Sleep coaching (or sleep training, as it is often referred within the mommyhood) is at once the most popular and most dreaded topic of discussion among parents. Should I sleep coach my baby? When should I sleep coach my baby? How should I sleep coach my baby? What did I eat for breakfast today?? (I threw that last one in there just to see if you’re still awake, tired mama!)
There is no simple answer to the question of when it is right to sleep coach your baby; this is because, ultimately, it has to be the right time for everyone: mom, dad, and baby. However, there are some very clear signs that, once identified, can help parents to determine if their child needs help with sleep and when to begin coaching their baby through proper, healthy sleep habits:
- Your child is clearly lacking proper sleep: When attending my son’s kindergarten orientation last month, one of the first things the school principal asked of us parents was “Please, please ensure your child has a proper night’s rest before coming to school each day. We can quite literally walk around the room and point out the children who are not sleeping well at night, because they respond so differently to the classroom environment.”
If your baby is already cranky within less than an hour of waking for the day, if your toddler seems unable to concentrate or learn from his environment due to frustration and crankiness, if your little one is yawning and eye-rubbing constantly throughout the day, there’s a good chance he’s missing out on some very important z’s. Babies and children who take proper naps and get 10-12 hours of uninterrupted sleep at night awaken well-rested and better able to cope with and learn from the world around them, and teaching them healthy, independent sleep skills can help them to gain this proper rest.
- YOU are clearly sleep deprived: Ever heard of a “mombie?” Sadly, the term is becoming commonplace in North American culture, defined by one source as a “sleep deprived super mom who feeds on caffeine and survives on sticky kisses and messy smiles.” Don’t get me wrong – baby kisses and toddler smiles are the best. However, I beg to differ when faced with notion that moms should survive on these alone.
My clients often comment on how little patience they possessed prior to embarking on sleep coaching: snapping quickly and frequently at their older child due to sleep-deprivation caused by baby’s multiple night wakes; nodding off on the playmat next to their little one while attempting a game of peek-a-boo; and experiencing serious marital issues due to lack of sleep, which often led to irritability and distance between spouses. The bottom line: well-rested parents are more patient, and more present in their children’s lives; and spouses who are getting healthy sleep are more able to enjoy the life they have created both with each other and with their children.
- Sleep associations have developed: Got a pacifier-addict on your hands? Breasts been used as a soother for the past 10 months straight? Baby only falls asleep if you bounce him continuously on an exercise ball while underneath the kitchen range hood signing Twinkle Twinkle Little Star? (Note, that last one was an actual scenario that a previous client repeated twice – or thrice – daily, every day, for eight months before we began working together!)
Sleep associations, or sleep “props” are any external stimuli your baby relies on to fall asleep, which often keeps our little ones from learning to fall asleep on their own, and fall back to sleep to get uninterrupted rest at night, and take long naps. If your baby relies on feeding or rocking to sleep, or even playing with mommy’s fingers until dreamland arrives, it is likely that a sleep association is in place, and this is a good time to think about sleep coaching. When baby falls asleep using a sleep prop, and then wakes during the night, she is thinking “Whoa! Hold the phone!! What’s going on?! This is not how I fell asleep! Hey mom, hey dad! I need my sleep props back please!” Proper sleep coaching involves using gentle, supportive, positive methods to remove sleep props and teach your baby a strategy for falling asleep, and falling back to sleep, on her own.
- Bedtime is a circus: One more sip of water, one more kiss for teddy, one more story, one more tantrum, one more explanation of the meaning of life… If this sounds like your preschooler’s bedtime, then it might be time for sleep coaching!
Many parents feel that it’s “too late” to embark on sleep coaching once their child has passed the infant stage and is well into the toddler or preschooler years. Not so! Sleep coaching is very effective for older children; while they may be more stubborn and set in their ways than infants, they are also better-able to communicate and more easily understand ideas like rewards and consequences. Is it a lot of work, and very challenging at times? For sure. Is it possible, though? Absolutely. Is it worth it, once your whole family starts getting amazing, healthy sleep? Damn straight.
My team and I provide loads of free sleep advice on our Facebook page. We welcome you to follow our tribe of sleep-passionate (or deprived) parents around the globe as we share tips, stories and the straight goods on sleep at WeeSleep and follow me on Instagram and Twitter so we can rock this #sleeprevolution together!