Teaching them to sleep

He really does have a way with the beasts

My husband.  He’s like the star of this blog, really.  And for good reason.  If I could just write all the things he has taught me since I’ve known him.  But tonight, we’re just going to talk about how A: he’s a horse whisperer and B: he’s a baby whisperer.

For the last week, Thea (Tay-a) has been an absolute menace to put to sleep.  Her and I literally have wrestling matches where my whole goal is to keep her pinned down while she flails and screams until she finally gives up and holds still.  Why?  Because since Monday, it has taken me 1-2 hours to get her to sleep.  I have thrown in the towel for the patient, let-me-help-you approach.  Our routine doesn’t get her drowsy beyond return anymore.  Drinking milk while we rock, read books, and sing songs doesn’t cut it.  Me holding her hand while she falls asleep in her crib has ceased to work.  And I lost my mind!  Just the other night after 3 painful hours of trying to get her to go back to sleep, thank the heavens my husband was there, so I could sob in our room with my head under a pillow while he went in to tame the beast.

And he does, right?  We’ve talked about Andrew’s uncanny ability to get that babe to sleep before.  But after dozens of failed attempts to reenact his approach, this time, I have finally begun to understand.

My husband trains horses.  And in the world of horse training, there are two general theories of how to break a horse.  One is called Cowboying.  The main idea behind Cowboying is that the rider makes the horse do what it is being asked to do.  For example, in the old days, they would tie a horse up to a post in the ground, walk the horse in a decreasing circle until the rope was wrapped around the post and the horse was stuck, essentially.  Then, they’d get on and ride that horse until it quit bucking.  Once it quit bucking, the horse was ready to ride that day.

The second theory is called Natural Horsemanship.  This is about converting a horse to do what it is asked to do.  Now Natural Horsemanship can be rough and tough too, but the trainer doesn’t force the horse to do anything.  He builds on choice and consequence to teach the horse what is its being asked to do and that choosing to obey is the right choice.  It’s about training a horse’s mind.

The main difference between these two methods is Cowboying doesn’t have a lasting good result.  A horse may do what you want it to, but that doesn’t mean they understand or that they’ll behave in the future, especially if someone else gets on them.  The Natural Horsemanship way is about change.  A horse will do what you ask of it because their mind is at the same level as their performance.

Andrew compares the two to Satan’s plan vs Heavenly Father’s plan.  Satan just wanted to force us all to do the right instead of giving us the right to choose.  Heavenly Father wanted agency (Moses 4:1-4).  And really, the principle of agency is so incredibly important to real, lasting progress.  Even when it comes to horse training or sleep training a baby.

This morning, after Andrew spent only 2o minutes getting Thea to finally go to sleep after my failed 45 minute attempt, he came into our bedroom and said in a loving way, “You know, you are half the problem of why she has such a hard time falling asleep.”

“I know,” I said, “That’s why I’m having such a struggle.  I don’t know how I should change.”

“You’re Cowboying her.  You’re turning it into a fight.”

It’s true.  I try to be encouraging and patient enough to help her learn to wind down and put herself to sleep, more Natural Horsemanship-like, but when she keeps rolling onto her belly just to push herself up and grab the side rails to stand up, when she screams every time I lay her back down, when her legs keep moving around kicking the bars or pushing her body around the bottom of the crib, my patience fuse runs out, and I start to hold her in place and force her stay still and make her fall asleep, which obviously works so well.

He explained, “When you start to fight with her, she isn’t trying to wind down anymore because she’s all amped up from fighting with you.”

That made sense.

“You’ve got to bring her mind around.” He said. “She really is trying to go to sleep, but she honestly doesn’t know how to on her own, so you’ve got to teach her.”

“So what did you do?”  I asked.

“I just let her do her thing.” He said. “I’d let her sit up or roll over and play with the wall or do her weird stand-up-on-her-feet-with-her-butt-in-the-air-bend-over thing.  But when she would stand up, I’d tell her to ‘lie down.’  And she knows what that means because she’d either lie down or sag down with her hands still holding onto the rail.  But when I’d take her hands off, she’d sit and lie down.  So I just kept doing that, trying to reenforce that she wasn’t allowed to stand up, but she could do her thing as long as she was sitting or lying down.  It didn’t take her very long to figure out what was expected.  And when she’s down there moving around, she’s actually trying to go to sleep. When you just keep working with her that way, she winds down a lot faster than when you’re just fighting with her to hold still.  And eventually she just fell asleep.”

“Did you hold her hand or rub her back at all?”

“Nope.  I tried to give her my hand a little at first, but she didn’t seem too interested, so I stopped.  And she doesn’t really pay much attention to you.  I really think that she just finds comfort in you being in there with her.  When you leave, I honestly think she gets scared, which just gets her worked up.  So I think if we just stay in there and are consistent with letting her figure it out on her own, she’ll do a lot better.”

It sounded good, but I was skeptical.  Andrew’s ways sound good, but when I do them, they don’t work.

Andrew left for Texas this afternoon.  So it was all up to me to put Thea to sleep tonight.  We went through our normal bedtime routine of milk, rocking, books, and singing before I laid her down in her crib, still awake.  It took a lot of repetition and having the expectation that this was going to take some time, but it did WORK!  She just fell asleep by the end.  It took probably a solid 30 minutes of crib time before she settled in and quit trying to get up, but she really did do it all by herself.  I held her hand though because she kept standing up to grab it before she’d lay herself back down with it.  But once I recognized that she was for real on her way to sleep, I snuck it away before she fell asleep, and she didn’t even move!

But let’s say it again, she fell asleep in 30 minutes!! And she did it all by herself.

We’ll see how well this continues to go for us, but things are looking oh so much brighter.  Learning how to teach her to sleep has been the hardest road for me, but I’m grateful for a husband who can teach me how to teach her.  He really does have a way with the beasts.


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