A Guide To The Camp It Out Method For Sleep Training

Raising a child is such tough work. We’re laying the foundation for their learning, growth, and even habits that will follow them in life. One of the biggest challenges? Getting them on a proper sleep schedule. It’s draining, exhausting (as you’ve seen in my Instagram stories), and easy to regress in, unfortunately. The most popular method of sleep training is the ‘Cry It Out’ method. According to What To Expect, this method is also known as the extinction method, and is “a sleep training technique that involves putting your baby to bed and allowing them to fuss or cry until they fall asleep.” This happens with zero help from you. You do not interfere.

For many, this is hard to do, especially for me. It’s tough to leave a child alone and not want to come to their rescue. But for those who can’t bear to use the Cry It Out Method, like me, I’ve chosen to use, The Camp It Out Method. And this might just be for you too. This method involves training our toddlers by their side, so they’re calmed indirectly by our presence. I interviewed Chantal Murphy from Baby Sleep Magic to learn more about the Camp It Out Method. Keep reading for more.

camp it out method
Image: Dragos Gontariu via Unsplash

Camp It Out Method by Baby Sleep Magic

This method is suitable for children from 12 months of age through to 4 years. It is ideal for children who have previously been good sleepers and for whatever reason have regressed and now wake during the night and require comfort or your presence to get back to sleep.

Scenario:

Your child goes to bed fine, but at some stage, during the night your child will wake up quite distressed and continue to escalate unless you bend to them. They will not go back to sleep unless you either: pick them up, rock them, feed them, or in some cases bring them into bed with you. Sound familiar? This can quite easily lead to frequent night waking’s and the chances are, you may get into some unwanted sleeping associations to avoid an all-nighter or waking up others. The good news is everything is fixable, and you can get your good sleeper back on track without too much disruption.

What Chantal says you will need:

  • A single mattress or blow up bed with a pillow and blanket for yourself.
  • A sleep phrase: Chantal recommends developing your own sleep phrase to use again, and again, and again. Your child will be comforted by the predictability of this, it is a great way to let them know that sleep time is approaching. As I carry Oliver to his crib, I use the phrase, “it’s sleepy time honey” and then immediately Oliver puts his head on my shoulder for a hug before I pop him in his bed. If your child wakes early from a nap, during the night, or in the early morning you can repeat this phrase to let them know it is still sleeping time. By implementing this it can become a sleep cue for your child.

How this works:

This method can be carried out over a period of days. The idea is for the parent to camp next to them assisting them back to sleep, this process is to instill confidence in the child while they stay in their bedroom in their own safe sleep space. Here’s an example.

camp it out method
Image: Hessam Nabavi via Unsplash

Night 1 – 3:

Once your child wakes through the night, Chantal recommends bending to your child and taking your spot on the bed/mattress right next to your child’s cot/bed. Lay down and offer some words of comfort by using your sleep phrase. If your child gets upset, you can use your voice and touch to soothe them, but only if your child is calm. Once your child is calm you can move from touching them to the mattress.

* You might wonder how your child will know that you are there in the dark. However, don’t worry, your child will be able to hear, smell, and sense your presence.

From Night 4 – 6:

Time to separate your mattress/bed from your child’s sleep space, by moving it to the middle of the bedroom. Once your child wakes during the night, try stalling for 10 minutes (or a time you are comfortable with) before responding and comforting them by using your voice to soothe if/when required.

Night 7 – 9:

Time to move the mattress/bed even further away. When your child wakes during the night continue the stalling process for 10 minutes. When responding, avoid making eye contact, talking, shushing, or using your sleep phrase. Leading by example is the best way to move forward at this stage. Lay down on your mattress preferably with you’re back to your child. Remain in that position until they have gone back to sleep.

Moving Forward:

Time to remove the mattress says, Chantal. Generally, after 7 – 9 nights of this process, your child will have regained their confidence and will have also learned that every night waking is managed the same way and there is no reward waiting for them, therefore there is no reason to wake. At this point, they will either revert back to their old sleeping habits of sleeping through the night or they may wake briefly and go back to sleep independently. However, if your child still wakes and requires your comfort, try stalling for longer periods of time before going in, starting at 10 minutes.

At this point, it is best if you stand at the doorway saying your sleep phrase until they go back to sleep, or alternatively, you can say your sleep phrase to them through the baby monitor. Remember during times like this, consistency and persistence are paramount, babies and toddlers love to test the boundaries. however, they also love when the boundaries have been set, be firm, patient, and consistent as it will pay off!

camp it out method
Image: Khoa Pham via Unsplash

For older children (2 1⁄2 years plus):

Chantel advises discussing the change and your expectations with your child prior to starting the process. When talking about the change it’s important to remain positive and enthusiastic about the process. Children feed off our energy, if you are calm, they are calm.

Each day that you follow this method, remember to chat with your child in the afternoon or around dinner time about your expectations for that night. Implementing a “reward chart” may also be of benefit and help with a smoother transition.

For this process, I recommend that you wait until your child is at least 21⁄2 years of age. Generally, a child younger than 21⁄2 is not emotionally or developmentally ready to follow these instructions or comprehend consequences.

Chantal’s tips for a successful outcome:

• Follow a predictable and regular bedtime routine, children thrive on routine and consistency as it makes them feel secure knowing what comes next. Communicate and explain to your child what will happen and what your expectations are.
• A “night light” may be needed if your toddler is showing signs that they are scared. (be sure to use a pink/orange night light). A night light has been crucial for Oliver with his sleep training. Once it’s bedtime for myself and Simon, I go in and turn the night light off.
• Ensure your child is warm enough as most toddlers do not know how to use blankets/doonas. Dress your child for the coldest part of the night (2 AM – 4 AM).
• Investigate whether a Gro clock will work to your advantage for early rising.
• Create a reading nook for bedtime stories to take place. This is a very common mistake that Chantal sees with the families she works with. If you are laying/singing with your child on their bed reading your bedtime stories to them, the chances are that they may start to associate you with their bed and you may find it hard to break away.
• Reward charts go a long way with toddlers! Once they do stay in their bed all night, be sure to let your child know how happy and proud of them you are!
• Discuss their reward chart and reward options, some examples include, baking, playing, coloring in, etc
• At around night 4, Chantal recommends you start stalling, ie: “mummy needs to go to the toilet” in this scenario you will leave their room for 1 minute and then return to their room (you must go back) this will give your toddler confidence, that what you say, you will do. Over a period of days increase the excuses and time you are out of the room.

camp it out method
Image: Matt Walsh via Unsplash

FAQs that Chantal from Baby Sleep Magic often gets…

1) What if my child vomits?

This can happen and is more common with older children. If your child vomits, (and you can be sure they are not sick), try not to make a big fuss. Turn the lights on, clean up the bedding, redress your child, offer a drink of water. Once your child is calm, turn off the lights and start the process again.

2) What if my child throws the dummy or comforter onto the floor?

Yes, this can happen explains Chantal and If your child decides to throw out the dummy or comforter, it is usually for a reaction. The best thing you can do is leave it on the ground for a couple of minutes and when you give it back, don’t give it straight back to them in their hands. Instead, place it on the bed/cot a little further away from where they are. The novelty wears off pretty quickly if they have to wait and then have to go and get it themselves.

3) What if my child keeps going out of bed?

Chantal usually recommends that you don’t enter a negotiation with them and just calmly walk them back to bed and tuck them in.

4) What if my child keeps stalling?

If your child tries stalling before bedtime, for example, “I want a drink, I need a wee,” etc. try to identify if these requests are genuine and try to cover off any requests prior to going into the bedroom for bed. The key to success is to remain strong, firm, and consistent as your child will pull at any strings to gain attention and string out the bedtime process. Try to remain calm and keep your voice low and avoid eye contact while you tend to the situation. Do not seem angry, try to remain neutral and dull. Your child is usually looking for a reaction, good or bad. When they do not get a reaction, the novelty soon wears off.

5) Can I swap with my partner if it gets too much?

Absolutely yes, if it gets a bit overwhelming, you can definitely tag team with your partner. Just ensure that you are not in the room together, or it may be too stimulating for your child.

6) Can I pick my child up?

If you resort to picking your child up, unfortunately, you may confuse them. They may continue to cry and protest longer and longer in order to get picked up again.

7) Can I fast track the process?

Chantal says absolutely! If you feel your child has picked up this process well, you can most definitely speed things up. However, be mindful that you don’t want to rush things or go too quickly. Children don’t respond well to change, but they can also regress quite quickly.

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