Why is sleep training such a heated debate?

By Good Night.

Sleep training: ask any parent of this century and they are sure to have an opinion about whether they are for or against it. In our experience, it has a great deal to do with what parents believe sleep training is, as many individuals don’t fully understand what it involves.

That being said, some parents embark on the process of working on sleep problems by eliminating possible props and working on positive sleep associations. After a night or two of “sleep training” they feel that their child is “angry” at them and or more clingy than usual. Is this real? Or is it a perception that becomes reality? 

Laying the groundwork first

Let us first stress that for the sake of this article that we’re going to assume that all fundamentals are in place. We cannot stress enough how important it is to have a holistic approach to sleep rather than diving straight into sleep training. Furthermore, attachment and grounded parenting are even more important than sleep.

“It can be an empowering connecting experience if the parent can move beyond the ‘crying is a bad thing’ to ‘crying is my child’s way of communicating’.”

Understand what your baby is going through

If a child has always relied on drinking themselves to sleep, or is on multiple bottles at night, or any other series of events which have now changed with a new sleep regime, it is likely to result in some unhappiness and possibly crying – or just less sleep. It stands to reason that for a day or two – while your baby is going through these changes – they might be crankier and/or more tired than usual. Allow them to catch up on sleep and don’t wake them from naps.

Sleep coach Rawshanda Roth says, “You are asking him [her] to do something new that he [she] has never experienced before. Something that he [she] has very few skills in and no confidence. Once the sleep skills start to develop, his [her] confidence around sleep will improve. His [her] temperament will be back to normal, but he [she] should emerge much better rested, which usually results in a happier, more emotionally balanced child.”

Mother’s guilt – we all know this too well

As a mom you will know what I am talking about. When we become parents, we are imbued with a natural amount of guilt. We feel guilty about everything; we work too hard, we work too little, we don’t make healthy food choices for our kids, and we feel guilty for wanting more sleep or alone time. Be careful that when you are sleep training you are not projecting your own emotions and guilt onto your child.

Could it just be a bad night?

We believe that babies – and adults – sometimes have bad days. Never take one night or one day as an indication of how your baby responds towards or feels about something. It might just have been a bad night or day. For example, if your child has been struggling with teething and you buy a product believed to help with teething, you would be ill-advised to confirm the validity of the product after using the product for only one night or day.

Trust yourself and your parenting

There is a thin line between trusting yourself as a parent and knowing when to ask for help. You have to trust yourself that you know your child best and that you have their best interests at heart. If something does not feel right, we advise you to look for all the factors that play a role – try to think about it logically, gather valid evidence and then make a decision. Furthermore, once you have made a decision, it is important that you do not feel guilty about it, nor should you feel like a bad parent for changing your mind, changing direction or asking for help.

Statistically, it does not happen often

Good Night recently conducted an informal study within the international sleep consulting sphere to determine if other sleep consultants often get feedback from clients where they perceive their children to be clingier and unresponsive when performing sleep training and the result was a resounding no. More often than not, it can be an empowering connecting experience if the parent can move beyond the “crying is a bad thing” to “crying is my child’s way of communicating”. In the case where your child is the exception to the rule and responds by being clingier, respond with abundant love and assurance. (In all cases where we’ve encountered this reality, it does pass very quickly). Remember also that your child’s temperament will have an effect on how they respond to sleep training.

In a nutshell

Do not ignore the root cause of any behaviour. With a child that doesn’t not sleep well, sleep training will be like treating the symptoms without curing the disease, in which case it is advisable to work with a professional. As Ann Caird, an expert in emotional wellness with over 30 years’ experience, reminds us: “Parents’ validation, connection and attuned response with crying usually has the opposite consequence of enhanced connection which supports the secure attachment.” An extra hour of time with your child with complete mindfulness might be all that your child (and you) need.