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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Alix Kron
Alix Kron
4 months ago
We cannot say enough positive things about our experience working with Arlene!! We were desperate for sleep, going almost 5.5 months with frequent wake ups, nursing back to sleep, nonstop crying during the day, screaming in the car and becoming more and more hopeless as time went on without having success … Arlene changed all of that within no time. She listened to exactly what was going on for us, developed a sleep plan specific to our daughter’s needs/our goals and was so supportive and answered all of our questions along the way. It was very easy to follow the plan that she developed and it included naps and weaning off of night feedings. We saw a difference in our daughter almost immediately! Arlene has absolutely transformed our lives and given us the ability to enjoy each other and feel so much better getting the sleep we all want and NEED! Our daughter is now sleeping 11-12 hours per night, eating only once overnight as opposed to every 1-2 hours, is on a great nap schedule and is so much happier!!! It’s the best money we’ve spent.
Adrienne G.
Adrienne G.
2 years ago
We worked with Arlene to sleep train our 22 month old son who had been bed sharing and nursing to sleep. She helped us develop a sleep plan that was specific to our son's needs. It addressed both his nighttime sleep and his naps. It really took the guess work out of the endeavor, because as a parent, even if you read all the sleep books, there are many different opinions and it is hard to know what is right. Arlene was attentive, flexible and available to answer all of our questions and concerns. I would highly recommend working with her! Our son now sleeps 11-12 hours a night and put himself to sleep on his own. Sleep training him has been a game changer for me (I sleep now too!) and for him. He seems well rested and his development seems to be progressing faster now too. His language skills are flourishing since he is getting better rest.
Amanda C
Amanda C
4 years ago
We just wrapped up our second time working with Arlene, and had another great experience! Arlene helped us sleep train our first baby a few years ago when she was 4 months old at the time. She was a terrible sleeper, waking up once every hour and needing to be rocked to sleep for what felt like hours and hours each day. I was a stressed, exhausted, and worried first time mom, and I was drawn to Arlene’s calm and experienced approach. She gave us an option for a gentler strategy that worked for us at the time, and was detailed and responsive in her sleep plan and attentiveness. Our daughter just turned 2.5 years old and is still a great sleeper. So once our second baby turned 4 months recently, we did not hesitate to work with Arlene again. We now have two rockstar sleepers in our household, thanks to Arlene! It means the world to us that she was there to help guide us, instill confidence, and most importantly, help teach our children such a valuable skill they will undoubtedly benefit from for the rest of their lives.
Begoña Cirera
Begoña Cirera
2 years ago
Arlene helped me first with my first son who was 2.5 year old when I hired her. He slept with me during breastfeeding. He never wanted to sleep in his crib. I was due with my second, and I needed better rest, and had no clue how to get him to sleep away from my bed. I even had to sleep w him during naps, or he wouldn’t sleep. I had to walk him for hours to fall asleep every night. It was awful. Two weeks after Arlene helped us create a program for him, he was done!!! He was sleeping in his own room, all night (12+ hours) and he was SO HAPPY during the day. We learned so much, and all made so much sense. After trying methods and books, nothing worked. My son is almost 6, and he falls asleep at 7:30pm every evening, until 7:00am. As a parent, you know how precious those hours are. With my second one, I didn’t make the mistake of waiting until he was two to train him to sleep. By 3 months, we slowly started, with Arlene’s help. I never had to walk him or be there for him to fall asleep. He’s now 3, and he is a great sleeper, much better than his big brother ever was, still takes 90-min naps, and sleeps 11 hours a night. Every penny I spent to hire Arlene’s expertise is worth it. My only regret was not to look for her sooner. Lifesaver, 100%.
Abbey Stidam
Abbey Stidam
6 years ago
Arlene Fryling at Gentle Touch Sleep Time helped our son sleep, which helped us sleep! We were having trouble transitioning our son (4 months at the time) from his rock-n-play to the crib and our amazing sleeper since birth was all of a sudden not sleeping very much. Arlene talked with us about what was going on with his sleep and why the change in his sleep pattern. She answered all our questions and calmed our worries and frustrations. She came up with a sleep plan that worked for our family. She guided us every step of the way. He is now an amazing sleeper again! He is 18 months old and sleeps 12 hours at night and takes a 1 1/2 - 2 hour nap. He loves to sleep and never fights sleeping. I am so thankful we had Arlene Fryling help us and we were able to teach our son to sleep.