Why I don’t like sleep ‘training’

The word ‘training’ is limited, and isolating. It brings to mind separation not unity – something that would better apply to a circus trainer and his tiger.

Upon reading The Truth about Infant Self-Soothing, I was almost brought to tears myself (tears of happiness). This is the essence of Supportive Sleep Coaching – this is why I don’t talk about sleep ‘training’ – and this why I love the complex and rewarding work I do with families around sleep.

Helping a baby or child learn to self-sooth (around sleep or otherwise) is not totally dissimilar to teaching a child any other life skill. It requires insurmountable patience and loving presence on a parent’s end. When it comes to sleep, it requires listening to a baby, reading his sleepy cues, understanding the foundational aspects of infant sleep and how a baby’s temperament and developmental stage impact his sleep and sleep learning. It entails the dance between both parent and child, and it is not about simply leaving a baby to cry-it-out alone.

Most brilliantly, this article re-frames self-soothing as something beautiful and powerful, versus scary and tied-up in neglect.  When we listen to our child or baby’s tears with attention and calm, we are not ignoring them (assuming they don’t have an immediate need).  Giving room for growth and change is love.  This feeling is uncannily similar to listening to a partner or friend who is venting or crying about their crappy day.  Their tears make us feel uncomfortable and so we fight the urge to jump in right away, and fix it all.  We know they’ll feel better if we simply sit with them and listen, with no agenda.  It’s not far off of what happens when we support a baby around learning to self-sooth. Check out the video presented at the end of the article – how does it make you feel?

After reading The Truth about Infant Self-Soothing I began noticing how my daughter’s occasional frustration and tears could very quickly shut me down (my baggage not hers). Her  daycare providers had asked me why I always dropped her off with a pacifier in her mouth.  “Because she needs one in the stroller, car and to sleep”, I told them.  “Catherine, she hasn’t used a pacifier here in any capacity for over 2 months, even to sleep”, they told me.  Right.  It’s not about her, it was about my addiction to her pacifier and the instant relief it brought my ears and nervous system when I stuck it in her mouth.  Interestingly, she only ‘needed’ it with us.  So we ditched it, at 2 years of age. (Don’t get me wrong – as a sleep consultant I think pacifiers can be fantastic tools in certain scenarios).

When the opportunity is right, being ‘with’ and listening ‘to’ my child, versus trying to fix the upset instantly, has proven to be a rewarding challenge I stick with.  I’m reminded that some of the first times we get to practice this with our babies, are in these early months as sleep learning is unfolding.

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