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Talking To Older Kids About Sleep Training Their Sibling

Talking To Older Kids About Sleep Training Their Sibling
Stephanie Nielsen

Stephanie Nielsen

When I started sleep training my youngest, my 7-year-old said,” Mom! Marlee is crying,” I brushed her off with a “she’s fine.”  I went in, checked on the baby and then left. She started crying again and this time both of my older girls let me know she was crying. I gave them the same response. Finally, they said “MOM WHAT ARE YOU DOING TO HER?” And then I knew I should have been talking to my older kids about sleep training their sibling!

A Little Back Story…

My husband and I chose to sleep train all of our three children and I’m glad we did!   My girls go to bed with no issues, fall asleep fast, and stay asleep through the night. They also take/took good naps. 

We sleep-trained our oldest when she was 7 months old. It was the best decision for us as it helped everyone in our family. We wanted her to have healthy sleep habits

When we had our second daughter, we knew the importance of sleep. We used the same method as our older daughter.

Our oldest didn’t seem to care or wasn’t interested in what was going on. I never thought to address sleep training with her.

Our second, Madelyn, was a colicky baby. She cried for up to 7 hours a day for the first 3 months of her life. It was terrible, but we were all used to crying by the time we sleep trained her! 

Sleep Training Baby #3

Fast forward to baby number 3, Marlee.

Our two older daughters LOVE her. They are interested in everything she does and want to ‘help’ with everything.  When we decided to sleep train her, I never thought to talk to my kids about it. Looking back, I really should have! 

My 7-year-old and 4-year-old are old enough to be concerned and confused about why Marlee was crying.  I felt terrible that I didn’t talk to them and prepare them for this process. Looking back, I wish I would have been upfront and honest with my kids. I wish I had shared about the changes we were making and why. 

If I could go back and do it again, here is what I would have done.

Tips For Talking To Your Older Kids About Sleep Training

  • Sit them down and give them a simple, clear explanation about what changes you will be making. 
  • Explain how their sibling struggles to stay asleep and the baby right now needs help (rocking, nursing) to sleep.
  • Let them know you want to teach them how to fall asleep on their own, just like them.
  • Don’t get too technical about the science of sleep training – make it simple for them to understand. 
  • Reassure them that the crying does not hurt their sibling.
  • Get them on your team. If your child is older than 2 1/2 years old, you’ll likely be doing a family meeting and sleep rules as part of the process. Give your older children a heads up in advance about the meeting and ask them to be supportive to their younger sibling. The more positive reinforcement, the more successful your child will be. “We are going to be having a family meeting where we talk about sleep with your little sister. You can tell her, I know you can do it! And you can celebrate with us when she gets good sleep. This will make your sister feel really good and help her.”
  • Let them know what’s in it for them.
  • Be positive. You want them to know that it’s a positive thing for their sibling and it is short-term.
  • If you are working with a consultant, have your older child read the sleep training part of the sleep plan. This will let them know what to expect. 
  • Give them the opportunity to ask questions.

Parenting Script

The conversation could go something like this…

“Mommy and Daddy are going to be teaching your little sister to be a healthy sleeper, just like you. Your little sister is having a hard time sleeping at night and during the day. Mommy and Daddy are having to do a lot of work to keep her asleep.

On Friday, Mommy and Daddy will be putting your sister down awake. This will help her learn to put herself to sleep. While she is learning how to do this, you may hear her upset and she may cry.

I want you to know that your sister is ok. She has a full tummy and her diaper is clean. She is only crying because she is mad about the changes Mommy and Daddy are making.

Teaching your sister to be a healthy sleeper will give me more time at night to read with you. And during the day, we will have more time to spend together. Mommy won’t have to help the baby sleep as much.

Your sister is a fast learner just like you and she should have it figured out really soon! Do you have any questions?”

Additional Tips

  • Turn your sound machines up in your other children’s rooms. This helps ensure they don’t get awoken in the night.
  • Consider putting a secondary sound machine or a box fan in the hallway between your children’s rooms to help block the sounds that could wake the other children.
  • If your older child does wake, calmly comfort them and tell them it is still sleepy time.

If you need help talking to older kids about sleep training their sibling or help with sleep training, we’re here to help! Reach out today to learn more.

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