Consistency is Key

4The key to successful sleep training (or any behavioral change) is consistency.

The problem with lack of consistency is that it makes learning a lot more difficult for your child. They don’t know what to expect from one day to the next and consequently don’t know how to respond. Often the behaviour (sleep) may even start to get worse because of it. Why? Because of intermittent reinforcement. When you are inconsistent with your actions, it encourages your child to persist even more to get what they want.

Think of your child in the supermarket. They ask for a treat and you say no. They ask again and you say no. This goes on a few more times and then they start to shout at the top of their voice. And finally you say, “Ok, fine. But only this time!” But you have now taught your child that they need to keep asking and then they’ll get what they want. In the future, they’ll make sure to ask at least 4 times, or more if you don’t give in (hey, it worked before, I must just need shout even longer this time).  Intermittent reinforcement at its best!

Sleep is just like any behaviour and the same thing happens with inconsistency. If you give in to just one more book, one more call back, one time coming into your bed at 3am, you’ve just taught them to be even more persistent with these behaviors next time around.

This concept is the most important component of managing sleep behavior or any behaviour really. No sleep strategy works unless it is consistently carried out, day and night, all 7 days of the week.

Chopping and changing from one technique to another or sometimes feeding to sleep or bringing them into your bed means your baby can’t figure out what behaviour they must change and what behaviour they will be rewarded for. You need to find the technique that best fits in with you and your child and stick with it. Inconsistently reinforced behaviour is the hardest type to modify or extinguish. It takes the longest to change, and often provokes even more of the tears we are trying to avoid.

So be as consistent as you can and the entire process will be a lot quicker.

Being inconsistent isn’t fair for your baby and it isn’t fair for you. So when you start to implement a sleep training plan, make sure you don’t start it until you are ready to follow through.

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