The million dollar question: what is your approach to crying?
Understandably, parents who are considering working with a sleep consultant might be put off by the thought that they will be advised to leave their child alone to cry. It is true that some traditional sleep training techniques do involve leaving the child alone to cry, whether for short intervals or longer periods. These techniques might result in a child sleeping through the night in a relatively short timeframe. In addition, research has been carried out to suggest there is no evidence of harm caused to children who undergo this type of sleep training. Brilliant, hey?! Why don’t we crack on with some controlled crying then?
A simple answer to a difficult question
The simple answer is this: finding no evidence of harm is not the same as finding evidence of no harm. There is still a lot we don’t know about the potential impact of harsh sleep training techniques on children, both in respect of the stress the child is subjected to whilst undergoing the training, and the potential impact on the attachment between parent and child. In addition, there are some flaws in the major research studies supporting harsher sleep training techniques, so some experts believe their conclusions should not be relied upon.
With so much still unknown about the potential long term effects of harsher sleep training methods on children, I feel unable to promote these methods. Instead, I advocate gentler, responsive strategies which can be just as effective in improving sleep.
But isn’t your approach judgement free?
Absolutely! It isn’t my place to judge the methods families consider suitable for them. How you tackle your family’s sleep is a question for you and you alone. There are plenty of sleep consultants out there and you need to find the right one for you. I believe you are the expert and best judge of your own child’s resilience and coping abilities; this is about the gentle strategies I feel professionally able to advocate.
In that case, what is your definition of gentle sleep strategies?
Another question parents quite rightly have, is what a sleep consultant really means when they say they promote gentle sleep strategies. I’ve heard all too often of the disappointment parents feel when they think they’ve found a sleep consultant whose definition of “gentle” aligns with theirs, only to find once they start working together that this is not the case.
In my case, I’ve already explained I will never suggest you leave your child alone to cry. I will also never suggest sitting in the same room as your child whilst ignoring them or avoiding eye contact. If they need comfort, you should comfort them and that principle underpins all the strategies I advocate. For this reason, I consider all the strategies I offer to be gentle and responsive.
Beyond that, much depends on your family’s particular circumstances. In preparation for our sleep consultation, I will ask you to assess the urgency of your family’s sleep situation on a scale of 1 to 10. Factors that may prompt you to assess your situation as urgent include being faced with a physical or mental health need, relationship problems or the imminent arrival of a new baby, for example. Or, you might just be really, really tired and feel unable to cope. I won’t ask you to share your reasons behind how you have scored the urgency of your situation, but your score may affect the strategies I suggest.
If you are in a sleep crisis, you may need to make urgent changes to your child’s sleep. This may prompt you to choose a strategy that may involve more crying but yield quicker results. Otherwise, you might want to make slower changes over a longer timeframe, for example if you wish to work towards future sleep goals but feel able to cope with the things the way they are for now. This may prompt you to choose a strategy that is likely to involve less crying but may take longer to implement. The point is, the approach you choose is a question for you alone.