Breaking the Stigma of Sleep Training
Like many other industries, Sleep Training has those in favor as well as those who vehemently disagree with it. Before we get into the heart of this article, allow me to share a quick overview of the process Sleep Consultants use, in case you are new to the world of sleep training.
A majority of Sleep Consultants have an in-depth intake form that the parents fill out prior to their Sleep Consultant creating their customized sleep plan. We then analyze the parents' responses and use them to create a sleep plan that ensures alignment with their family’s lifestyle and parenting philosophy, as well as one that considers their child’s temperament, medical needs, and full medical history. Sleep Consultants have a variety of sleep training methods in our repertory, once we understand the complete picture, we are able to determine which method would fit the child and family best.
Now, let’s dive in!
If you are up for a social experiment, ask “What are your thoughts on sleep training?” on a public forum, grab some popcorn, and wait for the responses to roll in. Now, I don’t actually suggest you conduct this experiment unless you’re quite bored and want to read a plethora of passionate responses ranging from one extreme to the other.
The responses would likely range from “Sleep training saved my sanity, it’s the best thing I’ve ever done for my family!” to “Sleep training is abusive and cruel.”
Certified Pediatric Sleep Consultants take the latter statement to heart; not because it holds any validity but because we care so deeply about our clients and invest so much of our heart into this work. We see firsthand just how attentive and loving the parents of our young clients are. The parents of our clients are seeking education about pediatric sleep. They ask a plethora of questions about the different methods we use, and we work with them to create a plan that supports their parenting philosophy and helps them reach their family’s sleep goals. Thus, when we see someone who’s uneducated in our field utilizing extreme language to incite fear, it is extremely disheartening.
The parents we work with are exhausted from irregular sleep, which can be detrimental to one’s physical and emotional well-being. These parents are desperate for solutions and have finally mustered up the courage to seek support from qualified professionals.They know that their child/children are not getting adequate sleep,which hinders their ability to thrive.
“Studies have shown that kids who regularly get an adequate amount of sleep have improved attention, behavior, learning, memory, and overall mental and physical health. Not getting enough sleep can lead to high blood pressure, obesity and even depression.” Rachel Dawkins, Johns Hopkins Medicine
You may be wondering, “Well then why do people jump to the conclusion that sleep training is abusive or neglectful?”. It wouldn’t be fair for me to ignore those claims, and not give my expert opinion as to where they stem from.
When I see claims made against sleep training, most of the time it is because of the false impression that babies lay crying in their crib for hours, only falling asleep because they have learned their parents have left them and are not coming back.
If you’re new to the sleep training world, they are referring to a method called Extinction, more commonly known as Cry It Out (CIO). Extinction is simply one of many methods that sleep consultants have to choose from when working with a family to reach their child’s sleep goals. Unfortunately, people unfamiliar with the sleep training industry have come to use the terms “Sleep Training” and “Cry it out” interchangeably.
So what IS extinction?
Here is how I would explain extinction to a client of mine, should I determine it is the best fit for their child:
“In this method, you will complete your bedtime routine, ensuring your child's love tank is full. You then lay them down drowsy, but awake, and leave the room until morning. You do not return into the room, at any time, for any reason.”
I, personally, have never used extinction with a client, however I can see instances where it would be fitting to use. For example, let’s say we have a healthy four-year-old who communicates well with their parents, but simply will not sleep in their own room. Their parents have tried other, more gentle, methods with no success. This would be an instance in which I would feel comfortable with using CIO.
I support fellow Sleep Consultants who choose to use extinction with their clients, because I trust their discernment and ability to choose a method that fits their clients’ needs. I know the training they have received and the guidelines they were taught regarding which clients are a good fit for extinction. I also am a member of multiple forums with other Sleep Consultants, where we share tips, ask questions, and support one another. Not once have I come across a Sleep Consultant who solely uses extinction.
Furthermore, there are five components to establishing a healthy sleep foundation. Meeting the child’s emotional needs is one of the five components. Sleep Consultants are trained to educate their clients on how to ensure their child’s emotional needs are met prior to beginning sleep training, which can reduce the amount of crying that occurs during the sleep training process. Every parent I have worked with has been concerned with their child’s emotional well-being throughout the sleep training process including the parents who are comfortable with longer periods of crying.
Every child is different and every parent has their own level of comfort when it comes to crying periods. Every time a sleep trainer analyzes an intake form, we are putting together a unique puzzle that results in our ability to choose the method that will work the best for that specific client. In the end, the goal is always the same: helping a child learn how to sleep independently by choosing the method that the specific child will respond to the best.
“But other sleep training methods include crying it out!”, one may claim. However, that is incorrect, the only method that includes “crying it out” IS extinction. All other methods we utilize include at least one of the following: check-ins, physical touch, reassuring words, or picking the child up. I have yet to come across a client where I am unable to find a method that a parent is comfortable with implementing, nor would I ever suggest a method I felt a parent would feel uncomfortable utilizing with their child.
Is there sometimes crying involved with the other sleep training methods?
Yes, there can be. When a parent decides to hire a sleep consultant and implement a sleep training plan, the child quickly notices the changes that are taking place and they’re not always thrilled with those changes. Change can be hard, whether you are a baby, child or an adult! Since a large portion of the children we work with cannot speak yet, they express their disapproval with the only language they know, crying.
Children cry when we discipline them for hitting their siblings,
Children cry when we don’t allow them to eat the goldfish they found under the couch,
Children cry when it’s time to leave the park and go home for dinner, and so on.
When children cry for those reasons,our logic tells us that they are just upset. We never question if our bond with them will be affected adversely by us enforcing rules that we feel are important. Yet, when many opposed to sleep training hear that children may cry, even for a few minutes, they claim abuse and some even use fear mongering language to make a parent think their child will feel neglected if they choose to sleep train. While I understand that these claims are typically coming from a good place, one that cares for the child’s emotional well-being, it is important to understand that Sleep Trainers are educated on nurturing a child’s well-being and how to choose the method that will work best for each child. Many of us are mothers ourselves and understand how painful it can be to hear your child cry which only entices us more to choose the most gentle method that will be effective for each child.
As parents, it is our job to make decisions that are in our child’s best interest. I think we can all agree that ensuring they get adequate sleep is in every child’s best interest. Many times, the decisions we make for our children are not ones they would make for themselves, if given the choice.
Would most teenagers give themselves a curfew? Likely not.
Would a seven year old make the rule that they must brush their teeth twice a day? Most of them, no.
Yet we enforce the rules that are important to us as parents because we know that children’s brains are still developing and while they are smart and capable, they need guidance. When we enforce rules we are teaching responsibility, to respect, boundaries, and good habits that will set our children up for success in life.
Sleep Training and extinction do not mean the same thing. Extinction is simply one of many methods a Sleep Trainer can utilize.
Sleep Consultants and the parents they work with care deeply about the emotional well-being of the children who are being sleep trained. Yes, even the parents who utilize extinction!
Parents who sleep train their children are not abusive. Parents who utilize extinction are not abusive.
At Sweetest Sleep Co., I am passionate about education and breaking the negative stigmas that are tied to our industry because sleep training literally saved my life. I was in the midst of a gruesome battle with postpartum depression. My daughter was sleeping on my chest, waking multiple times a night to breastfeed for eight months. Once I implemented a sleep training method, my daughter began to sleep through the night in four nights. It was then that I became inspired to help other parents find the same relief I now had. If you’d like to discuss the content of this post more or have general sleep training questions, I am happy to chat with you anytime www.SweetestSleepCo.Com. Without proper sleep, everything crumbles.