This blog is meant to help guide parents who have already decided that some type of sleep training is right for their family, but who are hesitant to leave the sleep reins in another’s hands. If you’ve decided to go the sleep training route, you’ve probably spent a fair amount of time deciding what type of sleep training is the best for your family. With so many opinions and options out there, when you’ve found something that feels good to you and is supported by science, you’ll work hard to maintain those nice sleeping habits when you’re not available.
While you’re away from home doing outside work or taking some much-needed time for yourself for a few hours during the day, you’re relying on your child’s caregiver (e.g., grandparents, au pair, nanny, daycare worker etc...) to help your baby sleep. Although you may be thrilled to have some time away from thinking about all things baby, this may cause a little anxiety for you. You’ve finally got everything figured out and are at a place where your baby has mastered your sleep goals. You’re probably thinking, “Don’t mess with a good thing!” right?
The good news is that you can teach your caregiver to respond like you. If the thought of handing over the sleep training reins has been keeping you awake at night, don’t stress too much. Children can learn to discriminate between caregivers. It is true that there could be a regression when things change, but if that does happen, take that as a sign that your child’s doing what he’s supposed to do – our bodies are supposed to alert us when things change during sleep. This includes having a different person show up when your baby calls out in the middle of the night. For a smooth transition, try taking a proactive stance to train your caregivers to respond as you would.
Arrange the environment for success. Be sure your caregiver knows how to set the stage for success. Keep it cool, dark, quiet, and safe. Be sure your caregiver is aware of these sleep basics and knows how and when to set the stage for success. This may be intuitive to you but not at all to a new caregiver or one who has not kept up- to- date with recent research.
Have everything present that your child needs to sleep (e.g., sleep sack, white noise machine, favorite blanket or lovey for older children). The less your caregiver has to think about, the smoother the transition will be. Try to avoid the upset over having the purple binky to sleep with instead of the green one she’s provided. Don’t let the little things turn into big things.
Follow the right schedule for your baby’s sleep needs. More often than not, caregivers are going to be responsible for putting your child down for naps. Naps are hard – we’ve written multiple blogs and an e-book about them! Your caregiver will likely have some sort of idea about when a baby should sleep based on the sleepy cues he’s showing. What many caregivers don’t realize is that nap sleep matures around 6-7 months of age. If they’re waiting for sleepy signs at this age before they put your little one down, it may be too late for an easy transition. Provide your caregiver with a sleep schedule to follow so that you will be sure your baby is getting adequate daytime sleep with the right dispersal of sleep needed to preserve a good night’s sleep when you come home.
Behavioral Skills Training (BST). Teach your caregiver to respond like you. There are many reasons a sleep intervention may fail. Divergence from the plan is a major one. If at all possible, wait to have your caregiver implement the plan until you’ve gotten over the first few difficult nights. Better yet, wait until your child has met your sleep training goals. If you are still in the thick of it when your caregiver takes over, then it will be critical that she follows the steps as closely as she can to what you’ve started to maintain that momentum. In the behavioral realm of science, the best chance of successfully training a
caregiver will involve using Behavioral Skills Training (BST) which will involve four primary steps:
Instructions. If you’re reading this blog before you begin sleep training and you choose to book a consult with us, see if your caregiver can listen in. The more they know, the better chance they’ll have at doing what you do. If they weren’t available to listen in, write down the steps to your plan and make a copy for your caregiver to follow. Go through the plan and make sure your caregiver understands what everything means and what to do – especially in the event that your child diverges from his typical behavior. If a new person comes into the picture or your typical caregiver begins doing something different, chances are your child’s going to react differently too. If you have a toddler, you may see some behaviors you’ve never seen before. Clear instructions will help your caregiver stay alert and ready for change. What if he throws his paci out of the crib? Do I return it? What if he does it again? What if he says he needs a different lovey? If you write down the steps to your plan – including what to do during those unexpected moments with your caregiver, they’ll be more likely to follow the steps with accuracy.
Modeling. Once your caregiver feels confident with the written instructions, spend a day modeling the steps you’ve just reviewed. You can role-play if it’s not time for a nap or bedtime but the most effective model will be watching you with your child. You could have your caregiver right there with you or viewing what you do from a monitor. Modeling behavior is one of the most effective methods of teaching new skills. Combined with these other components, your caregiver will know what to do in no time.
Rehearsal. Now that they’ve seen you do it, let them try. Again, this can be done in a role-play scenario or directly with your child. If it’s done with your child, try to watch from afar through your monitor. This will decrease the likelihood of new behaviors popping up because of your presence without participation (reactivity). If your child does begin to exhibit other sleep interfering behaviors even in your absence, this may be the best opportunity you’ll get to work through what to do if the unexpected happens. It may also give you peace of mind knowing that your caregiver is able to successfully put your baby down for sleep before you have to leave.
Feedback. Let your caregiver know what went well and what they can do to follow the steps even closer. Don’t let this step scare you – it sounds much more formal than what it has to be. If they diverged from the steps or got thrown off by some unexpected event they encountered with your child (like crying for you!), they’ll appreciate knowing what to do in those moments. When it is all said and done, they’ll likely be thanking you for helping them successfully put your little one down so that they can have a break themselves while your child gets their much-needed sleep. Feedback may go something like this: “He really responded well to you patting his back! I was impressed that he let you do that so seamlessly. When he asks for me, remember to stick to the good night mantra. You’re doing something new and he’s going to try to see what he can do to get me to come in. He’ll learn that he will see me again and that it’s okay to accept soothing from you too.”
You can repeat the steps as many times as needed until you both feel confident. That’s it! Using this framework as your training model, your caregiver will have what she needs to maintain your sleep goals and you’ll feel a little more confident in handing over the sleep training reins.
Source: Miltenberger, RG (2015). Behavior modification:principles and procedures (6th ed.). Florence, KY: Cengage 6 30 13.2