The “excuse me drill” a gentle sleep training method which is a great fit for anxious kids who are old enough to be sleeping in a bed. It’s comprised of very frequent checks (as in “Ferberizing” or gradual extinction) on a child who is trying to learn to fall asleep by himself. This was developed by Dr. Brett Kuhn, a sleep behaviorist at the University of Nebraska. I was first introduced to it by Sarah Honaker (who also wrote a great post for this blog), and I saw Brett speak about it recently.
This method is really for kids who are old enough to talk and have some abstract thinking– imagine age 3 and up. During the excuse me drill, the parent who usually stays with the child until he falls asleep (let’s say Mom in this case), will say, “excuse me, I need to step out and ___________ for a second. I’ll be right back!”. The excuse doesn’t really matter. Here are some suggestions:
I need to…
- check the soufflé
- buy a lottery ticket
- practice my breakdancing
- bang out ten pull ups
- (In all seriousness, boring excuses (“I need to check on your brother, take out the trash, etc”) work best
At first you will come back in very frequently– every few seconds on the first night. When you come back, you praise your child for staying in his bed, looking cozy, acting brave, etc. It is OK to touch him. Then you leave after making an excuse and come back a few minutes later. Over several nights, you reduce the frequency of checks. What makes this gentle is that you are not allowing your child to stress or be alone for more than a few seconds at first. The point is that nothing is more reinforcing for a child than parental attention and reassurance. Hopefully, your child will start falling asleep with you out of the room. Coupling this with bedtime fading is a great combination for an older, anxious child, and this has been studied in children with developmental issues (specifically Angelman syndrome) as well. Like all sleep training methods, it should be part of a detailed plan.
Does this sound like it might work for your child? Let me know if you have any questions about the mechanics of this.