Why Sleep Training is a Yucky Word
I recently had someone tell me on Facebook that sleep training is unnatural and harmful and as a sleep coach, I "prey" upon tired parents promising them something that isn't attainable or even healthy. Ouch! I chose not to respond because Facebook arguments never seem to end well, but it got me thinking - why does sleep training evoke such strong reactions?
Usually when people hear "sleep training", they think "cry it out." The thought of leaving your child alone and crying for long periods of time sounds awful. And it is! Sleep training doesn't have to mean crying it out. It doesn't have to mean crying at all. There are a variety of methods that can help your child to fall asleep independently while also allowing you to comfort your child. Some protesting can be expected as you change your child's routine and schedule, just as your child may protest getting into the car seat, getting their diaper changed or having to leave the park. A protesting response is normal and not harmful to your child.
Parents also worry that sleep training is a cold and cruel process that damages the bond between parent and child. Again, this is false. I encourage lots of snuggles, rocking, singing, reading, nursing and play with your child all day long. The difference when sleep training is that you are no longer doing these activities to the point of sleep. It's entirely possible to have a strong and secure bond with your child while also helping them to sleep independently.
Those opposed to sleep training will also say that it's unnatural for a child to sleep through the night. This is true! Even as adults, we wake throughout the night. Children are no different. They may roll over, move a bit or even make some noise. This is normal and healthy. However, with sleep training, your child is now able to seamlessly fall back asleep without any intervention. Imagine if every time you woke during the night, someone had to help you fall back asleep - it would be frustrating! And if your child is still eating in the middle of the night, you can still sleep train! A good sleep plan will allow you to wake and feed your child. You will then return them to their crib to fall asleep independently. Your night wakings can be a calm 10-15 minutes instead of a 2 hour battle to get your child back to sleep!
Parents also worry about the long term risks to sleep training that involves crying. Research has shown that they are no detrimental effects to sleep training. Some opposed
to sleep training may point to studies that show detrimental brain development, increased stress, insecure attachment quality and mistrust when allowing children to cry. However, the studies they are pointing to focus on long term abuse and neglect. There are no studies that point to short term crying in a loving family causing these negative outcomes. So even if you favor a more aggressive approach that involves some controlled crying, there are no long term risks to your child.
Another argument against sleep training is the statement that we don't "train" developmental milestones like rolling, walking or talking, so we shouldn't train sleep either. However, as parents we do all kinds of things to facilitate milestones - putting a toy out of reach to encourage crawling, holding your child's hand as they take their first steps, encouraging your child to repeat sounds like "mama" and "dada." Sleep should be no different.
If it were up to me, I get rid of the term "sleep training" all together. Another sleep consultant used the term "sleep shaping" which I love. As parents and as a sleep coach, we're shaping sleep habits to encourage healthy sleep. We're fostering a child's independence by encouraging them achieve what they are capable of. If you child is capable of walking, do you still carry them everywhere? No, you encourage their growth. Sleeping is the same way. At a certain age, your child is capable of sleeping independently. Recognize this time and help them to achieve that independence because regardless of whether you're formally sleep training or not, you're shaping your child's sleep for years to come.