Intermittent Reinforcement and The Importance of Consistency

Intermittent Reinforcement: The Opposite of Consistency

You may be wondering, what IS intermittent reinforcement?  Well, in general, it is when the same consistent response is not given to a desired or undesired behavior.


In regards to sleep, intermittent reinforcement occurs when parents do not provide the same consistent routine or schedule, which makes it HARDER for their child to learn to self-soothe and build the skills to sleep independently.  

Below I have outlined three different examples of what intermittent reinforcement can look like around sleep.


In the first example, one parent nurses their child to sleep at bedtime, then sometimes nurses back to sleep or sometimes the other parent rocks back to sleep, then at some point in the night the child cries in confusion and frustration and the parents bring the child into bed with them when they are too tired to deal with it anymore.  


In the second example, parents sometimes let their baby cry for 15-30 minutes because they have been told this will work to get the baby to sleep on their own. However, one or both parents can’t take the tears and crying and they end up picking up their baby and rocking/nursing/soothing them to sleep.  Without realizing, parents are training their baby that if they cry long and hard enough, parents will do whatever it takes to get them to sleep and the baby will not have to learn to do it themself.


In the final example, a parent brings the baby to their bed, but only after 5am, with the hopes that everyone can sleep a little longer.  This becomes a problem when the baby starts waking earlier and earlier expecting to be brought into their parents’ bed because they don’t know the difference between 2am and 5am.  


In each of these examples, the parents are NOT providing a clear and consistent message to their children which creates confusion and frustration for everyone.  It also interferes with their child’s ability to learn and build the skill of independent sleep.  The KEY to sleep coaching success is avoiding intermittent reinforcement and maintaining CONSISTENCY!  This means creating a solid sleep plan and sticking to it!  It may take a few weeks, but in the end it truly pays off.  


It can often be challenging to create and maintain consistency to a sleep plan when doing it on your own, especially when you are overwhelmed and exhausted.  This is where I come in.  I can help you avoid intermittent reinforcement by creating a plan that you and your family can stick to and help you maintain consistency by guiding and supporting you every step of the way.  


If you are struggling to maintain consistency with your baby or child’s sleep, I can offer you one on one support! Check out my sleep packages and contact me for a free consultation to see how I can help you get the sleep you deserve!


Let me know if you have any questions!