When did “Sleep Training” become so negative?

When did “Sleep Training” become so negative?

Parenting. Total minefield. We all do things differently. We are all convinced our way is the best way and try and tell a parent they are wrong? Total faux pas.

There will always be evidence for and against certain parenting methods. When to wean. Where your baby sleeps. Swaddle or not. The list goes on.

One thing that recently that caught my attention was the real negative associations with the phrase “sleep training”; some parents being extremely against it. Personally I think the phrase itself is a bit naff. Babies seem to sleep a lot without being “trained”.

I jest.

To be honest I wasn’t exactly sure what the phrase “sleep training” meant so had a look online. It appears there are a few methods: crying it out, which is as it sounds, the no tears approach where I believe you let your baby grizzle but provide comfort and never let them cry when trying to sleep. The other is the fading out approach which involves you sitting with your child as they fall asleep, gradually moving further away each night.

Ultimately the goal is for your children to feel safe and secure enough to fall asleep alone without tears or upset. If they wake in the night, they should be able to self settle with perhaps a little comfort from you.

I really can’t see what is wrong with that. Can you? The concept of carefully helping your little ones fall asleep alone or with a little comfort from you seems fine? Or does it?

I will put it out there. I’m not fond of the crying it out method. I tried it with both the girls for daytime cot naps and both of them were extremely upset so it didn’t last long. I can see why this gets negative press.

Perhaps the phrase itself is wrong. Sleep training does produce images of a drill sergeant blowing his whistle and demanding 20 press ups, not a comforting plan for your little ones to softly fall into the land of nod.

I think a “sleep routine” sounds better and to me this is the crux for children, and ok, yes, I’m spouting my methods now.

Years before I became a parent my Mum banged on about kids and routine. I was like blah, blah, but I tell you what? She was and IS right. Some may disagree with this but my girls thrive on routine. They know what to expect. They know when to expect it. They know what’s happening and I believe this helps them to feel safe and secure enough to fall asleep, with minimal trauma! I won’t bullshit. The gremlin likes her Daddy with her at bedtime often now but as a baby she self settled with no problems. Kids change!

We used the no tears approach. Both girls are bathed, read to and as babies were breastfed in my room. Little Piglet now can be moved to her cot when done, asleep or dozy and will stay asleep. If she wakes in the night for milk, afterwards, quite frequently she goes back to her room awake and will nod off alone. I guess I “trained” them to sleep initially by letting them shout out at bedtime. If they became upset, I would of course pick them up and cuddle, maybe feed again and repeat the cycle. The gremlin could fall asleep alone after 10 days. Piglet took a little longer, partly as I didn’t care and wanted evening snuggles with her!!

I struggle to get my head around the negativity in this concept. The babies are not left crying. They are simply being gently taught that they have a solid routine, they are safe and it is okay to fall asleep without being rocked, fed or any other method, that, let’s face it, takes up a lot of time.

I get some parents want to snuggle their kids, breathe them in and enjoy as much of them as possible BUT ultimately we are human. By 7pm on an evening we are tired and we have had enough of parenting (I know I have). I don’t want to to spend hours on end trying to get my girls to sleep. The routine can be a pain, as we have to stick at it everyday and breaking it causes some fun and games! However, on a day to day basis it works.

Because technically I have “sleep trained” my girls, most bedtimes go without a hitch. There wasn’t screaming and distress and hysteria on either side initially. If there was, I wouldn’t have gone down the same route.

Perhaps the phrasing is wrong. Perhaps sleep training encompasses a lot of different methods which really need to be classified differently. The cry it out method is very far away from what we did. If my girls wake crying in the night, we comfort them.

However, ultimately to some degree, I think helping or even “training” our little ones to fall asleep alone, safe in a routine where they know we will always come to them when distressed, is fine.

One lovely blogger Sophie from Mama Mei has some opinions on a recent Book Trust and Jo Frost campaign which endorsed sleep training. Have a listen here for a view:

Would love to know what you think too?

My Petit Canard

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42 Comments

  1. May 1, 2017 / 9:58 am

    I’m not sure I’d call it sleep training either, but I got both mine in to a good routine early on so they know what to expect and both are good sleepers on the whole. I think its important for kids to have a good bedtime routine for them as much as us! Thanks for joining us for #marvmondays
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  2. May 1, 2017 / 10:20 am

    Massive believer in routine here too, started both mine when they were a few weeks with a loose routine and we kind of stick to it now. Very occasionally we have to do controlled crying with Elarna but rarely get past 8 min and I think this is a much nicer method than cry it out. #marvmondays
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  3. May 1, 2017 / 10:37 am

    Mine all grew up in an era where sleep training was normal and I’m glad of it, I did controlled crying with my first and never used monitors with the rest, if they cried because they meant it I woke, if they didn’t wake me I figured they must be OK, they all survived and were all good sleepers from 6 months so it worked for me. I’d always advocate sleep training. #MarvMondays

  4. We strictly adhere to a routine too (my OH and I are also routine people) and my daughter likes to know what’s coming next. She’s 27 months and she can already tell me whether it’s a bath night (Bubble Bath) or a wash night (Bubble Sink) because we alternate. We used some controlled crying with her. The first time it went terribly but she was too young. When we tried it again it worked well and to be honest she adapted quite well. She used to wake in the night for a drink until she was 20 months old, but she gets herself to sleep unless she’s ill and even if she’s not tired she’ll play in her cot from 7pm telling her teddy and lamb about the day. If it works for you then I don’t see if being a bad thing at all! #MarvMondays
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  5. May 1, 2017 / 4:13 pm

    Loved this post.
    Both my girls settled on their own pretty quickly. I had to ‘sleep train’ my eldest to settle in her own cot instead of my bed. It worked in the end but with Freddie I just can’t seem to do it and I think alot of it is to do with me feeling so guilty with all the negativity there is on Facebook. I’ve asked for many advice and most of the ‘advice’ I got back “You shouldn’t be trainning a baby to sleep”… I do think a different word should be used to describe it. I’m just crossing my fingers he will do it one day – ha! #MarvMondays
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  6. May 1, 2017 / 6:00 pm

    We have a bedtime routine that both seem to thrive in but neither will ‘self settle’ in that they still need us there for cuddles to fall asleep. I refuse to train them and see no issues with cuddling to sleep. They’re only little for such a short time and I’m sure they won’t need cuddles to sleep when they’re 16!
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  7. May 1, 2017 / 6:30 pm

    My boys are both good sleepers and I firmly believe it’s because we gently sleep trained them. They had cuddles and still do when they need them. I think it is a case of each to their own, and parents are just trying to do their best. But like you I hate the undeserved negativity surrounding this one.

  8. May 1, 2017 / 9:20 pm

    I hadn’t really thought of it this way. I don’t really like the idea of crying it out either, and wouldn’t say I’ve really done much in the way of sleep training. BUT – we do have, have always had, and probably always will have a pretty solid and set routine when it comes to bedtime. Both mine are in bed by 7pm every night, and we rarely if ever deviate from that. So I suppose, yes, that is a kind of sleep training isn’t it? But isn’t it just one of the million things that as their parents, we teach them? The average adult knows that night time is for sleeping, I guess because that’s the social norm that we have been taught..! Love this #Marvmondays
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  9. May 1, 2017 / 9:50 pm

    I’ve sleep trained all 3 of mine successfully. It was hard work emotionally to hear them cry but it has worked. Zach now sleeps through the whole night or wakes for a 5 minute feed. #marvmondays
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  10. May 2, 2017 / 2:19 pm

    I think sleeping training definitely includes more than the one method, which we typically think of as the cry it out method, and that’s why it can get a bit of bad rap as a lot of people are against that for their own children.

    I’m very much a believer in routine with children (and even before children to be honest) and so naturally we sleep trained our now 3 year old. #MarvMondays

  11. May 2, 2017 / 7:31 pm

    I’m not sure I’ve sleep trained, but Moo can fall asleep by herself in her cot and go through the night without needing much from me. I guess all babies are different and I do sit with her and soothe her if she cries, so maybe I’ve been doing it without the label (which, you are right, is always better than the negative associations!) #marvmondays
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  12. May 2, 2017 / 8:50 pm

    I totally agree that everyone will have their own method and that’s fine, we all have to do what we are comfortable with and what works for us. Routine was definitely the big key for me and if they cried I would try to soothe them without picking them up. The minute I picked them up it would be impossible to get them back in the cot without lots of screaming, but a little gentle stroke on the cheek or a hold of a hand through the bars was usually enough x
    #MarvMondays
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  13. May 3, 2017 / 6:42 am

    My two love routine and thrive off it too ! If they are forever reason a little bit out of routine one day they get so unhappy – I like it too and love having me time when they go to bed #bestandworst
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  14. May 3, 2017 / 6:42 am

    My two love routine and thrive off it too ! If they are forever reason a little bit out of routine one day they get so unhappy – I like it too and love having me time when they go to bed #bestandworst
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  15. Nige
    May 3, 2017 / 6:45 am

    We very big on routine here and girls are always asleep by 7pm but I would say just about night we wake up with 4 in a bed just the way it is does it matter not to me we all sleep I don’t think there is any right way just your way fab post sarah thanks for hosting #bestandworst

  16. May 3, 2017 / 7:26 am

    Really interesting post hon. I always find that the way you get your kid to sleep is one of the most controversial issues in parenting and I hate how much judgement is involved I really do. We used the progressive wait method, which some people call cry it out. Where you go in and talk to them when they cry at longer and longer intervals but don’t pick them up. We did it because Monkey as a baby would spend upwards of 3 hours a night crying in our arms before passing out exhausted. Night 1 of “cry it out” he cried for 40 mins. I hated every second as I wanted to hold him, but it took far less than any other night of his life and he was so much happier the next morning. The next day it took 20 mins of crying, the 3rd no crying at all. I cannot see how that was cruel or bad parenting as he was far less distressed than when rocking him. We’d tried the baby whisperer method too previously and the pick up put down just seemed to make things worse. Every parent and child are different and different things work for all of us and I wish people could accept that. Do I think everyone should do cry it out? No. It’s up to them. Like you I think routine is massively important but we all have to parent in our own way. Sorry for the rant lovely but I read so many posts about how cruel cry it out or sleep training is so is a bit of a sore spot for me! Again though I think the terms lump everything together. I certainly wouldn’t have left Monkey crying for hours to sort himself out, we went in to see him and soothe him but the terms make it sound much harsher than it was in our experience. Xxxx
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  17. May 3, 2017 / 8:18 am

    Thank you so much for posting this. As a Mum whose baby hadn’t slept for over three months, I was at the end of my tether earlier this year. I’d been completely against ‘sleep training’ before becoming a Mum, it conjured up images of my baby crying in a dark room alone and feeling like I’d deserted him. But it isn’t like that at all, the way I see it we ALL feel better after a full night’s sleep (not that I know what one of those feels like!) And I am helping him learn how to achieve that- just as I have been helping him learn to feed and crawl and sit… #bestandworst
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  18. May 3, 2017 / 8:43 am

    I can muck about with most of L’s routines. But not bedtime. If we start playing with that he becomes a monster! Kids crave routine so why not help them with it. Plus I need my down time too #bestandworst
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  19. May 3, 2017 / 9:54 am

    I have just written a post that I think says the exact opposite of what you have written here! I completely agree that I hate the term “sleep training” because it sounds so harsh. But I do agree that everyone will have their methods of getting their kids to sleep at night. My method is to NOT have a routine. We of course do the same things every night – dinner, bath, story, milk, bed, but sometimes Alfie just doesn’t want to go to sleep. I used to find it extremely stressful spending hours trying to persuade him to fall asleep that now I don’t bother. I recognise the signs when he’s tired, and so will start bedtime when I see these signs. Sometimes it can be 6pm when he’s had no nap, or a busy day at nursery. Sometimes if he’s had a long nap, or is overtired this can be at 8pm. We are completely baby-led because that’s what works for us. But I get that doesn’t work for most people, and that’s fine – life would be boring if we all did the same thing and I think posts like this just go to show that not everyone has to do the same thing because not everyone has the same baby. #BestandWorst
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  20. May 3, 2017 / 10:21 am

    I think you’re right, children do need to know they are safe and secure to fall asleep, how you do it is up to you, so long as you’re all happy that’s the main thing. My two are so different that I had to use different approaches with both, but we got there in the end. Now they are a tween and a teen, I rarely see them out of their rooms 😉 #bestandworst x

  21. May 3, 2017 / 11:13 am

    We taught the Tubblet that night-time was sleep time with a routine, much like you did. We followed the Baby Whisper method and it worked for us. (Eventually). There isn’t a right or wrong method as what works for one child won’t work for another. I didn’t like the idea of controlled crying, but I can see how it would appeal to parents who’d tried other things and needed to sleep!
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  22. May 3, 2017 / 11:43 am

    The phrase sleep training does sound very harsh. Sleep routine sounds much better. It is good to get into a routine as soon as you can. It makes everyone’s life less stressful. #bestandworst
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  23. May 3, 2017 / 3:07 pm

    At this point I dont care HOW they get there- just f**king sleep dammit!

    #bestandworst

    • ParenthelpBaby
      May 7, 2017 / 10:08 pm

      Haha…love it! I am a mum of 4 older ones now but yes totally get it 🙂

  24. May 3, 2017 / 4:16 pm

    Never heard of ‘sleep training’ but surely we are always teaching our kids things whether that’s how to hold a spoon or how to sleep? I’ve always been a ‘go with what works for you’ kind person. Same thing applies here I think. #bestandworst
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  25. May 3, 2017 / 5:38 pm

    Hi, interesting read I’ve not heard of sleep training before. I think a routine sound much nicer that hopefully everyone benefits from #bestandworst
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  26. May 3, 2017 / 10:26 pm

    I think each to their own but I wouldn’t be without our bedtime routine – Taylor loves her sleep and has done from about six months, and the hubby and I need a set bedtime to work around so that we have some time to ourselves. I’ve never really heard it being called sleep training before. I genuinely think that each child is so different and it does define your own parenting style to some degree. Taylor would never settle at nighttime regardless of what we did – comforting her never worked but neither did letting her cry. We only really cracked it when she moved into her own room at three months. She was like a different baby and has loved her sleep since. We always comfort her if she needs it but encouraging them to settle themselves back to sleep means that everyone’s happier! xx #bestandworst
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  27. May 4, 2017 / 5:08 am

    I think our method was very similar to yours and also very successful. At 17 months old Peachy sleeps about 12 hours every night and rarely needs me in the night. Since 2 months old she has only cried at night a handful of times because she had a bad dream after a rough day. The rest of the time she just self settles and goes back to sleep until fully rested. I’m so lucky. Your little one is adorable. Love your photos. #MarvMondays

  28. May 4, 2017 / 7:53 am

    My two get a bit hyper in the bath, so we don’t do it in the evening. For us it’s tea, milk, book, bed and it works well. We’ve recently done some sleep training with Martha because I was on my knees exhausted; we did the controlled crying method but in reality she hasn’t been properly crying and I think what’s worked is the phasing out of physical contact to get her to sleep. Within a couple of nights we went from cuddling and rocking, to patting her bum and shushing, to just a hand in her back and shushing. Toby still sometimes wakes once a night – he’s never been a good sleeper and nothing we tried ever helped so we’ve just had to ride it out for nearly 3 years!xx

  29. May 4, 2017 / 10:21 am

    I’ve always been about the routine! I think that’s why child number 2 was such a good sleeper from the off. Such an emotive subject, sleep training ha x
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  30. May 4, 2017 / 10:29 am

    Definitely agree on the routine, both my boys adjusted well and knew what to expect X #bestandworst
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  31. May 4, 2017 / 12:02 pm

    Such a lovely post Sarah, and love the more gentler and less harsh term ‘sleep routine’ as opposed to ‘sleep training’. Though my Little Man has never been the best sleeper, a routine has helped HUGELY. Babies and toddlers love it, thrive on it and as you rightly said, feel safe and secure with it.
    #bestandworst
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  32. May 4, 2017 / 3:28 pm

    I never liked letting little man cry. It just felt cruel and unnatural to me. I think you have to do what is best for you as a parent. We had a solid bedtime routine from about 4 weeks with him. Bath, bottle and bed. And it hasn’t much changed, save for a story thrown in there. He’s grown up knowing exactly what bedtime is and it works for us. #bestandworst
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  33. May 7, 2017 / 11:18 am

    I believe everyone is unique and thus a different approach is justified. I’ve been lucky that ever since my babies outgrew their moses basket they have slept through the night unless they are in some comfort e.g. dirty nappy. #bestandworst
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  34. May 9, 2017 / 1:31 pm

    I think you are right and it’s all about establishing a good routine. We did leave Leo to cry it out when he was about 10months..it only took 3 days and obviously we didn’t leave he scream but we did let him cry before going and comforting him and then going back out until he eventually dropped off. Although it worked and after those 3 hellish nights he started sleeping 7-7, there is no way I’m doing it again with Alex as I think it was just too stressful for everyone involved .xx #bestandworst
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  35. May 10, 2017 / 6:54 pm

    Well I’m not qualified to give an opinion – Little B is two and a half now and bedtime is still a total nightmare. We haven’t started putting Littlest B down yet either as I like evening snuggles too! #bestandworst
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