Transcript: A Holistic Approach to Teach Baby Self Soothing

This is a text transcript from The First Time Mum’s Chat podcast. The episode is called A Holistic Approach to Teach Baby Self Soothing and you can click on the link to view the full episode page, listen to the episode and view the show notes.

One of the biggest challenges that many of the parents that I speak with face is being constantly tired or exhausted due to restless nights and time needed to settle their little one.

After looking after babies for many years I’m familiar with a lot of the traditional sleep programs and the practices they encourage such as crying it out. I don’t know about you, but I’ve always found this practice heartbreaking.

I just think it’s so sad to leave a baby to cry!

I was thrilled to recently meet Cara Tyrrell since we share a childcare educator background with similar experiences. Cara founded her business Core4Parenting an online community and course platform for parents and caregivers that follows the developmental path of the young child, while educating, empowering and engaging parents and caregivers to be their child’s brain architect between birth and 5 years old, setting them up for success in school and life.

In this episode Cara talks about her sleep soothing system which is all about teaching babies their first life skill that they can do by themselves. I found what she has to say fascinating and wow, this is such a welcome change to the traditional sleep training programs!

Helen Thompson: Hi Cara and welcome to First Time Mum’s Chat. I’m delighted to have you here and I thought today we’d talk about your sleep program. So first of all, can we start by getting you to introduce yourself and tell us a little bit about what you do and what you’re passionate about.

Cara Tyrrell: Excellent, well, thank you so much for having me here, Helen. I am Cara Tyrrell and my most recent incarnation is being the founder and CEO of Core For Parenting, but it’s been a journey to get here. I am a chronic lover of littles. Have been, since I was a tiny person myself. Grew into an early childhood educator, got trained in lots of different areas to try to help kids thrive and succeed in the classroom, and then realized, I was feeling frustrated with my preschool and kindergarten classes.

Cause they just keep coming and they weren’t quite ready to tackle every area of learning in the classroom. So I shifted and I became a nanny and I spent the last 10 years working directly with two families. Being able to be part of their journey from the birth of their child until they went to a traditional school setting, whether that’d be a full-time preschool or a primer or a kindergarten.

And I was able to really meet these kids where they were and maximize that brain growth. When they were most ready to absorb all these new skills. And I said, this is it, this is my passion. I want to teach people how to help their kids when they can learn the most the fastest ,from birth to five and get them ready to be learners.

Helen Thompson: That’s a great passion to have because you come from a similar background, because I also come from a childcare background and I know the frustrations of childcare, so I totally get why you wanted to shift. But I know you also have a sleep program and that’s what I wanted to have a chat to you about today. When I saw your website, I listened to a wonderful video about how you settle babies and I wanted to talk about it today cause it really, really inspired me. Cause it’s the way that I think babies should be put to sleep. So can you tell me about that?

Cara Tyrrell: Of course. So it’s called our sleep soothing system. It’s very important that people understand, I’m using the word ‘soothing’ intentionally.

We’re not a sleep training program, we don’t cry it out. Those are not belief systems that we have. And it’s because our babies aren’t ready for that level of ownership yet. We need to know when they’re ready, to learn how to calm their own bodies and when they’re ready to learn the skill of self-soothing, which is really what our program is all about.

Teaching babies, their first life skill, that they can do this by themselves. And not only can they, they will sleep better, they will sleep longer, they will reset and when they wake up, they will be ready to learn even more.

Helen Thompson: Hmm, that’s so interesting. Cause I know so many sleep programs say that babies should be sleeping at three months and they should be doing this at four and five, you have sleep progressions and regressions and all that. To me, what you do, just sounds so much more natural. It sounds so much more caring on the baby. Cause, leaving your baby to cry to me, just sounds, I get a pain in my chest when I think of leaving babies to cry. I just think it’s so sad.

Cara Tyrrell: And the thing is, I mean, think about it. Whether you’re a three month old or a 30 year old, if somebody says to you, here’s a new skill, I’d like you to go do, but I’m not going to give you any way to understand why we’re doing this, how we’re going to do this. I just want you to go do it. And they walk away and they leave you. How successful are you going to be?

Helen Thompson: I don’t think you will be, no. So how do you start with soothing your babies? Teaching them how to soothe themselves to sleep.

Cara Tyrrell: So there’s a little bit of pre-work involved, which is setting up a readiness area. We want to set up the nursery in such a way that everything that happens in there is going to happen the same way. Every time we go in for a sleep soothing system. And we want to set it up in such a way that it’s going to sound the same in there.

So there’s a little pre-work that we do to systematize when we actually go in and start soothing and that’s important. Every good program has a system, a routine that is followed. And I also include scripts. So I teach parents exactly what to say, how many times to say it, and I give them an American sign language sign to correspond with we are changing your diaper. After your diaper is changed, it will be time to read a book. When we’re done reading a book, you will have your lovey and it will be time to go to sleep. So, everything is a system, everything has a routine to it. There’s anchors, there’s auditory anchors for the baby. They hear it over and over.

There’s physical, sensory anchors for the baby. Their lovie is their sleep object. They know what it smells like, they know what it feels like. And then there’s the parent anchor, which starts out being a very strong anchor. And then slowly we are able to ask that little person to use more of their own objects and their own skills and drop away the need for the parent to be the pacifier.

Helen Thompson: What a wonderful approach. Cause you use the senses I picked up from there as well. You’re using their senses and babies really pick up on that. They pick up on the smell, they pick up on the voice because they’re more intelligent than we give them credit for.

Cara Tyrrell: Absolutely. We even have parents sleep with the loveys so that they take on a bit of an odor and the scent that smells like mom and smells like dad. And then that is also a very comforting sensory experience for their baby. And when you brought up the brain development, I’m so glad you went there, because the reason that we say that the fourth trimester, right birth to 12 weeks old, don’t use this program. They’re not ready. These little people between zero and 12 weeks old are still just adjusting to being here in this world. They’re just getting used to feeling what it feels like to be out in the open air, what it means to breathe for yourself, what it means to process and digest your own food. And these are big transitions, we can’t rush them.

We have a readiness checklist to help parents assess, okay, I think my kid is actually ready for this. But as soon as they pass the readiness checklist and they’re between 12 and 16 weeks old, we know from a brain development perspective that their cognition is already making cause and effect connections. We know that. If they’re making cause and effect connections, what’s happening is even though they’re still the tiniest little human and you look down and you think, how can this be real? They are making sleep associations.

They’re either making sleep associations that you want them to because you know, they can do it or they’re making sleepy associations that when they’re 6, 9, 12 months, you’re going to have to break those associations and create new ones. And that is far more work.

Helen Thompson: And it’s more confusing, I guess, for the baby too, because they’re thinking what’s going on here. I learnt this one and now I’m learning this one and it’s not a natural routine for them. And you mentioned routines cause, babies love routines. They like to have a little routine, so they know what the next step is, because as you say, they’ve just come out of a nice, warm, cozy environment where they’re just swimming around and enjoying life and chilling inside the womb and then when they come out, it’s like, what’s happened to me and trying to push them to sleep, you think well, yeah, it’s hard.

Cara Tyrrell: And so we have the routine, we have the protocols, we have the checklist, we really walk parents through what you have to do, how exactly you do it, but we never ever let go of the why. The Core4 way is you need to understand why you’re choosing to do something and what the long-term effect for your child is going to be. Especially when you do something that’s not all that easy because we don’t cry it out, but is there crying? Sure. They’re learning a new skill and that’s hard.

And the only way they have to communicate with us is, is to use their voice. So I also wrote and included what I call the crying protocol. And so it helps you assess are they doing just fine on their own? What type of cry is this? Do I need to reenter the room? And you are allowed to reenter the room. And when you do go back in, we have our soothing action steps. Again, what to say, what senses to bring back, how to calm and soothe your baby before you walk out of the room and let them try again. And these things never go for more than a minute stacked to another minute, stacked to another minute. We can do anything for one minute.

Helen Thompson: And do you include music in your program as well? Is there music involved? Because I know from my own experiences, I put on relaxing music with kids before they go to sleep. It does actually calm them down. I don’t know whether you use that.

Cara Tyrrell: So what I like to say is we start with our base car model when we design the nursery. And I walk people through this. Make it so that you have the essentials for safe sleep. Then if you find that your particular baby seems to need another additional input, it’s like when you add features to your car. Add the music box, add the noise machine, add the mobile.

I don’t recommend the musical mobiles because they turn off and that’s annoying. Just the quiet mobiles that just move with the air is a nice visual feature, right? So we add things in as the baby shows, they need another sensory input.

Helen Thompson: I like the scenario of the car, cause I think that’s a valuable tool because you don’t want to overstimulate them. I know that from baby massage. If you overstimulate your baby with too many gadgets and too many things, they’re not going to settle because they’re going to be too engrossed in looking at all the gadgets that are in the room and they’re not going to settle because they’re intriguing. They want to learn and they want to find out what all these things are. And if you’ve got too many things in the room, it’s just going to distract them from calming down.

Cara Tyrrell: Absolutely. Yeah, so the other thing I really want to address here and I just touched on it is safe sleep. That is so important. So naked crib. No, no crib runners or any of those. I keep talking about a lovey and for me, I have found that to be the most effective sleep object that a child can use to transfer between caregiver and using it independently. Pacifiers fall out, they can’t reach them, they can’t put them back in. Blankies, like big blankets are a no-no because they’re not safe. A lovey is technically a blanket if you think about it, right. It’s got that little animal head on the top and then it’s got that small square of fabric. So here’s what I teach. Use the lovey as a tool.

Okay, we’re using it while they’re having their bottle and it’s in between you and their body. We’re using it when we’re reading the book and rubbing it on their face, using it as a tool. You do put it in the crib with them, for the sleep soothing session, but you are never not seeing them because it’s a video monitor program.

And you always know at the end of that session, that they’re passed out cold. They’re asleep and you go back in and you remove that lovey from the crib. Once they can roll both ways independently, and that’s usually somewhere in the six month range, they can keep it with them. But, if you’re using this from 12 weeks old and best results, usually start at a 12 or 13 week space, do not leave it in the crib after they fall asleep.

Helen Thompson: Yeah, you mentioned sleep safety. I don’t know what you have in America, but here we have something called SIDS (Sudden Infant Death Syndrome) and you don’t have anything in a cot, not even a pillow. You don’t even put a pillow or anything in the cot because it can smother them and, they can overheat I think, I’m not sure on this.

I like your system of a very basic cot and what sort of clothing do you suggest that they have? I know some people like sleep, what do you call them? Those sleep things that you put a little zip on and you put the baby in.

Cara Tyrrell: The sleep sack.

Helen Thompson: Do you recommend those?

Cara Tyrrell: I do. I like sleep sacks and what I don’t like is that there’s about 14,000 different styles now. There’s so many choices, you know, there’s the ones that are weighted, there are ones that aren’t. I live in the Northeast part of the U S, I’m in Vermont and nine out of 12 months, it’s kind of cold here.

So sleep sacks work. I don’t like the weighted ones and I’ll tell you why. Babies, even while they are sleeping are still growing into their physical motor muscle abilities. And I’ve seen parents try the weighted ones because they want their child back to sleep right on their back for safety. They don’t want them flipping over. A four month old really usually can’t do that anyway. But what happens is the baby gets so mad cause they’re trying to move their body and just wiggle their legs and go to their side and then on their back again and they can’t.

Helen Thompson: Yeah. You need to be able to move and relax. Cause that’s part of relaxing into sleep.

Cara Tyrrell: I do like them as a tool that is part of the routine.

Helen Thompson: But I think having a light one that’s warm enough. Some of them are really, really warm they’re fleecy and that’s all very well, it keeps the baby warm but from my experience, I think that it’s probably too warm. That would be my worry that the baby would overheat. Now, I’m not saying that happens. I don’t want to frighten moms cause I’m sure they don’t. You want it to be something that’s warm, but also has airflow as well.

Cara Tyrrell: Yeah and if you live in a space where it’s really quite cold, I mean, it gets to negative 15 sometimes here in the winter, we’d just use a long sleeve warm sleeper onesy, and then put the light sleep sack over it.

Helen Thompson: Yeah. That sounds like the best approach because it’s not too hot and it’s not too cold.

Cara Tyrrell: Yeah and what I really would love your listeners to know is that the evolution of this routine grows with your child and it actually gets easier and easier and easier because the nine month old will just grab a lovey, grab a book and go to sleep. The 18 month old, you’ll run through the program with them super fast. You’re not feeding bottles at that point anymore. It’s not as long a process to try to get through this routine in this system. It just becomes part of them. This is how I go to sleep.

Helen Thompson: So they get used to it so they know what’s coming.

Cara Tyrrell: It doesn’t actually matter when it comes to the sleep system. Right. Because that’s the evolution I was talking about. Right. When you have a teeny tiny one, you’re either nursing before you do the program or you’re bottling before you do the program. When you have an 18 month old, you can have a conversation with them, right. You can say, okay, here’s our plan. It’s time for you to drink your milk. When you’re done drinking your milk, we’re going to change your diaper and then we’re going to do our sleep routine.

Helen Thompson: Yes, absolutely. They’ve seen you doing it all the time and they actually understand that that’s, what’s going to happen. It’s that routine that works.

Cara Tyrrell: I’ve actually had kids who usurp the routine at one point. They’re like enough already, I don’t need a book today. They dive for the crib they just go to sleep.

Helen Thompson: Yes. That’s good. I think it’s good to read them stories before they go to sleep. It’s actually very soothing.

Cara Tyrrell: It’s very soothing and it’s another skill, right? There’s so many skills we could talk about that go along with early and often reading to your children. But what I love is that it’s also a transferrable sleep object. You’ve been reading them a book since you started the sleep program with them. Now they’re 12 months old, now they’re one. You can put that book in their crib with them when they go to sleep at one year old. They can read to themselves now.

Helen Thompson: Yes, and it’s safer at that age.

Cara Tyrrell: My favorite thing in the world is watching on the video monitor. I call it baby TV. And they wake up from their nap and the book is in there with them and they sit up and they open it and they start reading and they’re just babbling, but it’s adorable.

Helen Thompson: Yes it is and I love it when babies do that, because you know that they’re fine and you know, that they’re comfortable and you know, that they’re safe and they’re just enjoying being curious and learning different things

Cara Tyrrell: And you know what else? They know they’re comfortable. They know they’re safe and they know they can be alone and they’re okay.

Helen Thompson: Yes, I think you’ve got such a soothing and calming approach, which I think is such a good opportunity for any baby. I think what you do is just amazing. I’ve experienced that in childcare where I’ve had somebody who’s trying to get a baby to sleep and they’ve been crying and crying and crying. They’ve given them the bottle and nothing works and I just thought, okay I’m just going to try something here. So I picked the baby up, gave the baby a cuddle and I patted them gently on the back and just rubbed his back and just said, okay, I know you’re upset. I know you’re tired and I know you’re having a problem here going to sleep, but let’s just have another cuddle for a few more minutes, and then I’m going to lay you down and just put you to sleep. And I walked out of the room and he stopped crying and he went straight to sleep.

Cara Tyrrell: Oh, that makes my heart so happy.

Helen Thompson: It was just my own intuition. I just thought this baby is distressed, this baby is not going to sleep if people keep walking out, when it’s crying. It needs comfort it needs support.

Cara Tyrrell: We call our class the gift of sleep for a very good reason. Everybody gets the gift. The baby gets the gift of learning this skill. The parent gets the gift of exactly what you experienced, which is I know this outcome, I can feel confident and calm in this outcome. And actually I’m going to get some sleep tonight, too. However, I do want to put a little disclaimer here. Okay. The gift of sleep, we don’t promise that we’re teaching your child how to sleep through the night every night. That’s not what we’re doing. Your kids, as they grow up through other developmental phases and stages, they will wake in the night.

They will wake for bad dreams. They will wait for growing pains. They will wake for teething pain. But what I can tell you is that if you give them the gift of knowing how to fall asleep by themselves, they’ll also learn how to fall back to sleep by themselves.

Helen Thompson: A four month old baby is going to want to be woken to be fed and those are the kind of things that a mom can’t expect a four month old baby or a newborn baby to sleep through the night because that’s just not going to happen.

Cara Tyrrell: There’s some unicorn babies out there. But it’s very rare and the feedback and the testimonials that we get say things like, “my baby, not only falls asleep by themselves now they stay asleep longer. And if they do wake up in the middle of their sleep cycle, they can put themselves back to sleep and finish out their nap”.

And for parents, they’re just so thrilled for their child, that they were able to get all the way through that REM sleep. And then same thing for in the middle of the night. Yeah. They’ll eventually need to eat. But instead of you having to get up every two hours and go in, you might not have to go in for four whole hours.

Helen Thompson: Which is a great bonus for a mom because they don’t want to be sleep deprived and overwhelmed and stressed.

Cara Tyrrell: Like we said, that zero to three months is baby a clock around the clock. Right? Your job is meet all their survival needs, but then as soon as that early cognition kicks in at three months, you can start to ask them to learn some things on their own.

Helen Thompson: Thank you. That’s such a valuable tool you have, and so if my listeners wanted to find out about your course, how would they go about doing that?

Cara Tyrrell: So we are at and there is a page that, you went there, that talks all about this, that kind of lays out the system and has that video that will give you a deeper understanding of what the program is, what your commitment to it would be and what the outcome would be for your child and then from there, you can just sign up with us.

Helen Thompson: Thank you so much. I really appreciated talking to you and from a childcare educators point of view, I’ve actually learned so much from talking to you as well, because we’re definitely on the same page. I’ve enjoyed learning something new and a different approach.

So thank you Cara, for being on the podcast.

Cara Tyrrell: Oh, you’re so welcome. Thank you for having me.