Is my child unresponsive during sleep training?


Sleep training. What a heated debate.

Ask any parent that has been parenting in this century and they are sure to have an opinion about whether they are for or against it. In our experience, it has a great deal to do with what parents believe sleep training is, as many individuals don’t fully understand what it involves. That being said, some parents embark on the process of working on sleep problems by eliminating possible props and working on positive sleep associations… after a night or two of “sleep training” they feel that their child is “angry” at them and or more clingy than usual. Is this real? Or is it a perception that becomes reality?

Laying the groundwork first
Let us first stress that for the sake of this article we are going to assume that all fundamentals are in place. We cannot stress enough how important it is to have a holistic approach to sleep rather than diving straight to sleep training. Furthermore, attachment, and grounded parenting are even more important than sleep.

Understand what your baby is going through
If a child has always relied on drinking himself to sleep, or on multiple bottles at night, or any other series of events which have now changed with a new sleep regime, it is likely to result in some unhappiness and possibly crying – or just plainly less sleep. It is thus logical that for a day or two – while your child is going through these changes –your baby might be more cranky and/or tired. Allow them to catch up on sleep and don’t wake them from naps. Rawshanda Roth, Sleep Coach says: “You are asking him to do something new that he has never experienced before. Something that he has very few skills in and no confidence. Once the sleep skills start to develop, his confidence around sleep will improve. His temperament will be back to normal, but he should emerge much better rested which usually results in a happier, more emotionally balanced child.”

Mother’s guilt – we all know this too well…
As a mom you will know exactly what I am talking about. When we become parents we are born with a natural amount of guilt. We feel guilty about everything: we work too hard, we work too little, we don’t make healthy food choices for our kids, and we feel guilty for wanting more sleep or alone time… Be careful that when you are sleep training, that you are not self-projecting your own emotions and guilt onto your child. Could it be that you simply feel guilty about taking your baby’s dummy away?

Could it just be a bad night?
We wholeheartedly believe that babies – and adults – sometimes just have bad days for whatever reason. Never take one night or one day as an indication of how your baby responds or feels about something. It might just have been a bad night or day. (For example, if your child has been struggling with teething and you buy a product believed to help with teething, it would not be advisable to confirm the validity of the product after using the product for only one night or day).

Trust yourself and your parenting
There is a very thin line between trusting yourself as a parent and knowing when to ask for help. You have to trust yourself that you know your child best and that you have his/her best interest at heart. If something does not feel right, we advise you to look for all the factors that play a role – try to think about it logically, gather VALID evidence and then make a decision. Furthermore, once you have made a decision, it is important that you do not feel guilty about it, nor should you feel like a bad parent for changing your mind, changing direction or asking for help.

Statistically, it does not happen often…
Good Night recently conducted an informal study within the international sleep consulting sphere to determine whether other sleep consultants often get feedback from clients where they perceive their children to be clingier and unresponsive when performing sleep training and the result was a resounding “no”. More often than not it can be an empowering connecting experience if the parent can move beyond the “crying is a bad thing” to “crying is my child’s way of communicating”. In the case where your child is the exception to the rule and responds by being clingier – then respond with abundant love and assurance as in all cases where we’ve encountered this reality, it does pass very quickly. Remember also that your child’s temperament will have an effect on how they respond to sleep training.

In a nutshell…
Consequently, in a nutshell, do NOT ignore the root cause of any behaviour. Often, with a child not sleeping well, sleep training will be like treating the symptoms without curing the disease, in which case it is advisable to work with a professional. As Ann Caird, an expert in emotional wellness with over 30 years’ experience reminds us: “parents’ validation, connection and attuned response with crying usually has the opposite consequence of enhanced connection which supports the secure attachment.”
An extra hour of time with your child with complete mindfulness might be all that your child (and you) need.