Crying and Sleep Coaching Your Child

Most parents that contact me about sleep coaching their child are concerned about crying. Usually they are very sleep deprived and they wonder, “Is there any way we can do this without crying?” I try to help families understand and minimize their children's tears.

As a Gentle Sleep Coach I do my best to minimize crying, especially when working with babies under 6 months of age. The three main factors that determine crying in relation to changing sleep situations are the age of your child, his/her temperament and past experience.

When we respond to crying in a loving and an attentive manner we show our children it’s possible to learn, tolerate inevitable frustration and manage difficult feelings. This is why I usually recommend staying with your child as they learn the skill of falling asleep.

I strive to guide families through sleep plans that are gentle on them and their children. My philosophy is based on the idea that as parents we are our children’s secure base- a place from which they gain the confidence and security to go and explore the world around them. This is very much a coach-player mentality: we cannot play the game for them, but we can always stand on the sideline and encourage them through the times of success and challenges.  

Crying is a natural response a baby will have to a variety of situations including hunger, discomfort from being soiled, boredom, frustration and sleepiness. When our babies are pre-verbal this is their primary manner of letting us know they aren’t happy with the current state of affairs (and it gets harder when our toddlers can cry AND use words, like “Mommy, I NEED you!”). Our job is to determine why they are crying and understand the tone of the cry. Is the cry a shriek of pain? Is the cry a complaint? Is the cry out of frustration, “I don’t know how to do this! Why aren’t you doing what you usually do?”

Age

I help parents minimize crying as much as possible, particularly with babies under 6 months, when they may still need a lot of help to self-soothe. Studies show that the more soothing responses a young baby receives the more easily they calm when faced with stress at later stages of development.

However, the older our children become the longer habits have been ingrained. And sometimes, we have taught our children to cry for a certain length of time before receiving a response. Moreover, we know ourselves that long-standing behaviors take longer to change than ones we only recently picked up. As our children grow older their tenacity and resolve strengthens. An 18 month old will usually cry a lot longer than a 6 month old.

Temperament

Every child has a unique temperament. Is your child flexible? Is your child high-energy? Does she have a tough time making transitions? As a parent you know your child best and you know how your child responds to new challenges. This will play a factor in the duration and intensity of crying during the sleep coaching process. Most parents have an idea of how long their child will cry during the first night of a new sleep plan, and often times they are right.

Past Experience

“Sometimes I take him into my bed, sometimes I just rock him to sleep, sometimes I let him cry and get him after I can’t take it anymore.” Previous inconsistent behavior will play a big role in how long a child will cry during sleep changes. All these different “things” have to be “undone” over a span of time and the more intermittent reinforcement a child has faced the longer it will take to successfully put a new plan into action.

Parents often say to me after their first night of coaching “Is wasn’t nearly as bad as I imagined it would be!” Changing sleep situations usually makes parents anxious: it’s hard to know what to expect and no one wants to have their child cry. With the support of a coach and a realistic sleep plan you can help teach your child the skill of sleep in a gentle and gradual manner.