Published on May 19th, 2017 | by Rebecca Brams


How to Sleep Train Your Parents: What Every Child Should Know

All children have the considerable responsibility of teaching their parents how to sleep properly. In their lives before having a child, your parents may have developed certain sleep habits (for example, sleeping six to eight hours at one stretch) and associations (such as sleeping in a bed, usually with a maximum of one other person at a time). It is your job to break these habits and train them to sleep in a manner suitable to their most important role: being your parents.

Pregnancy. You are never too young to begin the important task before you. First, assess your parents’ sleep patterns: are they night or morning people? It is important to tailor your “biological clock” accordingly. If they frequently stay up past midnight, begin vigorous movements around 5 a.m. If they go to bed by 10 p.m., midnight is the perfect time for a session of bounce on the placenta. Headstands on the bladder are also effective. If your parent makes frequent changes of position, uses multiple pillows or complains of exhaustion, you’re off to a good start.

Birth-5 months. Congratulations, you’ve been born! Your parents are riding the high of becoming parents; they are tuned in to your every squeak and gurgle. It is important to wake frequently. Be rigorous with yourself: once every three hours is the minimum, but every one to two hours is better. Be consistent. As a plus, your parents believe that you must eat constantly, so a warm meal will nearly always await you. Encourage this to continue.

6-12 months. If you’ve been diligent, your parents should be able to nod off midway through Goodnight Moon. Do not relax your efforts. Whereas consistency was important in the beginning, now you will find that lack of consistency reaps rewards. Try sleeping “through the night” for a few nights, followed by a night of waking every hour. Your parents will likely declare that you’re “teething again” and dole out the Baby Tylenol (yum!).

12-23 months. If your parents can fall asleep on the floor while building a block tower, your efforts are paying off. But be warned: by this point, even first-time parents might turn the tables and try to sleep train you. Hold firm. If your usual screaming is not working, many babies have found projectile vomiting to be effective. Remember that crying is a normal part of the process. Most parents will stop crying on their own eventually. Do not fear that you are causing lasting pain or emotional problems. You are teaching your parents how to self-soothe, a valuable skill they will use for the rest of their lives.

2-4 years. With your increasing abilities to walk and talk, it’s time to get creative. Climbing out of your crib is a classic move, but less agile children have found success by taking off their diaper and decorating the crib with its contents. Remember the rules about biological clock: if your parents are night people, kick off the day with a 5:30 a.m. temper tantrum; if they are morning people, refuse to fall asleep until 10 p.m. And once you’ve been moved to a “big kid bed,” frequent surprise visits to your parents’ bedside are a must. They might not appear happy to see you, but take satisfaction in the fact that you know you’re doing your job.

5-9 years. Knowledge is power, they say, so put that newfound elementary school learning to good use. As soon as you’ve mastered the days of the week, instigate a new rule: sleeping in is only allowed on school days. On weekends and holidays, wake at dawn for “me-time” projects that involve drum sets and/or a selection of glitter, glue and Sharpies. Meanwhile, take advantage of new “growing up” privileges. Expand your repertoire of later-bedtime strategies. Between 7 and 9 p.m. is the best time to practice aerial acrobatics or suddenly remember a project/report/costume that simply must be ready for the following morning. And if your parent allows you to watch a movie slightly scarier than usual, consider this a free pass to their bed at 3 a.m. when you wake with a nightmare. Savor the fact that fulfilling your duty has landed you the coziest spot in the house.

10-13 years. The middle of the night is the perfect time to offload to your parents the worries and questions that have been plaguing you all day, such as “What will happen to me when you die?” or “When will you die? When?” At this age, parents can easily backslide on their sleep training; it’s up to you to ensure that a decade of hard work is not wasted. If you wake in the night with a craving for bacon, remind your parents of the insatiable appetite of their own pre-teen years. They will likely refuse to get up; that does not mean you’ve failed. Try cooking the bacon yourself, and remember: setting off the smoke alarm at 1 a.m. is an ideal way to help them cultivate the alertness required for successful parenting.

14-18 years. Even if you have neglected your responsibilities up until now, do not worry: the teenage years offer peak opportunities to show your parents how much you care by completing their sleep training before you leave home. While some teens favor big, bold gestures such as engineering midnight calls from the local police station, your efforts do not have to be dramatic to be successful. Simply dropping the phrase “trying cocaine” or “broken condom” into casual conversation can keep your parents up at night.  If you’ve done your job, your parents will now be hardwired to fall asleep on the couch by 9 p.m. while “watching TV” and automatically wake before 6 a.m. even on weekends. Now’s the time for you to sleep until noon. You deserve rest and relaxation after all those years of hard work!

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About the Author

Rebecca Brams is a writer and mother to two young boys in Berkeley, California. Her older son had persistent sleep apnea and didn’t sleep much until he turned six years old. Rebecca grew up in California’s Mojave Desert and has traveled extensively in Latin America. She is writing a historical novel set during the Inca Empire in 15th century South America, for which she received a Fulbright Fellowship. She has a B.A. in Anthropology from Stanford University and an M.F.A. in Creative Writing from St. Mary’s College of California. Her fiction and creative nonfiction have been published in Literary Mama, Carve Magazine, Dark Matter: Women Witnessing and on blogs, including her own,

20 Responses to How to Sleep Train Your Parents: What Every Child Should Know

  1. Terry Kraft says:

    I caught myself smiling while reading this piece. I feel a little guilty about that but it is probably because I am not in the middle of the sleep training process. I do wonder, however, why I am usually in bed by 9 pm and up by 6 am, sometimes earlier. I must have been trained very well by my kids.
    Keep up the good writing. Can’t wait to read your novel!

  2. Ann Shulman says:

    Love it! Something that parents of every age child can relate too…

  3. Sheridan says:

    “Most parents will stop crying on their own eventually.” Hilarious!!

  4. Heather says:

    My youngest is now four and I locked myself in the bathroom at 9:15 last night just to keep her away from me. I wish I was joking. Unfortunately she was both laughing and crying while I shut the lights and pretended to play dead.

  5. Hysterical. And true! Love it. Brings back memories. Particularly loved the teen years–perhaps those are most readily retrievable in my parenting memory bank. Thoroughly enjoyed this read.
    Thanks Rebecca Brams!

  6. Marianna says:

    Turning around the cry-it-out dialogue is hilarious. But there is something distinctly unfunny to a mother of a 4 and 6 year old when your article suggests that my sleep training is not over yet.

  7. Phil says:

    “They will likely refuse to get up; that doesn’t mean you’ve failed,” pretty much says it all.

  8. renee s says:

    This article reinforces what many parents reluctantly learn: the lack of good sleep is inevitable and you figure it out (for the most part). Argh!

  9. toni littlestone says:

    what a fun article–made me smile! Thanks for being such a funny and smart writer–I really enjoyed this. It brought back memories of my own little guy back then….

  10. Marybeeth White says:

    Laugh-out-loud funny and frightening!!! Anxiously awaiting your novel, remember we older sleep trained parents aren’t gettin any younger!!!! You are a wonderful writer, a chip off the mama block, eh?? Love reading anything you write and love you bunchies!!!!

  11. Karen Loyster says:

    I have been a compassionate witness to your struggles as two night owl parents with two morning boys and all that has gone on in the night. Being their father’s mother and a morning person caused me to remember my own struggles and also to laugh out loud at the karma injustice of such pairings. Well done, dear daughter in law. Humor is one of the best healings after sleep. Keep writing. ‍‍‍

  12. Jenna Avery says:

    Rebecca, this is an awesome and fun post. Thanks for good humor about the dark times of parenting and sleep!

  13. Kate Colwell says:

    Well done Rebecca. It’s amazing how many children have read your guide. And they keep working on it well into their 20s when parents lie awake sleepless wondering what their offspring is doing. Enjoyable read.

  14. Sara Loyster says:

    Very funny piece. I love the way you riff off the serious parental advice columns we all read so avidly as young parents. Great work!

  15. zoe oksanen says:

    Brilliant! I needed to read this 9 years ago though:)

  16. Janna Tolla says:

    I love this version of sleep training from a new perspective. Captures it perfectly!

  17. milena badjova says:

    I love the dark humor! And I take comfort in the fact that I am now half way through my own sleep-training. Thank you for sharing these insights!

  18. Janis Brams says:

    My absolute favorite section was 12-23 months…I had to laugh out loud as you turned the tables using the jargon of the day…eventually your parents will stop crying…they will learn to self-soothe…I’ve been enjoying the humor you inject into your writing for a long time now…glad others have an opportunity to laugh with you as well, especially since humor was the one thing that helped get both you and Mikhail through that very tough time…great fun…love from a proud mom:-)!

  19. Stephanie says:

    Great job Becca and you have hit the nail on the head! My crying is starting to subside but please don’t tell me that I have to really worry about diaper contents now….every parents worse nightmare amongst a few other things.

  20. Suzannah says:

    I love it!! “Remember that crying is a normal part of the process. Most parents will stop crying on their own eventually. Do not fear that you are causing lasting pain or emotional problems. You are teaching your parents how to self-soothe, a valuable skill they will use for the rest of their lives.” Brilliant.

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