When it comes to night wakings, parents often take the path of least resistance so that everyone can get back to sleep as quickly as possible. I often hear from families I work with:
“Sometimes I can get my baby to go back to sleep with a pacifier, but sometimes I rock him to sleep and sometimes I feed him until he is asleep”
“Sometimes when my baby wakes up I just go in there and rub his back a bit and then I sneak out.”
“Sometimes I am just so tired at 5am that I just bring him into my bed.”
If these “tricks” haven’t stopped working, then it is likely they soon will. When you have decided to make changes in your child’s sleep, it makes no difference what method you use. The most important factor in your success at improving your child’s sleep is whether or not you can be consistent with your plans.
Inconsistency in the way you respond to your child, is confusing. This holds true whether you are talking about your response to a whining demand for a lollipop in the checkout line at the grocery store or your child’s cries from their bed. If sometimes, after the whining has worn you down, you give in and get your child that lollipop, the next time, he is going to whine harder and louder because he knows that if he just holds out a little longer, he will get what he wants. When your child wakes up in the middle of the night, if he doesn’t know what to expect, he will learn to cry louder and harder in order for you to go through your “bag of tricks” that you use to get him back to sleep and finally get what it is he wants. Responding inconsistently to your child at night can actually create night wakings. Inconsistency actually creates more of the tears we are trying to avoid! When I work with families we discuss in detail their goals for a new sleep situation and craft a plan that they will be able to follow through with. By helping your child to understand what to expect at bedtime and any subsequent night wakings and creating predictability, you can make significant changes in your child’s sleeping behaviors.
When starting a sleep plan, be sure to give yourself 2-3 weeks when there are little to no disruptions coming up. Pick a time that is free of changes like upcoming travel or foreseeable transitions (moving to a new home or the birth of a sibling). These things will lead to many inconsistencies in your environment. By developing a plan that you, as parents, can stick to and picking a good time to begin, you will set yourself up for everyone to get a good night’s sleep by being consistent with your plans.