Responsive settling and reducing settling help at 6-18 months
Responsive settling is responding to your child’s need for comfort at the same time as you help them fall asleep. For example, responsive settling might involve rocking or patting your child to help them settle. Or it might involve sitting with your child and comforting them with your voice while they’re settling.
Responsive settling gives your child the sense of safety and security they need to develop well. That’s because your child knows you’re close by to comfort them if they’re upset, just like you do when they’re awake during the day.
At 6-9 months, you can also start to gradually and gently reduce the responsive settling help you give your child to settle to sleep.
When you reduce settling help, your child is likely to fall asleep sooner. Your child might also be more likely to fall back to sleep without your help when they wake in the night. This is good for your baby and good for you, because it helps you both get the sleep you need.
It’s up to you how much help you give your baby to fall asleep and re-settle when they wake at night.
Reducing responsive settling help for older babies and toddlers: getting started
If you want to reduce the settling help you give your baby or toddler, it’s worth setting up a positive bedtime routine first. A positive bedtime routine involves a few quiet, enjoyable activities about 20 minutes before bedtime. This helps soothe and calm your child so they’re ready to settle. Child health professionals almost always recommend you use a positive bedtime routine when you’re changing something about the way your baby or toddler sleeps.
When you’re ready to start, these tips can help things go well each bedtime:
- Look for tired signs. Babies and toddlers will settle better if they’re tired.
- Meet your child’s other needs before you start settling them – for example, feed baby, change their nappy, and give them a cuddle.
- Ensure your child’s room is calm and comfortable. A dim and quiet environment can help too.
Safe sleeping practices can help you minimise the risk of sudden unexpected death in infancy (SUDI). These practices include sleeping your baby on their back, making sure your baby’s head is uncovered during sleep, and sharing a room with your baby for the first year of life, or at least for the first 6 months.
How to reduce responsive settling help for older babies and toddlers
You can reduce the responsive settling help you give your child by moving from your current method of settling to gradually less intensive methods. This gentle approach helps your child more easily learn new ways to settle.
1. Work out how your baby likes to sleep now
Think about how your baby likes to go to sleep now – for example, being fed to sleep. If you’re settling your baby by walking them in the pram, driving them in the car or co-sleeping, you can start by using settling in arms, hands-on settling or verbal reassurance. These ways to settle are explained in Responsive settling at 0-6 months.
2. Reduce the help you give
When you’re ready, you can gradually and gently reduce the amount of help you give your child to settle. This means waiting until your child falls asleep easily one way before you move to a less intensive way.
- If you’re feeding your child to sleep, feed them until they’re drowsy but not asleep. Move from this to rocking your child to sleep in your arms.
- If you’re rocking your child to sleep in your arms, rock them until they’re drowsy. Move from this to using hands-on settling in the cot.
- If you use hand-on settling until your child is asleep, slow or stop the patting or rocking when they’re drowsy. Move to leaving the room while your child is drowsy but awake.
3. Leave the room while your child is still awake
Once your child is used to falling asleep in the cot without feeding, rocking or hands-on settling, you can try leaving the room while your baby is still awake. Or you might need to gradually get your baby or toddler used to falling asleep without you in the room.
If your child doesn’t settle
If your child gets very upset while you’re reducing the amount of responsive settling help you’re giving them, it’s OK to stop and give them a cuddle. When your child calms down, you can keep settling them.
If your child still can’t settle, comfort your child and settle them in whatever way works for both of you. You can give your child more practice with the new way of settling at the next bedtime.
Staying with your child to calm them helps your child more quickly and easily learn new ways to settle.
Responsive settling should be gentle and reassuring. If you start to feel angry or upset or nothing seems to be working, it’s best to leave your baby in a safe place and take a moment to calm yourself. If you have a partner, you could ask them to take over. You can also get help for baby and toddler sleep and settling.
Reassuring older babies and toddlers as they settle
If your baby grizzles when you first put them to bed or after waking in the night, you could gently say ‘I’m here. Time to sleep’ or make ‘sh, sh’ sounds. You could even sing or hum a few words of a favourite song.
If your toddler calls out to you after bedtime, you can quietly respond in a similar way.
But if your baby or toddler starts crying, you need to help them settle. For example, you could calm them down with a cuddle, settle them to sleep in your arms or use hands-on settling. You can read about other ways to respond when your toddler calls out or gets out of bed.
Your own sleep and wellbeing are important for you, your child and your family. When you’re well rested, you feel good and you’re better able to give your child what they need to grow and thrive.