Another WELCOME in order!
A note from Meg and Erin: We have been so busy here at Baby Sleep Science in the past year as we have worked to find only the right additions to our growing business. We seek out only those potential consultants who are exceptionally educated and top in their fields and who will bring a unique skill set of their own to our team after a lengthy process of teaching and mentoring by us in the science of infant and child sleep. To that end, we’d like to introduce our newest consultant, Juliet Taylor MS BCBA! As a Behavior Analyst, Juliet will be a dream come true to many of our families who not only experience sleep struggles with their young child, but behavioral struggles and autism as well. Juliet’s bio is located on our website here, and she’s written the following blog we know you will enjoy. Welcome Juliet!
Teaching your Child to Sleep: Perspective from a Behavior Analyst
Juliet Taylor MS BCBA
I am so excited to bring my experience in applied behavior analysis to Baby Sleep Science. Teaching new behaviors is fundamental to creating improved sleep habits for babies and young children. Most people don’t think about the skills that are required to fall asleep and stay asleep as behavioral. We think of sleep as something, like breathing, that is automatic. In reality, we all learn skills that enable us to fall asleep; falling asleep IS a behavior.
A thoughtful, biologically driven sleep plan that enables your child to learn the skills necessary to relax and go to sleep can relieve stress for you and your child and can lead to restful, rejuvenating nights. As a behavior analyst, I have helped families from all walks of life, including children with complicated special needs, acquire the skills necessary to learn to sleep.
To teach a child to sleep, it is important to first understand what the child has previously experienced in order to devise a plan that helps the child exchange one set of expectations and behaviors for another. For example, if a baby is used to cuddling with a parent to fall asleep, then she might learn that rocking and cuddling is required to fall asleep. While this is a lovely interaction, a baby who doesn’t know any other behaviors required to fall asleep independently will often wake after every 60-90 minute sleep cycle looking for those cuddles again. For some families this is an unsustainable pattern.
My job is to learn as much as I can about a family’s goals and parenting style in order to develop a plan to help them teach their baby a new way of doing things. In the particular case described above, there are many options that could be employed to meet the needs of both the baby and parent. We might create a plan that involves incrementally changing the baby’s expectations over time or we might create a plan that involves having the baby’s parents teach the baby a new way of falling asleep through a systematic intervention involving a series of pre-defined sleep cues. The best part is that we can also keep lots of cuddles in either routine.
Toddlers are wonderful, imaginative little people, but toddler behaviors can be a mystery to even the most seasoned parents. With toddlers, it is often important to eliminate behaviors that inhibit sleep and exchange them for new behaviors that promote sleep. For example, many toddlers will engage in stall tactics, and will persist in asking for more books, multiple potty trips, and extra songs, while others will fight against going into the bedroom and getting into bed. When solving these types of problems, it’s important to first figure out why a child is engaging in a given behavior. In many cases, problems stem from a child hitting developmental milestones and can be resolved by teaching parents how to adjust to their child’s new skills and needs. For example, often bedtime resistance stems from a child needing more control in her routine. Toddlers don’t like to have things happen to them. They want to have a role to play in their bedtime routine.
As a behavior analyst, I am trained to change behavior effectively. Possibly the greatest contribution of behavioral science to the social world is in the application of its principles to special needs. For some children, engaging in the activities we perform on a daily basis—toileting, eating, talking, sleeping—is regarded as high achievement—and ending a day without a severe behavioral episode is something to celebrate. I have worked on sleep and behavior challenges with children with autism and special needs for many years. It has been a privilege to work with special needs children in order to help them achieve skills that foster their independence.
I am so happy to have the opportunity to work with new families on their journey to better sleep.