There are Only 3 Sleep Training Methods with Kim West

In today’s episode, Kim goes solo for the first time since launching the podcast – and for a good reason. With 27 years of sleep training experience, Kim knows that every style of sleep training can be broken down into 3 main methods. It’s so important to speak up on this. A lot of new parents can get overwhelmed thinking there are dozens of sleep training methods to choose from. In reality they all fall under three main categories. There are only 3 ways to change behavior (in this case, change sleep) and that is extinction, gradual extinction, or fading. Each sleep training technique fits under one method but can be tweaked and adjusted. So what are the methods? Let’s discuss below.

Sleep Training Method #1 – Extinction 

Extinction sleep training is when after a soothing bedtime routine, a caregiver lays down a child that is awake and aware that they are going to bed. The caregiver will put the child down and won’t return until the morning, regardless of crying. The thought behind this is that having no response to crying will cause the child to eventually stop, and eventually learn to sleep through the night.

You’ll read many articles that will say extinction is the most successful sleep training method. That’s because as the parent, you can’t really mess it up. You can’t go in and confuse your child, it’s just a total extinction. But, Kim said something very important about the “success” around sleep training: “something I want all parents to know is that one method doesn’t work for all children. I’m even including my own method.”

So, can you tweak extinction to work for you? Well, not really. Extinction is just that – no going in and checking on your child (that would be gradual extinction which we’ll discuss), no responding to a cry, nothing. It’s very black and white, so if your parenting style is craving one “right” answer or “right” way to do things, extinction may be best. 

But, maybe you’ve tried extinction and didn’t feel comfortable or it didn’t work right away. You may want to try the next method.

Sleep Training Method #2 – Gradual Extinction 

Gradual extinction is what about 90-95% of sleep training methods center around. Gradual extinction was popularized by Dr. Richard Feber and is referred to as “Ferber-izing” or “the Ferber method”. While this popular approach has a lot of tweaks, it’s not new. Many sleep training programs and coaches will share their own tweaked approach to gradual extinction. 

Like extinction, with gradual extinction, you’ll go through a soothing bedtime routine with your child and lay them down aware and awake. But, with gradual extinction, you will go in for timed checks when the crying begins. Where the main tweaks come in is how often you go in. This can be tweaked by the number of minutes you stay in the room, the space of time between checks, or how long you wait after the first cry. You can also tweak this method by what you do when you go into the room. Do you pick up your child? Touch them? Talk? Rock them? 

What’s “Right” With Gradual Extinction?

As you can see there are so many ways to execute gradual extinction, and there’s really no right or wrong answer. This is why there are so many programs and books available around the gradual extinction method. Many parents have asked Kim what the “magic number” is when it comes to timed checks. But, there’s really no magic. Truthfully, the timed checks and spacing of minutes are to control the parents, not the baby. Your child will cry, and it’s up to the parent to decide how spaced the checks are. 

An issue with gradual extinction is that it can be hard to stay consistent. Any sleep training method needs consistency to work. If you have no set-out plan, there may be nights that you go in after 5 minutes, then after 15, and some nights after 2. Whatever you choose to do with gradual extinction, make it consistent. 

Sleep Training Method #3 – Parental Fading

The last method Kim discusses is parental fading – although strict behaviorists will call this fading. Like all the other methods, you execute a soothing bedtime and put your child down awake and aware. But, after you put your child down, you stay, offering physical and verbal reassurance until they fall asleep. This method is what my sleep training method, The Sleep Lady Shuffle, is modeled after.

This method can be tweaked by changing what you do when you stay in your child’s room. Sleep coaches using this method all have different methods of parental fading – some suggest you pick up and put down your child at any signs of discomfort. 

With my method of parental fading, I coach parents to stay and offer physical and verbal reassurance doing less each night as they slowly back away. The goal with parental fading is that children are learning how to fall asleep themselves. 

But, What Sleep Training Method Should I Use?

Before you decide what sleep training method is best for your family, know that 95% of what is offered is gradual extinction. If you hear about some amazing new book, course, ebook, etc., flip to the part where the coach tells you what to do after you lay your child down, and that’s where you’ll be able to tell which of the 3 methods this technique falls under.

Whatever technique you choose should be dependent on your child’s, and your own, temperament. This can change child to child as well. Something else Kim suggests parents should consider when choosing a sleep training technique is asking yourself what method you can follow consistently. Can you go all night without going in, consistently for 3-5 nights? Extinction might work for you! Can you commit to sitting in your child’s room until they are happily asleep? Parental fading would be best. You need to be realistic with your partnership and family lifestyle to determine what works best. Kim reassures parents by saying “it’s not about picking the magical method, it’s about picking what is the right match for your child’s temperament, your temperament, your parenting philosophies and beliefs and what you can follow through with consistently”.

What if Nothing Works?

If you’re consistently doing one of the methods for 3-5 nights and see no progress, stop and go to your pediatrician. Kim prefers parents get the green light from a pediatrician before starting to sleep train. But, if your child is not responding to any method there may be an underlying sleep condition that your doctor needs to address. 

Get More From Kim

Check out Kim’s sleep training technique, Gentle Sleep Solutions. You can also read her blog which is full of tips for any sleep issues you and your child may be facing. 

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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.