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October 31, 2013
31 Oct 2013

Why I don’t like sleep ‘training’

AninimalTrainerThe word ‘training’ is limited, and isolating. It brings to mind separation not unity. I’m thinking about the circus guy (or gal) with a whip and leather pants, his lion circling around in a cage wishing he could tear circus guy’s head off.

Upon reading The Truth about Infant Self-Soothing, I was almost brought to tears myself (tears of happiness). This is the essence of Supportive Sleep Coaching – this is why I don’t talk about sleep ‘training’ – and this why I love the complex and rewarding work I do with families around sleep.


Helping a baby or child learn to self-sooth (around sleep or otherwise) is as important as teaching him any other life skill like walking or using cutlery. It requires insurmountable patience and loving presence on a parent’s end. When it comes to sleep, it requires listening to a baby, reading his sleepy cues and understanding how his temperament and developmental stage impacts the way he sleeps. It’s the work of both parent and child, and it is not about simply leaving him to cry-it-out alone.

Most brilliantly, this article re-frames self-soothing as something beautiful and powerful, versus scary and tied-up in neglect.  When we listen to our child or baby’s tears with attention and calm, we are not ignoring them (assuming they don’t have an immediate need).  Giving room for growth and change is love.  This feeling is uncannily similar to listening to a partner or friend who is venting or crying about their crappy day.  Their tears make us feel uncomfortable and so we fight the urge to jump in right away, and fix it all.  We know they’ll feel better if we simply sit with them and listen, with no agenda.  It’s not far off of what happens when we support a baby around learning to self-sooth. Check out the video presented at the end of the article – how does it make you feel?

After reading The Truth about Infant Self-Soothing I began noticing how my daughter’s occasional frustration and tears can very quickly shut me down (my baggage not hers). Last week her awesome daycare providers asked me why I always drop her off with a pacifier in her mouth.  “Because she needs one in the stroller, car and to sleep”, I told them.  “Catherine, she hasn’t used a pacifier here in any capacity for over 2 months, even to sleep”, they told me.  Right.  It’s not about her, it’s about my addiction to her pacifier and the instant relief it brings my ears and nervous system when I stick it in her mouth.  Interestingly, she only ‘needs’ it with us.  So we ditched it, at 2 years of age. (Don’t get me wrong – as a sleep consultant I think pacifiers are fantastic tools for babies who like them).

Yesterday as my daughter wailed in the back of the car, my hand hesitantly reached into the secret pocket of my purse for her last surviving, gnarled up pacifier.  But I stopped myself and instead asked her what she could see out the window.  She stopped crying and turned her attention to the sun bouncing off of the passing buildings.




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