Top Mistakes Families Make Regarding Sleep, Part II: Inconsistency
When you are implementing a sleep plan, you need to remain 100% consistent so that your baby receives a clear message as to what is expected. If you’re constantly starting and stopping the process, or if you’re repeatedly switching things up, you’re going to have a very confused baby on your hands. And if your baby is confused, you’re likely going to get more crying, more protesting, and less sleeping!
Here are two very common examples of inconsistency you want to avoid:
1) Intermittent Reinforcement
This is when the baby cries and cries for any amount of time, only for you to switch things up and give the baby what he wants. This might mean you eventually pick the baby up and rock him to sleep. Perhaps you give him a feed. Or maybe you pat him. The problem with this scenario is that the baby’s hysterics were rewarded.
Let’s say you have a 3 year-old who asks you for a cookie, and you refuse to give her one. She throws a temper tantrum, only for you to eventually give in and give her a cookie. The obvious problem with this scenario is that the 3 year-old has learned to tantrum to get what she wants. She’s learned the crying and screaming is worth her while! So next time she asks for something and you say ‘no’, there’s a good chance she’s going to throw another tantrum because it worked last time!
With sleep, it’s no different. When implementing any type of sleep plan, our goal is to minimize the protesting as much as possible. Don’t get me wrong, some protesting is unavoidable. The last thing we want to be doing is encouraging MORE crying by rewarding it. Always remain 100% consistent and avoid any kind of intermittent reinforcement!
2) Inconsistent Responding
This is when parents respond to their child differently throughout the night. For example, when the baby wakes at 10pm, the parent sticks to their sleep training method of choice and baby falls back asleep independently. But when the baby wakes again at 2am, the parent rocks her back to sleep. The problem with this scenario is that the baby is getting inconsistent messaging. She doesn’t understand why she’s expected to fall back asleep on her own at 10pm but gets rocked back to sleep in the middle of the night. This scenario is going to cause confusion on the baby’s end, which leads to more crying.
Without consistent messaging across the board, your sleep training efforts might not get you very far. I KNOW that implementing a sleep plan can be exhausting, especially when you’re in the thick of things. I get it! Just remember that this is short-term pain for long-term gain.
If you are convinced your baby is an alien incapable of giving you good quality sleep, don’t fret. 600 babies later and I still haven’t come across a baby incapable of learning how to sleep well. Don’t underestimate what your baby can do!