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The Dangers of Intermittent Reinforcement

The Dangers of Intermittent Reinforcement
Whether you have decided to get rid of a dummy or that it's time for your child to sleep in their own bed all night, you need to be aware of the dangers of intermittent reinforcement.  We're all guilty of 'giving in' from time to time but when it's concerning a habit that needs adjusting or a problem we're trying to fix it can end up making the issue a lot worse than it already was. If a child learns that 'no' really means 'not yet' or 'maybe later' then they will continue nagging/whining/crying until they get what they want – often resulting in even more tears and sorrow than we were trying to avoid in the first place. Research also shows that it takes longer to break a habit that is intermittently allowed than one that is constantly allowed (like co-sleeping or free use of dummies) – if there is a clean and clear break from what used to be okay and what isn't any more, kids adapt to the new rules more quickly.

Of course it's our parental prerogative to bend the rules and make exceptions from time to time, no one wants to be 'Stalin Mummy', but this flexibility and negotiation space should be reserved for situations where we aren't setting ourselves up for confusion in the future. By breaking rules randomly and responding to situations in different ways all the time we make a rod for our own backs, and that's particularly true when it comes to children's sleep issues.

Consider this situation: mum and dad are at their wits' end – they've endured 14 months of interrupted sleep and it's definitely taking its toll on their everyday lives. Friends have told them that they need to be tough and just let the baby cry itself back to sleep, so sometimes (when they're REALLY desperately tired) they give it a go. After about 20 minutes of crying, one of them gives in and picks the baby up and soothes it back to sleep. Of course, there is nothing wrong with soothing your baby back to sleep if that's what your plan was, but in this scenario all the parents have done is teach their baby that if he cries loudly enough for long enough he'll eventually be picked up and comforted back to sleep.

Unfortunately when it comes to sleep issues we're often talking about a very sleep deprived parent who finds it hard to stick to the new rules at 2am when they're up for the fifth time that night! Support is crucial, whether it is a professional sleep consultant, your husband or a relative coming to stay for a few nights while you kick off the new plan.

If you would like personalised help with any sleep issue for a child, newborn to 5 years, contact Katie Forsythe at The Baby Sleep Co today on 0457 473 725 or click here to send us an email.

Click here to see a full list of our services, here to see our rates and here to read our happy client testimonials.

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