to taking new ideas on board.
One of the beautiful things about Responsive Settling (as opposed to Controlled Crying or Cry It Out), is that you’re guided by your instincts, not by the clock. You can go in and soothe your baby as many times as you need to. No one is going to stop you going in. As long as you follow the program, baby will learn to self soothe. It might not happen in a week, but you’ll see improvements.
4. Do your homework
When you get home from the centre, stick to the plan. If you have a partner, talk to them about ways you can best implement your new routine in your home (you may need to adapt/change some things to suit your home environment).
When I arrived home, we decided that (other than something we’ve got coming up, booked and paid for), we’re not going on any holidays or trips for a while, until Rosie can sleep reliably in her own cot. We also decided to use her white noise machine to mute some of the noise our two little boys make.
Our first day home was awful, and Rosie had a little mini regression, resisting sleep all day. I was terrified. But I think this adjustment is normal, and she overcame it, sleeping well that night. Be prepared for the possibility that things might go to crap temporarily when you come home.
5. Play nicely
You’re not there to make friends (but you probably will).
It’s amazing how connected you can feel to other
zombies parents who are also exhausted and at the end of their tether. Meal times are fun with all the babies chatting and interacting, and there’s always someone in the kitchen area when you go in for a well-earned cup of tea. It’s quite funny the first night, seeing strangers roam the halls in their pyjamas and fluffy slippers.
It’s quite an emotional experience and it’s nice to have a chat to another mum about how long it took your baby to sleep, how tired you both are, and then later in the week to celebrate your success. Sometimes it’s nice to just have some quiet time, too, so I would occasionally take my book outside to read alone.
I first enrolled at sleep school in 2010. During that visit I met some lovely families whom we still keep in touch with and visit. If you’re lucky you might establish some great bonds with other parents of young children, too.
I wish you all the best for your trip to sleep school, and hope that these tips help you make the most of your visit.