The Montessori Method

Montessori Sleep: FAQ

A Montessori Sleep Environment for 6+ months

In this blogpost I will be answering these frequently asked questions anonymously and I will give advice based on Montessori theory. This doesn’t mean that it’s the perfect solution for you, every family and every child is unique, but I will do my best to give helpful suggestions and if those suggestions feel right for you, then try them out.

Sleep is such a personal topic . It is a skill that all children have to learn. The relationship your child has with sleep affects the whole family’s mental and physical health so making changes regarding their sleep situation should involve the whole family. Communicate with each other so that everyone is on the same page and whatever you decide to do is the right solution for everyone, parents and children.

Question 1

My baby is 5 months old. She only falls asleep when I am cuddling with her, not my partner, just me. If I am not there she will cry 95% of the time. What should we do to help her find sleep by herself or with my partner?

  • Children can easily get used to one thing that they need to go to sleep. This can be cuddling with a specific parent, like in the example above, it can also be a pacifier, a lovey, milk… It doesn’t mean that they can’t find rest another way, they just have to re-learn how to sleep without that attachment. Believe in your child that they can do it. 
  • Their whole life they have slept one way, so changing that understanding will take some time. On top of that, they have to process this new information when they are tired and probably when the parent is tired also which makes it even more challenging. Communication, patience, and complete calm are so important in this process. 
  • Make a change that your family has decided on, go to bed early so they haven’t passed exhaustion, and stick to your plan so it doesn’t send mixed/negative messages. You can do this!
  • You can make a plan to take it slow. For example, start with day sleeping, then move to night sleeping. Instead of getting in the bed, sit next to it and offer comfort and closeness this way. Let the child feel all of their feelings about this process without judgement. If there are tears, let them be expressed and show compassion. This is your child’s way of saying “I am tired and I am having a hard time.”

Question 2

How should I set up a Montessori sleeping area?

  • In Montessori we use a low bed or a floor bed which is a mattress on the floor, on a carpet, or on a base which is only slightly higher than the floor. Eventually baby moves to this bed as they transition to independent sleeping. 
  • The sleep area is should be in the darkest, quietest part of the room. 
  • Make the space functional and inviting. 
  • You can keep some books nearby in a basket or on a shelf for reading before bed. There shouldn’t be any noisy or highly stimulating toys in the sleeping area – this is a place of quiet where the child knows they can go if they need to find rest.
A Montessori Cestina (sleeping basket) for babies from birth to rolling

Question 3

How and when should we transition from crib sleeping to toddler bed sleeping?

  • Make this transition when you feel your child is ready and when you are ready to commit to the transition which can take some time.
  • When the child is walking they should be able to get in and out of bed independently. 
  • Step-by-step: Remove the crib and introduce the bed in the same day. You can invite your child to help you or they can observe what you are doing passively. 
  • Talk about how “Your ‘new bed’ is in this box. We are going to open it and put it in your room so you can sleep there.”
  • Say “Goodbye!” to the crib with your child so they have the memory of it being gone.
  • Put the new bed exactly where the crib was before if you can. 
  • On the first few nights, go to bed a little bit earlier and prepare yourself (what you are going to say + your positive attitude) for coming into the room several times before they fall asleep. You will have to remind them that it’s time to rest, go back to bed, and tuck in every time in the exact same way. 🙂
  • Keep a neutral attitude of calm and acceptance. It’s just a new bed, not an overly exciting or a bad thing. This will also help your little one accept it.

Question 4

How and when should we transition from co-sleeping to independent sleeping alone?

  • If this is what your family has decided is best for you, you can make this transition when you are ready to commit to it. It can take some time and no matter when you decide to do this, it will be a learning process for your little one. If your family is happy with co-sleeping and it works for you, then you should continue it! There is no 1 right way to sleep.
  • Explanation: Co-sleeping is family sleeping, so often it’s difficult for the child to learn how to fall asleep when the family is not right by them and that they have their own bed now where they sleep alone. 
  • The first step is to get them their own bed, talk about it, show where they can put their head… “This is your own bed. When you are tired, you can come here and rest.”
  • Don’t get into the bed yourself, because it is a place where only your child sleeps.
  • Start with day sleeping, sitting near the bed if they want closeness. Gradually give more and more space until they are sleeping there fairly comfortably. Use a specific routine before they get into bed to sleep. (For example, lunch, brush teeth, change clothes, read books, sing a special song, give a kiss, then it’s quiet time.)
  • Begin changing the night sleeping by giving information and going to bed early. “Tonight you will sleep in your bed and we will sleep in our bed.” Use the exact same routine as you do before a nap.
  • If they are upset, be their calm and give them the words to explain how they are feeling. “You feel tired right now and it’s hard to get to sleep. I am here for you.”

Question 5

My baby is 13 months old and he wakes up every 2-3 hours. We are a co-sleeping family. How can we help him to have a more normal sleeping pattern? It feels like everything is on pause until we can sleep through the night.

  • The sleep cycles of a child this age should be longer than this so it’s a sign that they are waking up for a reason. 
  • There are many reasons why toddlers could wake up in the night:
  • digestion – their tummy is upset or they have food in their stomach so their rest is not quality
  • they are waking for a bottle (they don’t need to eat at night any more at this point, so slowly give less watered down milk until they no longer feel hungry at night.)
  • they sleep with a pacifier or lovey and it’s fallen out triggering their wake-up response
  • they are feeling discomfort – teething, sickness, overheated, uncomfortable
  • they have had a bad dream
  • they have woken themselves up with their own movements or by the sleep noises and movements of the other people in the bed (If this is the case, perhaps they need their own sleeping space away from the noise and movements of others – which is OK if that’s what they need. There are no rules on where or how to sleep.)
  • I recommend saying ‘goodbye’ to sleep props/associations
  • Communication: Encourage independence by teaching her how to find rest without waking you up. Teach her what you do when you wake up in the night.
    – keep a waterbottle nearby the bed
    – teach her how to flip her pillow over
    – take off socks
    – roll over…

About using a pacifier or other sleeping props:

  • Say ‘goodbye’ in a respectful way. It’s a real and strong attachment your child has, so treat it with love. 
  • After 3 difficult nights, it’s usually over with.
  • If they use the pacifier other than at night, start by using it not using it during the day, then for night sleep, and finally for day sleep. 
  • You can also say goodbye to the pacifier all together at once!

Question 6

My baby is 17 months old. She sleeps alone in her bedroom but the bedroom door is closed so she has to cry to call one of us when she wakes up.  How can we give freedom without creating a bad habit of leaving the room during rest time? At night, would it help if we open his door before we go to bed, so he can go out and find us when we wakes up? How about at nap time?

  • This is a good idea to open the door when it’s time to wake up and let them come out when they are ready.
  • You can also try leaving the door cracked after you say ‘goodnight’ and if they get up, remind them to it’s time for sleep and going back to bed.  See question #3
  • Perhaps you can add a long extension to the door knob so they can open it alone.

Question 7

My son sometimes sleeps either naked or topless when he refuses to put his pyjamas on. I don’t force him to put on his pyjamas if he resists. Should I insist on this as part of the routine? Are there unintended consequences of me agreeing to let him sleep without pyjamas on?

  • This depends on you. If it’s okay for you, then yes. If it’s a limit for you, then no.  Always sleep with some protection like a diaper or training pants. In the summer it’s hot and lots of people don’t wear pyjamas.
  • Personally, I think it’s fine – It’s the child’s choice. Offer them to put on pyjamas and let them decide if they want or not. 

Question 8

My toddler wakes up at 5:30am. Why is he waking up crying?  Why so early? How to help him understand that morning starts at 7.30 and 5.30 is still night? How can we help him to wake up happy saying hello?

  • 6am is a pretty normal time to wake up in the morning for toddlers. Their best sleep usually takes place between 8pm and 6am. 
  • See question #5 for reasons why your toddler might be waking up. 
  • Waking up early could also be part of your child’s bodily rhythm. If possible, prepare the environment so when he wakes up he can prepare himself a snack when he wakes up or play independently. If the environment is safe, it’s okay to say, “I still need to rest. You can relax here with me or you can go prepare some fruit.” 
  • If possible, change your routine to go to sleep earlier and his routine to go to sleep later so you can wake up at the same time. 
A reversible Montessori floor bed (by Montessori Mother Materials)

Question 9

Why does my baby wake up every hour screaming? It’s as if he is afraid of being alone even though he is in a familiar and safe environment and has never had any traumatic experiences around sleep.

  • When a toddler passes out from exhaustion, this sleep will be more restless and involve more wake-ups at night. 
  • Waking up suddenly and crying is a natural response which comes from an instinct to react to threats of danger or being alone. The fear of being alone is a natural fear in all children . It isn’t only a sign of trauma. 
  • Communication before bed “I will be in my bed and come say good morning to you. “ “You woke up and felt worried. I am here for you. Spend time in the bedroom for a while before and after sleep so the room is not only a place of aloneness. 
  • Always be calm and understanding, translate her emotions, meet her where she’s at, let the fear pass for her and keep going with the day. 
  • The child’s emotions are very powerful in the moment, and when the moment has passed the emotion will have passed. Take a step back to observe how they are feeling, help them work through their emotions, and be their calm.

Question 10

We have a night routine and my toddler knows it very well. However, every night is a fight. He’s exhausted because he only sleeps 30 minutes to 1 hour during the day. He wakes every 2-3 hours crying or calls me for cuddles. How can I help him find rest? He is too stressed and so I am. 

  • It sounds like in this situation it becomes very had to manage because both child and parent are exhausted. 
  • Try to go to bed before reaching the point of exhaustion. Try to help them not get overstimulated during the day, which will help him relax at the end of the day. 
  • Crying is a natural form of expression and we can respond to it with 
  • Make sure that all of his sleeping situations are consistent so he can make the associations with where and how to find rest. 
  • If the tantrum every gets to much for you to handle, leave the room for a few minutes. Calm down, listen to a song or drink a cup of tea. Come back and explain “I was feeling overwhelmed and I needed to have a calm moment. I feel better and I am here for you now.”
  • Crying is a normal and healthy form of emotional expression. Be there for your toddler as they release all their emotions. If they push you away, give them space and let them know that you are nearby if they need you. 
  • Every time he wakes up you don’t need to run in straight away. Try to understand the cries and see if he needs something or is afraid. If he’s just woken up and is not really upset, give him a couple of minutes to see if he can get back to sleep by himself. If not, observe how he is feeling + if he needs anything, help him work through his emotions, and be his calm. 

Question 11

How will my child manage to sleep with a caretaker (kita, tagesmutter, babysitter)? What can I do to help?

  • Make sure that both you and your child trust the other carer completely before they start putting them to sleep. If you feel comfortable with the way they are going to put them to sleep, it will help your child to feel secure. You can help them to have success by giving information about your child’s sleep routine. Hopefully in day care they will not insist that the child has to fall asleep at first, but offer quiet rest time. 
  • Sleeping in this new way will become part of their normal daily group routine. Believe in your little one and trust that they can do it. 

Conclusion

At this age babies and toddlers are still not usually sleeping the same way that adults do. We would love for them to, but physically many are still developing the ability to sleep through the night. Sometimes they need help to learn how to get to sleep and how to get back to sleep when they wake up. The key is communicating with your partner, making a plan, and being consistent with your plan. Change, especially around sleep is difficult because the child is having to learn and process information while they are already tired. At first it will be hard but it will get better and you will be able to sleep through the night, at least hopefully, 80 percent of the time. 🙂

All of your had work will pay off and your child will learn how to relax and sleep when they are tired, a skill which will help them their entire life.

Thank you for reading! I hope that you found this interesting and helpful. Feel free to reach out to me if you have any questions. 

-Katelynn

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