Consistency In Sleep Coaching

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  • September 23, 2014

Consistency In Sleep Coaching . . .

Sleep coaching requires consistency … Here’s why:

 

We all know we “should” be consistent in parenting in general—myself included.

Yet none of us are perfect parents, though we do try.  I get it.  I’m a parent, too.  It’s hard work taking care of our little ones!  And often, it’s hard to be consistent, but when it comes to sleep coaching, consistency is key.

As the parent of a young child, there’s nothing you want more than sleep.  Babies are born without a circadian rhythm, which takes months to develop.  This means lots of night wakings in those early months.  As our children grow, we parents have likely developed some habits along the way to help our baby get to sleep.  These same habits are the ones that gentle sleep coaching will help you break so that your baby can fall asleep without your help.

If you’re considering sleep coaching, you need to be really ready to be consistent.  I mean it.  BEFORE you start sleep training, make sure that you are really, truly ready to be “all in” and solidly consistent because of the power of intermittent reinforcement…don’t worry, I’ll get to that in just a minute.  It’s just not fair to your little one if you are not consistent … not to mention that you will lengthen the sleep coaching process.

 

Intermittent Reinforcement

 

Consistency is the “secret” to success.  Quite honestly, I would much rather you wait until you are ready to commit, than to start half -way or without having done the necessary prep work.  This is especially true if your baby is older than 18 months, and/or this is not your first attempt at sleep coaching.

Crying Child In A CribFrom the Good Night, Sleep Tight Workbook:  “Once you have a sleep training plan in place, it’s absolutely crucial to be consistent—even in the middle of the night when you’re tired and not thinking clearly.  Otherwise you risk sending mixed messages — which behavioral scientists call “intermittent reinforcement”— to your child throughout the day (and night!) which will only frustrate him.  He won’t be able to decipher what type of behavior merits rewards and what type of behavior doesn’t.  Inconsistently reinforced behavior is the hardest type of behavior to modify or extinguish.  It takes longer to change and it always gets worse before it gets better.”

This is precisely why I ask that parents read through not only the introductory chapters of my book in their entirety, but also the age-appropriate chapter BEFORE they begin to sleep coach.  You will find that there is groundwork that needs to be laid before you can be truly consistent, and therefore successful in your sleep coaching endeavors.

From Good Night, Sleep Tight:  “Intermittent reinforcement, means that sometimes you give in, and sometimes you don’t, giving such a mixed message that a child, particularly a baby or toddler, can’t make any sense of it.  He can’t figure out what behavior he must change and what behavior will be rewarded if he screams, whines, or wheedles enough.  Inconsistently reinforced behavior is the hardest type to modify or extinguish.  It takes the longest to change, and it often provokes even more of the tears we are trying to avoid.  This is particularly true if the child is more than a year old.  Sometimes it is okay for us as parents to bend rules, make exceptions, give treats. We all do it. But breaking rules hither and thither, responding in different ways all the time, is counter productive, and that’s doubly true for sleep.”

I’ve been doing this a long time. I’ve helped tens of thousands of families achieve restful nights and happy days, and I can help you, too, but it is essential that you are consistent once you start. Sleep is a skill that we have to teach our babies.  This is why your 8 month old still wakes up at all hours needing you to help him fall back asleep or your 3 year old expects you to lay down with her and stroke her back to sleep.

Often I talk to parents who are frustrated by their child’s lack of sleep know-how.  Interestingly, every single parent uses one very telling word: “sometimes.”  Do you “sometimes” bring your baby into bed mid-night when you’re too exhausted to rock him anymore?  Do you “sometimes” skip the morning nap?  Allow your child to sometimes push bedtime later…way later?

 

Sleep Coaching Requires Consistency

 

When it comes to sleep coaching “sometimes” is a huge problem. When you’re teaching your child to sleep, “sometimes” will set your sleep coaching success back.  This is why I suggest that you begin sleep coaching at a time when there are not going to be any major interruptions, though I understand that for some families this may be inevitable. Sometimes you have to do what works for you, just make sure that when you are ready, you are ready to be consistent with your responses at all hours of the day and night.

 

Consistency Can Be A Challenge

 

From Good Night, Sleep Tight:  “You might be very tired the first few nights you embark on this program because in the short run you might get even less sleep.  That’s because as you modify your baby’s sleep behavior, you are going to have to give up some of the middle-of-the- night crutches known as negative associations that may get her back to sleep in the short run but won’t prevent her from popping up again in an hour. She may resist the change.  The behavior may even get worse before it gets better as she adjusts to new routines, to new positive associations.”

It’s important to understand that our children do not understand why WE the parents have changed our approach to sleep. If your baby is non-verbal she will cry, if she is verbal, she will cry AND have words for you.  Honestly, can you blame her?  Knowing that you are changing the routine can be daunting, and poor habits that have taken months to solidify are going to cause you a small challenge when you first start sleep coaching, but if you give up, you’ll never see success.  You’ve heard the phrase “it gets worse before it gets better”?  This definitely applies to sleep coaching or training.

bad dreams baby looking for mumRemember when I talked about the power of intermittent reinforcement, just a few paragraphs ago?  If your child is sometimes picked up and rocked to sleep and not others, then why wouldn’t she assume that you will change your mind this time and go back to whatever you have been doing before you started sleep coaching?  This is especially true if you have been wishy-washy in your responses to your child’s wakings.

Don’t forget that I’m a parent, too.  Please know that I truly understand that we all do what we need to do when we are desperate.  Its just that once we are fully committed to starting sleep coaching I want you 100% in,  otherwise it’s just not fair to you or your child.  Intermittent reinforcement will create a lot of crying which no one wants!  When you’re changing any habit, especially sleep, you will not see all the fruits of your labor overnight (wouldn’t that be nice!), but you will see significant improvement in as little as 7-10 days, but it is essential for you to be consistent throughout the sleep coaching process.

 

Present a United Front

 

From Good Night, Sleep Tight: “Inconsistency is a big problem for children of all ages, right up through those teen years, and disagreement about child rearing can be a problem in marriages if you don’t keep communication open.”  

Interestingly, did you know that the top 3 topics for couples to fight about are: money, sex, and children (and not necessarily in that order)?

Sleep coaching is just another part of parenting, which means that you need to be on the same page as your partner if you expect long-term success.  Without agreement, you may find that you are each handling night wakings, or nap time issues differently, which is confusing and frustrating both for the other parent, and most of all for your child.

Remember being inconsistent just makes changing behaviors that much harder.  Our children are smart, and they catch on quickly.  If you expect your preschooler to pick up his toys every night, but don’t reinforce it, then he learns that you don’t mean what you say; that cleaning up after himself is optional.  The same idea applies to sleep.

 

Follow Through

 

Once you’ve made the decision to sleep coach, you must, above all else, remain consistent.  Understand that things are not going to turn around overnight, but you will see improvement in a few days, and marked improvement in one to two weeks.

From Good Night, Sleep Tight: “If you aren’t consistent, you aren’t just making it harder for yourself.  You are making it harder for your child.  If you are trying to move a child out of your bed and into a crib, you need to keep him in the crib every night, not most nights.  If you are trying to stop pacing up and down the hallway with him from 3:00 to 4:00 a.m., you need to resist the urge to pace every night, not most nights.  He can’t understand why you bring him into your bed on Tuesday but you let him scream for ninety minutes on Thursday, or why you won’t take him to your bed at 1:00 a.m. but are too wiped out to resist at 4:00 a.m.  Babies can’t tell time!  He’s going to cry.  It’s his way of saying, “Hey, what’s going on here? It’s late and I’m tired and I need to go back to sleep, and why can’t I get into your bed now when you let me yesterday?”  

“Decide on a response to his awakenings and then stick with it.  You’ll get some tears at first, but remember, you don’t have to turn your back on those tears.  Soothe him, help him, show and tell him that you love him, and the tears will stop.”

It’s so important that whatever sleep coaching method you choose, you follow through consistently. Your baby will only learn how to fall asleep without your help if you provide a consistent response to bedtime and night wakings.  Know that with consistency, you will see results.

 

 

If you have a story about your success with being consistent while sleep coaching,  please share your experience on The Sleep Lady’s Facebook Page! Supporting each other makes parenting so much easier!

 

Kim West
Kim is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker who has been a practicing child and family therapist for more than 24 years, and the creator of the original gentle, proven method to get a good night’s sleep for you and your child. She is the author of The Sleep Lady's Good Night Sleep Tight, its companion Workbook and 52 Sleep Secrets for Babies. Click here to read more about her.

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