Because of parental fatigue, parents may unintentionally become inconsistent and irregular in their responses to their infant.
My daughter Chelsea is almost 3 years old. Putting her to bed has always been an ordeal. At 18 months of age she started to climb out of her crib anywhere from seventy-five to a hundred times a night. The problem seemed to be solved with the advent of a “big bed.” She now sleeps through the night. However, having her stay in bed and fall asleep is still an ordeal.
I have yelled and screamed. I have used gates and locks on her door to physically keep her in her room. I have used treats as an incentive for positive reinforcement of desired behavior. Unfortunately, the only consistent behavior has been my inconsistency.
If Chelsea knows that I will put a gate on her bedroom door if she leaves her room, even once, then she will gradually conform and stay in her room. But there is a catch! She eventually will start to challenge my inconsistent behavior. One night she will appear in the living room and say, “Mom, I need a hug and kiss good night.” As a parent, do you deny your child such a loving request and lock her in her room? So you give her a hug and kiss and send her off to bed again. Then the next night she wants water, and before long she’s out of bed three or four times a night for hugs and kisses, water, Band-Aids, scary noises—you name it! Within a week, saying good night and falling asleep takes an hour or more. Then we have to start over. Webster’s dictionary defines the word consistent as “free from self-contradiction; in harmony with.” I long for the night when I’m in harmony with Chelsea.
Dealing with a fussy child almost around the clock, you have a recipe for frazzled and distressed parents. I can certainly understand why many parents struggle with a post-colic sleep plan, as it can be hard to be resolute when you are completely burned out.