When it comes to learning how to sleep independently, many children need help. Sure, sleep is a biological function and everyone will sleep at some stage, but actually learning how to go from being awake and back to sleep without assistance is a learned skill. Not only that, but it’s such an important skill to teach our children, as it means that they will have more consolidated and restorative sleep which they need for optimal health. It also means that parents get better sleep themselves as they are not up multiple times a night trying to resettle their child.
When you sleep train your child, what you are really doing is teaching them what to do using behavioural reinforcement techniques. Of course we are not talking here about a newborn or baby under four or five months old, as a child this young is simply not neurologically mature enough to learn such skills. Whilst there is a minimum age range where sleep training becomes appropriate, there is no maximum age for teaching a child to sleep well. So even your five year old can be taught the skills of consolidated sleep.
So what about consistency? Like any kind of teaching and learning, the more consistent the experience, the more likely it is you will see improvement and learning will be a whole lot less stressful and faster. As a teacher, I know the value of repeated experience and a consistent approach because I see it all the time in the classroom; children need consistency and actually thrive if given time and space to learn.
Think for a minute about a three year old being ‘toiled trained’. Doing ‘wees and number twos’ is a biological function for all humans, and it’s our job as parents to teach our children how to do their business on the toilet; it’s a skill to be learned. The best approach is usually to have a plan of action, and be consistent in following your plan. It’s the same when we are teaching the skill of independent sleep.
How can you stay consistent and what does this look like in regards to sleep training? For a start, the best way to help stay on track with consistency is to have a plan that works with your child’s temperament and takes into account your parenting philosophy and overall situation. If the sleep training method you choose compromises any one of these things, you will be setting yourself up for failure, because it’s hard to stay committed and consistent with something that doesn’t sit right with you. You will be more likely to give up.
You also need to think about your goal and this needs to be realistic, because it’s difficult to be consistent if you are unclear on what you are aiming for or if the end point will be difficult to achieve. For example, it would be an unrealistic goal to aim to have your four-month-old sleep twelve hours over night without a feed. Or to teach your twelve month old to sleep longer than an hour at the lunchtime nap if she’s already had a two hour nap in the morning. An example of a realistic goal would be to teach your 2½ year old to stay in her own bed all night until the light on her clock turned yellow.
It’s easier to be consistent when you have support from others, because sleep training can be hard physically and emotionally. So get your partner on board and don’t be afraid to ask for help and support. If you’d like some guidance working out what might be a realistic goal for you and your family, or you’d like a personalised plan and support to help you stay consistent and be successful with sleep training, get in touch.