The way we think about sleep training needs a reboot.
Why? Because the main method (some version of crying it out) doesn't work for a lot of parents.
Many parents do not want to use CIO ("extinction" in the research). Many have tried it and it didn't work or there was significantly more crying over many more nights than they were told. These parents deserve options in sleep training.
This is especially true for parents of alert, sensitive, persistent little "livewires."
Sleep books virtually never take temperament into account. As a result, parents try to use techniques that work great for mellower children and then blame themselves when it's a dumpster fire for them. Alert, engaged, sensitive children have significantly more trouble with sleep, fight it harder, and cry longer. I know. I've been there.
The sad part is that advice makes parents feel totally responsible for sleep problems.
Most sleep researchers and experts consider sleep as a purely behavioral event that involves removing “reinforcement” from some unwanted behavior. Because they only consider behavior, if the baby doesn't sleep, it's because the parents have done it wrong. I talk to parents all the time who say, “I know I’ve really screwed this all up.” The struggle with sleep is then compounded by the feeling that, as a parent, you don't know what you're doing.
Sleep is about so much more than just behavior.
There has to be a better way to think about sleep.
I'm Macall Gordon, and I'm passionate about making sure that parents get information that's not only accurate but supportive and helpful in their actual lives. I have spent the last 20 years looking at the advice that parents get about sleep: first as a new mom myself and then as a graduate student in psychology.
I've learned that the tsunami of parenting information available mostly speaks to parents with children in the middle of the bell curve. If your child is at all outside of this zone, you are mostly out of luck. Sleep training research only bolsters this trend because it deals in averages, not ranges of behavior.
Nowhere is this more problematic than for parents of children who are temperamentally more "on" (sensitive, alert, intense, social, persistent). Mainstream parenting manuals do not speak to this unique parenting context at all.
I'm hoping to change that. We need to rethink how we consider sleep and sleep training to be more inclusive of a variety of families and their children. We need approaches that are supportive, and that think systemically. We also need research to be asking new questions and not just the same old "Does extinction work and why don't parents like it?"
Sign up for my mailing list to stay in touch!