For decades bleary-eyed parents had just two options for handling their child’s sleep problems: “cry-it-out” or make the best of the situation whilst waiting to see if their baby would become a better sleeper with time (i.e. “Wait-It-Out”). In recent years, and with the introduction of gentler strategies, baby sleep and how to save it has become much less “all or nothing!” Yet, many parents are still under the impression that teaching their baby to sleep well has to involve hours of crying, night after night. Nothing could be further from the truth! There is another way! And, today we’re going to share the GENTLE alternative to Cry-It-Out –> Sleep Coaching.
First, let’s define what we mean by “Cry-It-Out/CIO” (after all, many people have different understandings of what this means). When we say CIO we are referring to a method in which caregivers put their baby or toddler down in their crib/cot and allow the child to cry until they fall asleep. This method of sleep training does have a few variations and goes by several names including “The Ferber Method” and “The Extinction Method,” but the commonality is continuing to allow crying until the child has fallen asleep. Some parents are uncomfortable with extended (or even limited) bouts of crying and therefore avoid CIO methods; sleep training in this traditional form is not for them.
So, what’s the alternative? And, is “sleep coaching” really any different?
Sleep coaching is a gentle alternative to crying-only methods of sleep training and can be tailored to better meet the unique challenges and goals of an individual family. Sleep coaching should be a holistic approach to reforming a child’s expectations and habits surrounding sleep and encompasses much more than just putting the baby down in their crib and turning out the lights. In many ways we could compare the differences between CIO sleep training and gentle sleep coaching to the differences found in how a seasoned runner might prepare for a marathon versus the casual runner who has agreed to participate in an impromptu 5K next week.
A seasoned runner knows that a lot of prep work goes into a marathon and that in order to perform your best you need to make adjustments to your diet, your daily routine, sleep regimens, and of course, practice, practice, PRACTICE! This athlete isn’t simply going to ‘show up’ the day of the race and expect to set a personal record without reshaping the way he eats, sleeps, and trains leading up to the big day.
A casual ‘runner’ who is participating in the 5K simply to have fun or support a good cause doesn’t take the same approach to preparing. No conditioning, schedule adjustments, gradual advances in distance or speed are performed; the participant just arrives, laces up his shoes, and goes!
A family who has decided to sleep coach has made a decision to assess every area affecting sleep and help guide their child to the metaphorical ‘finish line’ through gradual changes.
What is “sleep coaching?”
While there are many differences to sleep coaching versus CIO, we’ll highlight the top 3.
- Sleep coaching focuses on limiting tears and does not use crying as a means to exhaust the child
- Sleep coaching involves gradually fading out sleep associations rather than “ripping off the Band-Aid”
- Sleep coaching can be done in any sleep space including a shared bed (e.g. while continuing to co-sleep)
Have you been afraid to tackle your child’s sleep problems because CIO doesn’t line up with your parenting philosophy, your child’s temperament, or both? Sleep coaching is the gentle alternative to crying-it-out and may be exactly the approach you’ve been hoping for but never knew existed!