Parent Emotions and Sleep Training

Stressed parents putting baby to sleep

Stressed bedtime with baby

Sleep training is emotional for parents. The goal of sleep training is for a child to learn to go from awake to asleep without any assistance. This is a skill each child will need to learn because it is a skill for life. For parents, it is often difficult to watch your child trying to learn how to sleep.

Every skill that a child learns takes time and practice. If a child is attempting to learn the skill of rolling over, the child will practice and try and try again until they reach success. The learning process is difficult and challenging for the child. You probably didn’t realize there were so many steps to rolling over until you watched your child attempt the feat. 

With practice, each child makes rolling over look easy. 

Learning the skill of sleep is also difficult and challenging in the beginning. The child must practice and try and try again until they reach success. Watching this process causes emotions in parents. Sleep looks very difficult at first but as the child’s skills improve, sleep looks easy. 

When a parent sees that their child has a need, the good parent wants to help. Every parent feels like a successful parent when they can fix their child’s problem. 

An example is when a baby is hungry, the parent feeds the child and the child is content. It feels good to meet the needs of their child.

Most parents want to solve the problems of their children.

Unfortunately, every parent is limited. No parent has the ability to solve and fix every need of their child. There are some things each child must learn to do for themself. For example, when a child is trying to walk, the parent cannot walk for the child. The parent can put things in place to assist the child in learning but the child must accomplish the actual skill of walking. 

Sleep is the same way. At some point, each child must learn how to go to sleep without assistance. The parent is not capable of doing that job for the child indefinitely. Usually the older the child gets the more difficult it gets for the parent to put the child to sleep. 

The challenge is that it is difficult to watch your child struggle to learn a new skill of sleep. Most parents want to step in and fix it for their child. This is an emotional struggle for parents during sleep training.

When I work with parents during sleep training, I recommend parents deal with their own very real emotions but do so away from their child. 

Children learn from the time they are newborns to read their parents like a book. The child looks to the parent and reads the parent for how to handle life and every new situation. Children pick up the emotions of their parents. When a parent is stressed or frustrated, the child reads that and it increases the child’s stress. 

“From birth, infants pick up on emotional cues from others. Even very young infants look to caregivers to determine how to react to a given situation,” says Jennifer E. Lansford, Ph.D., a professor with the Social Science Research Institute and the Center for Child and Family Policy at Duke University.

During sleep training, the child is reading the parent on how to handle their sleep-learning process. It is important for the child to read calmness and confidence in their parents. The child will draw upon that confidence to try and learn their own skill of sleep. 

When parents are trying to help their child learn to walk, they frequently situate one parent to help the child stand and the other parent holds out their hands and encourages the child to take some steps. The parents are trying to give confidence to the child, to help that child take those first steps. The child pulls upon the parent’s confidence to learn this new skill. 

I tell the parents that I work with to portray that same confidence to their child to help learn the skill of sleep. 

While working with many families to help them sleep train their children I have seen that the attitude and emotions of the parents make a huge difference in the ability of the child to learn. When parents approach the process with confidence and calmness, the child feels the support to learn. When the parent is very stressed about the process, usually the child has great difficulty learning. 

Parents’ emotions are real and very important. Those emotions should not be denied or ignored. It is important to deal with those emotions so that the parent can portray calmness and confidence to their child. 

How to deal with parent emotions during sleep training 

  1. Acknowledge your feelings. Feelings are not good or bad. We all have feelings. We cannot control our feelings, but we can decide if we are going to allow our feelings to control our behavior.
  2. Understand clearly what your goal is. You should know what you want your child to learn.
  3. Have a plan on how to help your child learn. If you plan to sleep train, it is important to find a plan that is going to work for you. As a sleep consultant, I tailor a customized plan for your child.
  4. Make sure you have someone to give you emotional support through the training process. The parent(s) doing the sleep training is/are going to be emotionally and physically exhausted. It is important to have the other parent or at least one other adult who is able to give you the emotional support you need while going through the process. That allows you to give your child the support needed to learn. As a sleep consultant, I provide additional emotional support and answer questions for the parents to help them get to success.

I think of sleep as a skill each child needs to learn. The process of learning a skill is dramatic, looks messy, and requires lots of practice. Sleep training is an emotional process for parents. The rewards of the child learning the skill of sleep are amazing. As a sleep consultant, I work to build the confidence of parents so that they can give the confidence to help their child learn.

Helping Babies Sleep 

Arlene Fryling

Arlene is a registered nurse and certified sleep consultant for children 0-5 years. She has cared for premature, sick, and many healthy babies. For over 15 years she has taught expectant parents how to care for their newborns through classes teaching basic baby care, infant massage classes, and moderating support groups for new moms as they deal with parenting issues.

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