Modelling (making your expectations clear)

Modelling has two main roles:

  1. To communicate your expectations (and new routines) in a fun, engaging, and memorable way; and
  2. To help your child to work through any emotions that arise with you right there and when your child is not too tired, before your child is expected to participate in the new routine.

An example of expectations you might communicate are:

  • Your child will stay in bed after you leave the room. You will never be far away.
  • If your child wakes at night, she or he should try to settle back to sleep.
  • Your child sleeps all night in his or her bed.

6 Months and Older

One of the best ways to model is to demonstrate the bedtime routine with a soft toy, and allow your child to see the situation from your point of view. Consider the important elements that you want to model. You might want to include:

  • The steps in the bed routine
  • A demonstration that you are never far away
  • A demonstration of what you will do if [question(“value”), id=”900″] cries

18 Months and Older

You can also model more abstractly, using books or routine charts. For a home-made sleep book see, and you can also use design and printing services such as Shutterfly (Affiliate link – thank you). For a sleep book with a customisable routine, see The Boss of My Sleep Book by Dr Sarah Blunden and Dr Kirrilly Thompson. You can also make your own routine chart (mine can be downloaded here). Routine charts and books can provide an opportunity for your Child to guide you through the routine, which helps in avoiding power struggles.  See the links below for more detail.

Links and Details

Modelling is likely to become more and more effective with every month beyond 6 months of age.
Modelling is suggested by the Dream Baby Guide. For a summary of the book see this link:
For the research basis and practical strategies for modelling see this post:  Or this podcast:
Here is a video demonstration:

Gradual Approach (Celebrate small steps)

Define steps towards the end goal, and celebrate small wins. For example, when Alex moved to his new bed, the following morning we would celebrate if he fell asleep in his bed at the start of the night, if he resettled himself back to sleep during the night, and if he was still in his bed when his clock said 7. He would get a sticker for any of these that he achieved. I call it the gradual approach because Alex continued to sleep in our bed on and off for a couple of weeks before he started consistently achieving all the goals.

Using rewards

The gradual approach can be combined with rewards. Some books, like the Boss of my Sleep Book by Dr Sarah Blunden incorporate a reward system, but it is easy (and cheaper) to implement your own.

Some principles to follow are:

Make the reward easy to reach

Children need to feel like they can get the reward. The Boss of my Sleep Book does this by rewarding the bedtime routine and the overnight sleep with a sticker each. This makes it easy for the child to imagine what getting a sticker in the morning will feel like, and helps make the reward seem achievable. To hear Sarah Blunden talk about the Boss of my Sleep Book, see this podcast:

Make the steps to the reward concrete

The reward will seem more achievable if your child can imagine and understand the steps to achieving it. The Boss of my Sleep Book does this by saying “wait in bed until morning”. It is easier to make yourself wait, than sleep. The “Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Child” book uses even more concrete rules (Note that it also advocates cry it out methods that I do not support): “Lie in bed, close your eyes, stay very quiet, go to sleep”. For a successful implementation of these rules see “How I taught my children to go to bed and stay there by Heather from Rookie Moms.

Make the reward desirable

For some children, sticking stickers on a chart will be rewarding enough. For others, you may need a treat as well, such as a lucky dip prize for a certain number of stickers.

Connect the reward

I try to minimise rewards because they firmly place the motivation outside your child (“I sleep to get a sticker”, not “I sleep because it makes me feel better”). To try to reconnect the reward you could make comments like: “Wow, look how easily you put that sticker on after a good nights sleep”, or “Good sleeping darling! I bet you feel full of energy after all that great sleep!”

Please add your experiences with these approaches in the comments below. Please provide the age of your child when you tried it and how long you tried it for. If it worked, please share the effects you saw. If it didn’t work, why do you think it didn’t work in your case?


  1. Nicole Weeks

    When I tried this with my first 6 month old, he took it very seriously. Every time bunny cried, and we patted bunny in the cot, my 6 month old would also cry and squirm. Each time we modeled, he cried less and less. When we finally did the routine with him, he didn’t cry at all, went to sleep himself, slept 7 til 7, and continued to do so. Prior to this he had been waking us 3+ times a night and rarely self-settled.

    My second was pretty good at self settling from early on but continued to wake us 1-2 times a night beyond her 1st birthday. I tried the same modeling with her at 6 months, she couldn’t care less about the bunny, and modeling had no impact on her sleep.

  2. Nicole Weeks

    I used modelling to teach Beth that there would be no more comfort feeds after a feed on each side at bedtime using a “no-milk-top”. Beth obviously got the picture during modelling because she became quite concerned about the no-milk-top, which gave me an opportunity to help her through those feelings when she wasn’t exhausted and needing sleep.

  3. Nicole Weeks

    “Doesn’t understand – too young. Bored with watching just wants to stand up & crawl around.” (Mother of 9 month old boy tried this for about 4 weeks and found it didn’t help)

  4. Nicole Weeks

    “I tried it for getting her to sleep in her cot rather than our bed & I feel it worked. She seemed to accept her cot a bit more! I used a teddy, but couldn’t make it too long or she’d lose interest.” (Mother of 7 month old girl found this helped in less than a week)


Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.