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Responsive Sleep Training and Maintaining a Secure Attachment

Every parent wants what’s best for their baby, right?

As you’re considering sleep training your child, you’re probably doing all the research you can to ensure that this is the right choice for your family. I’m here to tell you today that responsive sleep training changed my life.

More than five years ago, as a first-time mom and early childhood teacher, I always had the best interest of children at heart (still do!), and I wanted to make sure that I was doing what was best for my child, too.

I was struggling to do my job though. I wasn’t the kindergarten teacher I wanted to be during the day, and I wasn’t the mom I wanted to be when I finally arrived home in the evenings. I was exhausted. Returning to work after 12 weeks of maternity leave…well…what can I say?? It was a joke.

And I felt like the joke was on me.

How could I be a good teacher and a good mom when I was so utterly exhausted from working all day, tending to other people’s children, and then being up all night, tending to my own child?

I needed a solution and I needed something that I felt good about. I was wasting my money on bandaid solutions - products that claimed to help my baby sleep all night - that didn’t work. Trust me, I have a closet full of sleep-related items containing many unfulfilled promises of a good night’s sleep.

Enter responsive sleep training.

I learned all I could about responsive sleep training and decided that yes, this was the answer to my problems. I wasn’t comfortable with the cry-it-out option (and if you are, it’s no big deal - I promise it won’t harm your child to do a few nights of CIO) and wanted something fairly quick and middle-of-the-road as far as methods go. This wasn’t something I could spend months doing - I was barely surviving - so a moderate method was the best choice for our family.

I also wanted a method that I could be sure wasn’t going to damage my child’s secure attachment to me.

Maintaining a secure attachment is vital to your child’s wellbeing.

Here’s the thing about attachment: it develops over time based on how you respond to your child.

There are four attachment styles that can develop, and as a parent, you want to aim for a secure attachment, the gold standard of parent-child attachment.

Since the day your child was born, they’ve been signaling to you, and you’ve been responding. Sometimes with a diaper change. Sometimes with a feeding. Sometimes with a snuggle or a cuddle. Sometimes by offering sleep. Whatever it is they need, you’ve been, first, identifying it, and second, meeting that need. This allows them to feel safe and secure, knowing that there is someone around to care for them in the right way - you!

And here’s the thing that really blows my mind: You only need to be attuned and respond to your child in the correct way 30% of the time to build an attachment that is secure. So, even if you don’t know why your little one is crying and you’re not sure what they need, it’s okay! You can guess wrong 70% of the time and still maintain that secure attachment.

If you’re super intrigued by this, you can read more about “good enough” mothering here.

Maintaining a Secure Attachment During Sleep Training

So, when we think in the context of attachment and sleep training, knowing that sleep training - at least with our program - it is only a few days to a few weeks in time that we are utilizing this strategy to teach our child a different way of falling asleep. We also know that we’re responding to our children, meeting their needs all day long. We know they also NEED to sleep. And with responsive sleep training, we are meeting that need.

Worry not, because sleep training will not put a dent in your child’s secure attachment to you. Even if you’re only responding with correct attunement 30% of the time, sleep training is a blip in time in your child’s life. And, you’ll still be working to meet their needs at night, offering feeds if it’s still appropriate or a goal of yours, changing diapers as needed, etc.

How to nurture a secure attachment (while sleep training)...

You can read more about how to promote a secure attachment with your child here, but one of the major ways that heavily relates to sleep training is providing support for your child as they’re going through a difficult time or learning a new skill.

This is exactly what sleep training is - your child is learning a new way to fall asleep! Yes, sleep is a biological process, but the onset of sleep is behavioral, and in time becomes habitual in nature. And guess what we can change? Habits. It’s a skill!

We’ve discussed meeting needs and responding to your child. We’ve discussed supporting them as they learn new things (like sleep!). Now it’s time to dive into the greatest predictor of the parent-child attachment relationship: maternal mental health.

Did you know that it would be far more detrimental to the parent-child attachment relationship to have a mother who stuggles with her mental well-being because she’s not able to respond to her child as well as if she were in good health? And what is one of the largest contributing factors to postpartum mood and anxiety disorders?? Extreme stress due to sleep deprivation.

So, think of it this way…

…you can spend a few days or weeks teaching your child to sleep (and meeting a very basic human need) without worrying that it’ll put a dent in their secure attachment with you…


…you can continue to worry about sleep training and their attachment and spiral into an overtired, exhausted, and mentally unstable mother, resulting in poor mental health, resulting in an insecure attachment relationship with your child…

Okay, okay, that may seem a bit drastic, but trust me, when I have moms calling me in tears, I know they’re already there. And do you know how I know?? I’ve been there too. And it sucks. I don’t want anyone else to find themselves in that situation, especially when we know there are solutions out there that are perfectly safe and actually address the root cause of your child’s sleep struggles.

If you’re feeling suicidal, check out these resources, call 911, or go to your nearest emergency room.

We’re here for you if you need it. If you’d like to chat more with someone who gets it and has both your and your child’s best interests at heart, make sure you set up a sleep evaluation call with us - we’d love to chat with you!

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