Written by Erin Anderson
As it is with many things in life (including baby sleep), consistency is key when it comes to parenting. It gives children a sense of security and predictability. It also helps create healthy boundaries and clear expectations of behavior. Children learn at an early age what they can expect from their parents. When they can rely on their parents to consistently respond to their needs and behaviors, a sense of trust and comfort is created. However, when children live in an inconsistent environment, where rules change frequently and a parent’s response varies from day to day, children are left to feel confused and insecure.
Consistency is important not only for you as an individual parent, but even more so between you and your spouse. Presenting a united front is essential when establishing family rules, expectations and consequences. Consistency between parents creates a predictable environment that helps children feel safe and calm. Plus, it avoids children playing one parent against the other and keeps one parent from looking good at the expense of the other. Children are surprisingly good at detecting that small crack in consistency between parents! Perhaps you can relate if your child has quickly gone running to your spouse with the same request when they didn’t receive the response they’d hoped for from you. Even worse is when your spouse gives in to their request after you have clearly just said ‘no’! Children will quickly seize an opportunity to “divide and conquer” if they know you and your spouse are not on the same page.
Consistent parenting requires open communication with each other. Disagreements and differences in parenting styles should be calmly discussed and compromises should be reached in order to create a unified front for your children. Conflicting parenting styles and unresolved issues lead to marital tension and an overall unsettled, unpredictable environment for your children.
The importance of consistent parenting also holds true when sleep training your baby. Being on the same page and supporting one another is critical when teaching your baby how to go to sleep on their own. A screaming child at 3:00am is not the time to be disagreeing on how to respond! However you and your spouse agree to respond, needs to be the same- Every. Single. Time. If you respond inconsistently, not only are you sending mixed messages to your child but you are making it harder for them in the long run. For instance, if you and your spouse have agreed to keeping your child in their crib instead of bringing them to your bed during the night, both of you must respond to your child’s night wakings consistently. However, if your spouse follows through with the agreed upon response the first time your child wakes but you cave and bring your child to your bed the next time they wake, not only are you sabotaging your spouse but you are sending a confusing message to your child. It is a proven fact that inconsistently reinforced behavior is the hardest type to modify and takes the longest to change. As result, you end up creating more of the tears you were trying to avoid in the first place.
So, if you and your spouse are thinking about sleep training your child, be sure to sit down together before you start and discuss your parenting styles and desired sleep goals. Having the help of a Certified Gentle Sleep Coach can assist you in navigating a sleep plan that both of you feel comfortable with and will take into account your child’s needs, development and temperament, as well as your family’s dynamics.
Erin Anderson, The Sleepytime Teacher, is a certified Gentle Sleep Coach based in Blacksburg, Va. Contact her today if you and your family are ready to take the first steps in finding your way to better baby sleep! You can find her on Facebook or visit her website here!