If you are currently feeding or rocking your child to sleep and they are waking multiple times a night, there are a number of different sleep training methods that are used with the aim of training your child to fall asleep independently at the start of the night and for naps. The overall aim of doing this is to get your child sleeping more soundly by not needing you to rock or feed them to sleep in between sleep cycles. The upshot being more sleep for them and for you as parents.
Over the next few weeks I will be posting about a number of other sleep training methods, but in this post I will explain what the chair method is, who it's good for, who it's not good for, the pros and cons, and how to implement it step-by-step.
What is the chair method?
The chair method is a sleep training technique that involves gradually reducing your presence in your child's room until they fall asleep on their own. It involves setting up camp next to your child's cot and initially sitting on a chair next to the cot as they fall asleep, and gradually moving the chair further away from the cot every few days.
The idea is that this helps your child learn to fall asleep with less and less interaction from you and to feel secure in the knowledge that you are still close by.
Who is the chair method good for?
The chair method is ideal for parents who want to help their child learn how to self-settle without leaving them alone to cry it out. It's a slightly more gentle method that allows parents to be present and reassuring while their child learns to fall asleep independently. It's also a good choice for children who are easily comforted by their parents' presence and may have difficulty falling asleep without it.
Who is the chair method not good for?
The chair method may not be suitable for all children, especially those who have severe separation anxiety. If your child becomes more upset or over stimulated when you're present in the room during sleep training, this method may not be the best choice. Additionally, if your child has any medical conditions that require more frequent check-ins or attention, the chair method may not be a good fit. As a parent, if you feel severely anxious when you hear your child cry, this is unlikely to be a good fit for you, as part of the technique is being physically present, offering verbal reassurance, but not intervening much more than that. It can be very hard for a parent to sit and listen to their child cry or fuss without immediately intervening.
Pros and cons of the chair method
How to implement the chair method step by step
Start the process at bedtime first as this is the easiest time to work on sleep
Choose a consistent bedtime routine that helps your child wind down and relax
Put your child in their bed or cot wide awake
Sit on a chair next to their cot
If your child cries or fusses, offer verbal reassurance but don't pick them up
Stay in the room until your child falls asleep, then quietly leave the room
Gradually move your chair further away from their bed every few nights until you're out of the room entirely
Be consistent with the process and remain patient and supportive
Night 1-3: Set the chair next to the cot and touch your child intermittently. Limit how much you talk to them, and do not look them in the eye as this can be over stimulating. If they stand up, lay them back down once, but do not repeatedly do so. If you need to, hold the bottom corner of their sleep sack down on to the cot mattress.
Night 4-6: Move the chair halfway toward the door. No longer touch your child, but you may continue to offer verbal reassurance by shhhing, singing or talking to them if necessary.
Night 7-9: Move the chair to the doorway, just inside the room. You may still "shhh" and talk to them, but try to do so less often than before.
Night 10-12: Move the chair outside of the room but still in view. Delay any responses to your child as much as possible.
Night 13+: Stay in the hall or a nearby room, and delay responses a bit more than you previously were. If necessary, check on your child, but do so from the doorway if possible.
It's important to note that although the Chair Method is seen as more gentle, as it offers more parental support, your child may still cry during the process. Sleep training involves changing your child's sleep habits, which can be challenging. However, with consistency and patience, this method can help your child learn to fall asleep on their own while still feeling secure with your presence. However, like any sleep training method, it's not a one-size-fits-all solution. It's essential to assess your child's needs on an individual basis.
If you're struggling to find an approach to tackling your child's sleep issues, please get in touch to book a 1:1 consultation. The Bedtime Champ is a child sleep consultancy service offering in-person consultations in the South-East London area (Lewisham, Hither Green, Blackheath and Greenwich) and remote consultations worldwide for children from birth to age 5.
Alternatives to The Chair Method
The Ferber method is the most popular method of sleep training, but it certainly isn't the only method out there. You can find other methods in my blog - links are below:
The Pick Up/Put Down Method
If you want to take a slower and more tailored approach, I also have an online course where I detail two super responsive methods to move your child from feeding or rocking to sleep to falling asleep independently. It's very affordable, and you can find out more information here.