Consistency: The Key to Sleep Coaching Success

It is truly amazing how ritualistic children can be – they crave consistency and predictability in their routines because it makes them feel safe and secure. It is also true of how you respond to your child as you are going through the process of sleep coaching. When any family that is interested in working with me wants to learn more about the process, I often ask if they are ready to commit to being consistent. I tell them that sleep coaching effectiveness depends upon consistent follow through on the program both during and after our work together. It sounds a little daunting at first, but once I am able to explain what this means, parents begin to feel empowered and confident that they can commit to consistency to help improve their little one’s sleep!

Intermittent Reinforcement

It’s important to first provide examples of inconsistent response, which is often times referred to as intermittent reinforcement. Intermittent reinforcement is when you give mixed signals to your child, where sometimes you give in, and sometimes you don’t – and your child is confused as to what behavior merits a reward, and what type does not. For example, you nurse baby to sleep at bedtime, then when they wake at night, you sometimes nurse, or sometimes Dad rocks to sleep and if it’s after 5 am, baby usually comes into bed. You can see that your little one can become confused and frustrated if they are not receiving the same response each time. They may want to come in bed with you, or be nursed to sleep, not rocked to sleep. In each of these scenarios, baby is reliant upon Mom or Dad to help them go to sleep versus learning how to do it independently.  During sleep coaching, I often use the analogy that you and your child are a team: you are the coach, and they are the player – and you cannot play the game for them (i.e. put them to sleep by rocking, nursing, etc.). Deciding on a response and sticking to it will allow them to learn how to fall asleep without the aid of one of the sleep crutches that have been assisting them in the past.

But what about at 4:00 a.m.?

I don’t disagree that this is incredibly challenging – during coaching, and especially the first few days, it is only natural that we would want to do whatever we needed to do to get our little one back to sleep in the wee hours of the morning. The problem is that when you cave that one time and give in to rocking to sleep or co-sleeping, this could trigger your baby or toddler to start waking each night thereafter assuming they will get the same response. With any change, your child may protest with some tears and you might have a challenging first few nights when you begin coaching. But I do remind parents that after these first few nights, you should begin to see improvement if you are remaining consistent with your response – even at 4:00 a.m. in the morning.

Plan Ahead

When you decide to implement whatever sleep plan you map out for your family, make sure you are able to devote 2.5-3 weeks where there is minimal interruption like travel, events or transitions (arrival of new baby, moving, etc.). They types of interruptions naturally lead to potential opportunities where you may not be as consistent as if they were not occurring. You want to have all of your child’s sleeping occasions happen at home and provide that consistency to be successful with your plan.

Consistency is Paramount to Success

Being consistent is truly the most important factor to sleep coaching success. Create a sleep log and record your child’s sleeping occasions and your responses to get a sense of their schedule and your consistency. Learning how to fall asleep is a learned skill and not something we are born knowing how to do.  Observe your child and learn also what helps soothe them to sleep (pacifier, thumb, blankie, white noise, etc.). In no time, your whole house will be on the path to a better nights sleep!

Upcoming Workshops: Visit Nite & Day’s events page to see where Elizabeth is speaking next. Come to get all of your questions about sleep answered – and develop a plan for your child!

About Elizabeth Sarles

Elizabeth Sarles is a Certified Gentle Sleep Coach and the owner of Nite & Day. She lives in Edina, Minnesota with her husband Lien, two little guys – Lien and Harrison, and her first baby (and bed-hog), Eddie the Yorkie.

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