My Sleep Training Thoughts – and what I’d like you to know
Today I want to tell you my thoughts on sleep training. Hear me out! When I first became a sleep consultant, I never considered the backlash I’d get just from that title. From people who didn’t even know me. So I want to let you know what my work means to me, and how I can tell if “sleep training” will work for you.
How it all started
When I gave up my previous role to get my son the help he needed for his dyslexia (and ADHD as it turned out). Sleep wasn’t my main focus. I was studying learning differences at the time. But then sleep became an issue for us and it almost broke up my marriage. No joke.
All of a sudden I had a 7-yr old boy (with anxiety from school and a mind that got stuck on things) who refused to sleep! After a month or so of liaising with the school, doctors and counsellors (because no one helped specifically with “sleep” at that age). I turned to my degree, researched like crazy and turned my sons sleep around so we could get off the drugs, no longer have panic attacks at bedtime and we could ALL sleep again. That’s when I renewed my passion with sleep!
I’d followed the Sleep Sense (TM) method since my son was a newborn, and I received an email saying they were looking for consultants. I leapt at the chance to train in gentle sleep methods (for babies and children) with a world-renowned specialist and went overseas to do so. Even though it was cheaper to train in NZ.
I’d already left my job, so it was thanks to the inheritance my grandmother left me, that made this possible. I was a Mum to two at that stage. Nana used to be a Karitane nurse back in the day, so I’m sure I had her blessing. And thankfully we had my husbands Mum to come and stay while I was away (my kids Grandma). Without this generational support, I just couldn’t have done it.
In other countries the sleep consultant is on speed dial
In other countries, parents have made leaps and bounds with sleep, and it’s not unusual to have a midwife, doula and sleep consultant on speed dial when a little one is born. Don’t get me wrong, as with all things parenting, the methods vary greatly overseas too; from Ferber to the no cry sleep solution. There really is a method for everyone. They tap into it with gusto!
But here in New Zealand, the good old kiwi mentality of DIY kicks in. And we still think (even as parents), we should be able to “do it ourselves”. Can you relate?
I’m a Kiwi, I struggled to accept help when my children were born too! Which is really a little crazy. Especially when we know it takes a village to raise a child. But knowing and doing are two different things!
For just one moment, consider this: Do you pay a plumber to unclog the toilet? Or fix a leaky tap? Maybe an accountant to do your taxes? A mechanic to fix your car? A builder, plasterer, painter? Sure these are all material things we’re talking about. NO WHERE NEAR AS IMPORTANT AS A LIVING BREATHING HUMAN WHO NEEDS SHELTER, NUTRITION, LOVE, and SLEEP. So why aren’t we getting help for our little ones when we struggle? I’m pretty sure most parents struggle at some time. Why do we feel like we need to go it alone?
Honestly, I haven’t got an answer for that yet. I think it is a cultural thing that we’ve just lived with.
We’ve all seen the DIY disaster programs on T.V.
We’ve all seen the DIY disaster programs on T.V. right? Where someone gets started on a house renovation project with gusto, but it never gets finished? I see that a lot with sleep too! Parents try things in desperation only to never really finish the job.
But the truth is, like with renovations, if you make a botch of it first, it’s a bigger job to repair it than if you’d just got an expert in in the first place! And now we’re not just talking about material possessions but your child’s livelihood. Yes good sleep is that important for health, learning and development. At least if you want to reach your potential. And yes, maybe because it’s so important is why we don’t want to touch it (maybe it’s a leave it alone and it’ll come right attitude that has us burying our head in the sand). And yes, you may be lucky, your child may figure out sleep all by themselves around the 3-yr mark. But that’s a long time to wait if you’re already having sleep issues (not to mention all the development that goes on between 0-2 years).
Ensure it’s the service for you
You do need to be comfortable you’ve got the right service. Chat with your prospective sleep consultant first and make sure it’s a good fit. I offer free sleep evaluation calls and I know other consultants do too. Does it surprise you to know I don’t work with everyone? There are some families I’ve turned away, because our values don’t align. And I screen you through the free initial calls I offer, just as you screen me. I want to ensure you’ll get results!
So what’s my take on sleep training? I’m all about the science of sleep and the body and mind. Which can be considered a holistic view. And while I prefer to work with healthy sleep habits early on so there’s no need for “sleep training” as such; there are times a child needs to “relearn” things around sleep. That’s when you’re asking them to put aside what they know (you’ve done) so far, and you try something new.
Yes, what I do can be considered “sleep training”
Please note, learning often involves teaching or training, so to learn sleep, we teach/train sleep (think of teaching as the instruction and training the actual doing if you like). That’s all sleep training really is. Learning to sleep based on how our body works (our circadian rhythm, routines, the power of habit, appropriate developmental schedules etc).
How does it look? Well, the younger you start, the gentler it can look, as it’s simple learning, not “relearning”, which involves change.
I will never tell you not to pick up your child if they are upset (in-fact before 6-months it’s recommended, as long as it helps). The whole idea of having a parent involved in sleep is to offer comfort. However, if you are at the stage where your child already has set expectations of what you will do, and you are changing your response. Then don’t be surprised if they protest this.
Until the new response becomes the expectation, there may be protests. And for a young child this means they can cry at times, let’s not beat around the bush.
Crying is normal, it is ok to a certain extent, but I agree it’s much better if it doesn’t happen and it’s not prolonged!
How long does it take for change?
Change, or starting new habits, on average, takes three days. These days are the hardest – but even then we want to see improvements.
Often children DON’T cry during sleep training. Please put your hand up if this is you. I have plenty of clients who have experienced this. Sleep training does not mean “crying” but it does mean “change”. Protest is your little ones temperament and personality coming through, and it will be so much worse if they are significantly sleep deprived before you start, because without good sleep, EVERYTHING is hard. They are expressing their feelings. Quite simply, they’re reacting to you changing things, that’s all.
Emotion makes us human, and change is hard
It’s ok to feel emotion; that’s what makes us human. Yes, we want to comfort our children, but they also need to feel heard. Not be stifled. Interestingly, us Kiwi’s also call dummy’s “dummys” like we want to shut our children up. In other countries they’re called pacifiers or soothers (which is really the main goal). Somewhere along the way, our thoughts on sleep got a bit messed up maybe…. but I digress…
The trick to getting through any protest is that it is SHORT LIVED!
Change can be approached with love, understanding and support.
Humans of all ages are creatures of habit and change can be HARD, but it’s not impossible. You don’t have to be hard-arsed about it and go from 0-100. But step through the numbers in between. Little steps also get you to your destination and can be less overwhelming than bigger steps. BUT it takes longer than bigger steps.
If your child is overtired, sick, in pain or teething, that is not the time to start messing with what they already know. That is the time to offer comfort and support.
Want to succeed with a sleep plan?
Your comfort and support is still offered to your child when you change things and start a sleep plan. And heaven knows you’re changing things for a good reason! Lack of sleep is not sustainable for long periods of time. It causes all sorts of health issues, including anxiety and depression, and that is no fun to parent through! So sometimes you do need to get through it relatively quickly and accept some protest in the form of crying to get to your goal; especially if you don’t have the luxury of 100 + days.
BUT there is one thing that does separate the people who get through “sleep training” quickly and easily, and those who struggle.
Those who succeed have this in common:
- They commit (they sign the commitment form and say “let’s do this” without wavering).
- They stick to the plan they agreed on and incorporate it all (ie they take it seriously and aren’t just doing bits and pieces at different times).
- They are consistent in their response, so their child quickly learns what to expect.
With these 3 things, any protest is short-lived. However, if you dither and change things up and swing backwards and forwards. Your baby or toddler can end up crying MORE due to confusion. All children love routine and structure, especially young babies who are learning at an exponential rate. They easily adapt to change (it’s part of learning), but not if it’s happening differently daily. Confusion = crying. So if you ARE considering making changes to your child’s sleep habits (aka sleep training in any form), please ensure you are ready to commit, follow a plan that works for you (there are numerous options) and stay consistent.
Not sure? Don’t try and do it alone
If you’re wavering and unsure about something, that’s when you need to speak up and talk to someone about how to minimise any negative effects, for you and your baby. I’m always happy to discuss sleep, and I know there is no “one size fits all” method. I can give you options. But YOU still have to follow through and employ them. This is YOUR parenting journey, not mine, not your mother-in-law’s and not Amy from coffee group (name chosen at random, sorry Amy).
YOU decide if you’re making changes, why you’re making changes and when you’re making changes. Ideally with your significant other, and/or your sleep coach (me).
When you’re already exhausted and sleep-deprived, and you’re unable to think straight, don’t try and do it alone. Honestly, you might just botch if. You need to rely on help and support from somewhere. And I’m here, ready to work on sleep whenever you are. Want to see if we’re a good fit? Book a free call and let’s get aquatinted. Find a time that suits you here: https://bit.ly/freecherishedsleepevaluationcall
Because sleep is a necessity, not a luxury.
P.S. I’m still part of the sleep sense family. And my son is now 13! I’m mentoring new consultants around the world now. And loving it.
P.P.S. I now work with all ages, not just babies and children. So if you’re after better sleep for yourself now your children are sleeping through, get in touch with me too!