Based on lots and lots of experience in working with parents over the years, we here at The Baby Sleep Site™ have found something to be true: when used with consistency, the right sleep training method can work wonders for a baby’s nighttime sleep problems, or a toddler’s persistent sleep issues. The two key words in that statement? ‘Consistency’ and ‘Right’.
Finding the Right Sleep Training Method
It’s important that you find a sleep training method that works for both you and your baby. Not every sleep training technique works for every baby, or for every parent. The Pick-Up-Put-Down (PUPD) method advocated by Tracy Hogg, for instance (a method in which you pick up your baby when she’s fussy and put her back in her crib to sleep when she’s calm), works well for some babies. Others, however, get totally overstimulated by being picked up so often, and end up becoming increasingly upset.
Or take some of the cry-it-out methods. Some parents report that cry-it-out techniques helped their babies overcome their sleep problems in a matter of days. But other parents have let us know that cry-it-out methods simply do.not.work with their little ones. What’s more, some parents feel uncomfortable using cry-it-out techniques. In those cases, cry-it-out is not a technique that will work for their babies, since it’s not a technique that works for them as parents.
The right sleep training technique is one that works for both your baby and for you and is one that you can commit to doing. This means that, when considering sleep training techniques, you’ll need to take into account both your baby’s temperament and personality, as well as your own parenting philosophy.
Remaining Consistent in Sleep Training
If it’s important to find the right sleep training method for your baby, then it’s downright critical to remain consistent in your sleep training. This is so key, but it’s something that a lot of parents struggle with.
And that’s understandable. Some sleep training techniques require a lot of patience and a lot of time before they start to produce results. The fading method, for example (in which you slowly do less and less of the “work” to put your child to sleep, and your child does more and more) can take awhile to start working, and it demands a lot of patience on the part of parents. In cases like this, it can feel hard (or maybe impossible) to stay the course and remain consistent.
Other parents find it hard to stay consistent because of the way their babies or toddlers react to sleep training. Most of you know this first-hand by now, but it’s worth emphasizing: sleep training will almost always involve at least a little bit of crying. It doesn’t have to be full-blown cry-it-out, by any means, but even the gentlest techniques often involve a minimal amount of crying. And since no parent enjoys the sound of their child in distress, it can feel excruciating to remain consistent while your child fusses or cries.
But here’s the thing: sleep training won’t work unless you’re consistent. This goes for other aspects of parenting too, doesn’t it? Like discipline, for example. Let’s say you’re trying to teach your baby not to touch electrical cords (a very wise thing to teach!) Imagine if you spent three days strictly enforcing your new “don’t touch electrical cords” rule, only to give up on day four and not say a thing when your baby grabs the lamp cord with both hands and starts tugging. This is confusing for your baby; why was it wrong one day but fine the next? As a result of this mixed message, he won’t learn the “don’t touch electrical cords” lesson nearly as quickly as he would if you’d been consistent in enforcing the rule.
The same is true for sleep training. For instance, lets say you’ve been rocking your baby to sleep for months now, but want to wean her from that sleep association. For the first three days, you rock her for a few minutes before naps and bed, but then put her in her crib while she’s still drowsy but awake. This is a great start! But if you give up on day four, and rock her straight to sleep for naps and bed, you’re sending your baby a confusing mixed message. This kind of inconsistency will totally set you back in your efforts to help her learn to sleep through the night.
Why Is Consistency So Important During Sleep Training?
Why is consistency so key? Because people (both children and adults) need plenty of time and space to practice a new skill. And in many ways, that’s what sleeping through the night is for your baby or toddler – a new skill. Think about the times you’ve had to learn something new. You probably made lots of mistakes in the beginning, and felt frustrated. But over time, you figured it out. Now imagine if, just a few hours or days into your learning process, someone had stepped in and taken over, and started doing for you the very thing you were learning to do yourself.
It reminds me of a time in college, when a friend of mine was learning to drive her new car. It had a manual transmission, and she had only ever driven an automatic. A well-meaning mutual friend took her out for a lesson, but after a few hours, he couldn’t handle it anymore! The grinding of the gears, the stalling out on hills…finally, he made her pull over so he could drive the car back to campus himself.
In our sleep training analogy, my friend’s driving instructor was like the parent who gets overwhelmed with sleep training, finally saying, “I’ll just take care of this myself” and rocking the baby to sleep. It’s an understandable reaction (no one likes the sound of a fussy baby, just as no one likes the sounds of grinding car gears!), but ultimately, in both scenarios, no one learned anything new. My friend couldn’t learn to drive her new car unless she had the time and space to practice; your baby can’t learn to sleep through the night unless he the same.
So think about it this way: when you’re consistent in your sleep training, you’re giving your baby time and space to practice a new skill. The learning process may not be easy; it may involve some crying, and it may take longer than you’d like. But this is how learning often works.
When ‘Right’ and ‘Consistent’ Collide
Here’s the tricky part: ‘finding the right method’ and ‘staying consistent’ might seem to conflict with each other sometimes. For example, let’s say that you’re a few days into trying a new sleep training technique, and it doesn’t seem to be working at all. Your baby is fussy and cranky, she’s not sleeping any better than she was before you started, and you’re at the end of your rope. And you find yourself faced with a dilemma:
“Maybe this method isn’t right for her? Should I give up and try something else? But then again, maybe I need to give it a few more days…I don’t want to be inconsistent…ACK! WHAT AM I SUPPOSED TO DO?!”
This is so, so normal. Here’s our advice: if you’re trying a new sleep training technique, stick with it for at least one whole week. (If you’re sleep training a toddler, you may need to give it two or three weeks). If, at the end of the week, your little one has shown absolutely zero improvement, and is resisting your efforts in a big way, then you can consider trying something new.
Many of us know first-hand how hard consistency during sleep training can be, don’t we? Share your sleep training story with us, and let us know how you managed to stay consistent even when it was tough.
If you need some help and guidance in sleep coaching your little one, please be sure to pick up your FREE copy of 5 (tear-free) Ways to Help Your Child Sleep Through the Night, our e-Book with tear-free tips to help your baby sleep better. For those persistent nighttime struggles, check out The 3-Step System to Help Your Baby Sleep (babies) or The 5-Step System to Better Toddler Sleep (toddlers). Using a unique approach and practical tools for success, our e-books help you and your baby sleep through the night and nap better. For those looking for a more customized solution for your unique situation with support along the way, please consider one-on-one baby and toddler sleep consultations, where you will receive a Personalized Sleep Plan™ you can feel good about! Sometimes it’s not that you can’t make a plan. Sometimes you’re just too tired to.