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Home » Sleep » Parental Presence: The Gentle Sleep Training Method

Parental Presence: The Gentle Sleep Training Method

Baby sleeping independently in their cot

Sleep training can be a fairly controversial topic. This is because there’s an assumption that the only way to do it is by leaving your baby to cry by themselves until they eventually fall asleep.

That’s not the kind of sleep training I promote or even practice with my own children. I prefer a much gentler method that promotes a positive, trusting and reassuring relationship with our little ones. It’s called Parental Presence.

Let’s explore this method of gentle infant sleep training.

Parental-Stages Gentle Sleep Training

What is Parental Presence?

Parental presence involves you initially staying with your baby until they fall asleep. Then, over a period of time that works for your family, you will gradually wean your presence from the room. Do this in a way that is natural, calm and builds trust with your baby.

This gentle infant sleep training method works really well for parents who have to hold or feed their babies to sleep and want to support their little ones as they learn to self settle. 

When should I sleep train my baby?

You will actually start the parental presence method from day one, without even knowing. It’s totally instinctual to feed, rock, pat and cuddle our babies to sleep, or to cuddle them on your chest for their naps. This is absolutely perfect in those first weeks and is setting up a beautiful, trusting relationship. Where your little one knows you are always there for them. It’s important to remember your baby goes through a huge womb to world adjustment. The warmth, comfort, safety and nourishment in your arms provides the perfect transition.

Around 4-6 months, you might have noticed your baby is starting to develop a little routine of their own. This is the perfect age to start working on self settling techniques and implementing Parental Presence. At this stage you may find yourself looking for the best infant sleep training method for your family too.

The Five Stages of Parental Presence

There are five stages to the Parental Presence method of gentle sleep training. You can move through a step every few days/every couple of weeks. It’s flexible and easy to tailor to your unique situation.

The key thing linking each step is the ‘goodnight phrase’ which you can introduce right away. It could be something like:

“Goodnight my darling boy, sweet dreams! I will see you in the morning.”
“Sweet dreams baby girl, I love you so much! We will play again tomorrow morning.”

Note that you are making it clear that it is bed time, while offering reassurance that you will see them again the next day. I encourage you to continue to use this phrase as your little one grows. As it forms part of their routine and lets them know that it’s time to sleep now. 

With gentle sleep training like my Parental Presence Method, we work through things gradually. This allows our baby to come to terms with the changes in a way that isn’t sudden and allows them to adjust.

Let’s walk through the five stages together. Now, just to reiterate there is no rush to move through these stages! Take it a step at a time at a pace that works for you and your baby.

Step 1: You hold, feed or rock your baby to sleep. Whatever usually works for them. Let them fall asleep in your arms, before transferring them to their safe sleep space. Make sure you say your goodnight phrase.

Step 2: Put your baby into their cot while they are awake, but stay right there! Stroke their head, pat their bottom or rub their tummy until they fall asleep. This reassures them that you are there and is the next best thing to holding them. Say your goodnight phrase as you do this. You may also give your baby a soother/dummy to help settle.

Step 3: Stand or sit next to your baby’s cot until they fall asleep. We are aiming to ideally wean the stroking or patting at this step, but if baby gets upset then definitely do reassure them and know that it is OK to stroke or pat if they need it. Try to instead rely on  your positive reassuring goodnight phrase to let them know that you are there, that you love them and that it is bed time.

Step 4: Stand or sit in the middle of the room where your baby can still see you until they fall asleep, while you continue to say your goodnight phrase.

Stage 5: Stand by the door until your baby falls asleep and say your goodnight phrase 

Now, this isn’t a once and done method! Your baby goes through SO MUCH growth and development in these first couple of years. There is also teething, sleep regressions and mental leaps thrown into the mix too. So, it’s completely normal and expected that you may need to continually go back and forth through these steps. Especially over the first year. 

The great thing about this gentle sleep training method is that when you are going through a difficult stage with your baby’s sleep, it’s really easy to go back to stage one or two, then quickly progress to stage five as your baby knows what to expect. This allows you to cuddle, comfort and feed your baby to sleep when they need it which is what I always want for you to be able to do!  It’s important to have that flexibility and ability to adjust according to our family’s needs.

For more help with your baby’s sleep, check out our sleep programs. We answer all of your questions and help get baby sleeping independently and longer. You’ll learn gentle settling techniques that work with your natural instincts to cuddle and comfort your little one, while they learn to sleep independently! Find out more here!

It’s important to note that your baby’s sleep should be discussed with a healthcare provider to ensure safety and suitability for individual circumstances. This blog is general education only. For any personal based advice regarding you or your baby please seek advice from your own healthcare professional.

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