We all know how important consistency is when parenting. Children thrive on schedules and consistency. They need to know what is expected of them. The best way to show them this, especially at a young age, is to be consistent. Behavioral scientists call giving mixed messages or not being consistent intermittent reinforcement, meaning we give in sometimes, but not others. Have you ever been at a grocery store check out line and your child begs and begs for a piece of candy? You keep saying no, but then you give in and buy that piece of candy because you are a little tired or stressed that day or you just want to get out of the store fast and quietly. It seems harmless enough, but you are in trouble now because your child won't forget that you gave in to his request. The next time you are in the check out line, you can expect a lot more protesting if you decide to say no. You can also expect that your child will cry for as long and as loud as he did the time it took you the longest to give in. It is the same with sleep coaching. There are so many examples of intermittent reinforcement with sleep coaching. One of the most common is when parents decide to try the “cry it out” method because maybe a pediatrician or friend recommended it. They put their child in the crib awake and leave the room. The child starts to scream. 10, 15, 20, 30 minutes pass and the parent just can’t take it anymore. They finally give in, get the child, and rock/swing/nurse the child to sleep in their arms. Now, they have just trained their child to cry for 30 minutes. The child now knows that if they cry for 30 minutes and hold out for the parent, the parent will come in and rock him to sleep. The next time the parent tries the “cry it out” method, they can expect the child to cry for at least 30 minutes. Another common example of intermittent reinforcement is when parents say, “We are not going to bring our child into our bed until 5am. At 5am, it is almost daytime and it won’t bother us if she comes into our bed at this time.” Well, the problem with that is children can’t tell time. They don’t know when it is 5am vs. 3am or 2am, so over time, the child will start to wake up earlier and earlier and they will think, “this must be the time I get to go into my parents bed.” If you say no to 4am, but yes to 5am, this only confuses her. As you can see, if you don’t show your child what you expect from them regarding sleep, there is no way for them to know. Understanding intermittent reinforcement and being consistent is the cornerstone to sleep coaching success!