The Secret to Successful Sleep Training

Today, Kim is solo on the show to talk about the biggest secret to sleep training success – consistency! No matter what sleep training method you choose (more on those methods HERE), consistency is the key to sleeping for you and your child. Kim says to “not even start sleep training until you’re 200% in and ready to follow through and be consistent with the whole process.” 

What Does Intermittent Reinforcement Have to Do With Sleep Training?

Kim starts by explaining what intermittent reinforcement is. It is the most powerful reinforcer of behavior for everyone – period. She shares an example of what intermittent reinforcement is. Psychologists learned this with rats. They put the rats in a cage and the rats would ring a bell. Sometimes they would get cheese, sometimes they wouldn’t. The rat couldn’t figure out when the cheese would come, so they furiously would ring the bell over and over waiting for the outcome they wanted – the cheese. For adults, an example of this would be slot machines. Adults can lose over and over, but when they win, they’re rewarded and want to stay on the machine. In reality, the best behavior for them would be to switch machines or better yet cash in winnings, but the quick thrill of winning on a losing machine keeps them coming back to the same machine. 

Intermittent Reinforcement With Different Sleep Styles 

Kim shares things to avoid with intermittent reinforcement while sleep training. She gives three examples that show negative intermittent reinforcement. 

Example 1:

Say your baby wakes up frequently at night. As a parent, you may have a “schedule” in your head with what you do during these wakings. If it’s before midnight, maybe you just cuddle to sleep. If it’s after midnight, you may feed. Sometimes you may send your partner in. Sometimes you rock and cuddle, sometimes you sing. This is what most parents do – we’re just doing what we can to survive. But, from a baby or child’s point of view, they have no idea what to expect when they wake up. They want their one “reward”, which can differ from child to child. Maybe it’s cuddles or feedings – but they will cry until they get the outcome they want. This actually results in more crying from the child because they’re wondering what will happen. 

The lesson here is that if we want to avoid responding inconsistently, we need to create a sleep plan and respond consistently in the same manner, at each waking. 

Example 2: 

You’ve just had a brutal night of sleep. Your baby or toddler was up every two hours and nothing would console them. You’re venting to another parent at the playground and they share how they got their child to sleep – crying it out. So you buck up, head home, and prepare for a night of tears. But, your heart can’t take it after 30 minutes of crying. You go into your child’s room and feed, rock or cuddle them to sleep. Even if you do this exact thing 4 nights in a row, you’re only teaching your child that they’ll get what they want after 30 minutes of crying. They subconsciously know you’ll come in, no matter how long the tears last. 

The lesson here is that if you choose to go with crying it out (Kim prefers a more gentle method) you have to be consistent. You have to let them cry it out without going in, or if you do go in you have to do the same exact thing every single time, without physical contact. 

Example 3: 

Your baby wakes up just after 5 am. You aren’t in the mood for doing The Shuffle or any other comforting so you bring your baby into your bed. What’s the harm? It’s just an hour or two in the morning. But the issue is, that your baby or child cannot tell time. They won’t know the difference between 5 am and 6:30 am. All they know is that sometimes they get brought into their parents’ bed for sleep, and sometimes they won’t. The inconsistency won’t help them settle when they wake up, because they don’t know what to expect. 

It’s hard to see these little issues that reinforce bad sleeping habits. 

Reinforcing Successful Sleep Training

Consistency is the key to anything in parenting, especially sleep training. Kim says that especially for kids in beds, you need the consistency to cement skills and boundaries with older kids. 

The bad news is, that intermittently reinforced behavior is the hardest to change. It takes longer to change because your child will up the ante with crying or not sleeping in hopes that you’ll change your mind. Stay the course, things might get worse before they get better. But, as long as you are consistent, things will start to change for your entire family.

The Sleep Lady®

The Sleep Lady is a brand, founded by Kim West, focusing on gentle sleep and parenting solutions. For over 25 years, we have helped hundreds of thousands of families get the rest they need, without leaving their children alone to cry it out. While we focus on sleep-training, we provide resources and tips for parents to help schedule their child’s day, feedings and more.

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The Gentle Parenting Show, created by Kim West - The Sleep Lady

In the Gentle Parenting Show, Kim West will interview parenting experts on everything from mindfulness to developmental milestones and how it relates to gentle parenting. Kim West is a LCSW-C, bestselling author and founder of a world-renowned gentle sleep training method. She and her team of Gentle Sleep Coaches have helped over 1 million families find gentle sleep through her courses, best-selling book and 1:1 coaching. Kim is the only baby sleep expert out there with 25-years of experience, and she’s seen everything when it comes to parenting.

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