Tara Dakin Sauer is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist as well as a Newborn Care Specialist and Certified Sleep Consultant. She believes that too many moms aren’t getting the rest they need for their mental well-being because of the misinformation and stigma that surround the subject of sleep training. Tara is dedicated to changing that narrative!
On this episode Tara uses her background in psychotherapy to help us understand best practices for supporting our clients in ways that ultimately lead to higher success rates and less burnout.
– Viewing our work as a collaborative project with our clients
– Setting reasonable goals and expectations
– Using a strength based and solution-focused lens when looking at our business.
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Tara Dakin Sauer is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist and Certified Perinatal Mental Health Professional. In her private therapy practice, Renew Psychotherapy and Consulting LLC, Tara specializes in addressing the various ways trauma can impact a woman’s mental health during pregnancy and the postpartum period using an integration of EMDR and Internal Family Systems therapies.
Tara is also very passionate about how sleep impacts maternal mental health. She believes that too many moms aren’t getting the rest they need for their mental well-being because of the misinformation and stigma that surround the subject of sleep training. Tara is dedicated to changing that narrative. Having worked for many years as a Newborn Care Specialist and now a certified pediatric sleep consultant, Tara is very excited to begin offering sleep consulting services that are uniquely tailored to meet the needs of parents experiencing postpartum mood and anxiety disorders in order to help them achieve success with their sleep training goals!
Whether she is working as a therapist or sleep consultant, Tara’s hope for all of her clients is for them to reach the end of their time working together feeling like a renewed momma – well-rested and confident in continuing their parenting journey! Tara, thank you so much for agreeing to be on the show!
Tara Dankin Sauer: I’m excited to be here.
Jayne Havens: So I wanted to bring you on today because I think your experience as a therapist really translates well into working as a sleep consultant. I know you’re just in the infant stages of launching your sleep consulting business, but how do you envision the two skill sets complementing one another?
Tara Dankin Sauer: Yes, I think there’s definitely a lot of overlap, which is probably why I’ve been able to get things going pretty quickly. As a therapist, I’m trained in a variety of methods of assessment, goal setting, conceptualizing problems, and developing treatment plans. I do a lot of listening and reflecting. And then because I work in private practice, and I have the freedom, and the burden, sometimes of being the sole architect in designing my business to work however I want. I’ve spent a lot of time over the last few years setting up my own systems, and procedures, creating all my own paperwork and questionnaires, figuring out what routines work best to manage my time, and learning how to set boundaries with clients, and with myself so that I don’t burn out and can continue doing this work for a long time. So I think all of that translates incredibly, seamlessly.
Jayne Havens: That makes perfect, perfect sense. I think a lot of the work that we do as sleep consultants, specifically, but I think this applies to your work as a therapist as well, is managing our client’s expectations. What does it look like in your business to manage expectations so that you can be more efficient and prevent overloading yourself in your work?
Tara Dankin Sauer: Yes, because when you run your own business, and you aren’t just paid a set salary to do specific tasks during certain times like it’s key to learn to work smarter and not harder. And so I think one of the first things you can do is just be clear for yourself, which clients in which kinds of sleep issues you are or are not willing to work with. And actually based on maybe not feeling equipped, or interested in certain ages or issues. It could be personal values, or over time you start to get a feel for the clients who just don’t click with or the ones who are likely going to be a type of challenge or headache that you just don’t want to take on. And I think when you’re launching a new business when you’re starting out, it’s so easy to feel like you have to take every possible client who reaches out to you, but you don’t have to work with every family. And I think that being straightforward, unapologetic about those boundaries from the start. It may feel harsh, but you’re actually doing yourself and prospective clients a favor by not wasting anybody’s time. So spend some time thinking about what you want your niche to be, who is your ideal client, decide what your deal breakers are, so to speak, and then use that to screen clients. I think depending on how parents first connect with you, you can do that over email by asking just a few key questions. You could use a brief questionnaire. I like to do that even before doing a discovery call, just to know from the get-go, I’ve already heard it down to. Yes, this is probably a client that we’re going to be a good fit for.
Jayne Havens: Yes, it’s so interesting that we’re talking about this right now, because I literally just got off of a zoom with Camilla Martello who’s another Center for Pediatric Sleep Management graduate. And we were talking about exactly this, that when you’re serving your ideal client, and when you’re aligned with the family that you’re supporting, it’s a much more enjoyable process. And when you enjoy your work, then you end up wanting to work harder, which then in turn makes you more successful. And you know, this is really hard when you’re first getting started. Because you want to take any piece of business that comes your way, you just want to say yes, you don’t want to turn away business. If you’re trying to land your first client, and it’s not an ideal client, it’s really hard to say no to that. But I think it comes with experience, and with confidence, you start to be able to see it very clearly. And, you know, Camilla was telling me that there are certain families she gets on the phone with and she knows it’s not a good fit. She doesn’t follow up with them. If they hire her, okay, but if they don’t, maybe that’s better. I think it takes a certain level of experience and competence to get there. But it’s so important because it really does position you to ultimately be more successful.
Tara Dankin Sauer: Well, I think just setting a timeline for yourself, I’ve done this in the past, depending on maybe revenue goals of, okay, I’m going to be a little more flexible about who I take on for the next couple of months. But, you know, three months from now, I’m really dialing down. And I’m only going to take the clients that are, you know, X, Y, or Z.
Jayne Havens: Yes, I completely love that point. And I think you’re so spot on. What else? What else can we do, to manage expectations and really protect our own boundaries and our own well-being when doing this work?
Tara Dankin Sauer: Yes, so another strategy I would recommend, I think you and I actually talked about this when I finished the course of trying to really front-load your clients with whatever information you want them to know. Like you’ve made it very clear, they know the call is for how long, approximately it’s going to last. So then when it gets close to 15 minutes, you don’t feel like a jerk when you’re like alright, well, we’re getting close to wrapping up, do you have any more questions, you can just kind of be ready to put that in there. I also think using your paperwork to your advantage. So if you find yourself repeatedly clarifying or explaining certain policies or procedures as far as how you work, make sure you add that info to your contract. If it isn’t in there already. Maybe you want to repeat some of that information in other places. Like if you have a proposal document or a welcome email. I know you use a FAQ link that people can click on during the onboarding process. Then another thing that you have talked about in at least one previous podcast episode so far that I think is worth repeating, is the importance of having a really thorough sleep plan. Because if you find yourself answering the same questions over and over, where you’re spending a lot of time elaborating or clarifying certain points, then like go back and add those things to your sleep plan. Another thing that I love doing, I do this with notes as a therapist, and as a sleep consultant, I like to keep a little document of various text replies that I can just copy and paste and then you know, tweak it a little bit. But that way I’m not crafting an entirely new response. Every time a parent brings up a question or concern that I addressed a bunch of times before.
Jayne Havens: Those are all awesome points. I think that you are so on point with your messaging about having really thorough documents. I always say that to my CPSM grads like we need to communicate effectively. Because if you don’t properly effectively communicate the strategies, then your clients are going to feel overwhelmed, they’re going to feel really confused. And they’re going to be coming at you from all angles with 10,000 questions. And that is the easiest way to land yourself in a situation where you’re really burnt out overwhelmed and resenting your work. You start to get really frustrated when you feel like your clients aren’t understanding you. And it’s our job as professionals to make sure that our clients can understand us. It’s not their job to understand us, it’s our job to effectively communicate so that they can understand us. Let’s turn the coin a little bit or whatever the phrase is, for managing expectations so that families that you work with are successful in sleep training, how do we set that up? How do we set them up for success, both with expectations, and then also just their ability to get quick results?
Tara Dankin Sauer: Yes, so one thing I find really helpful is using strengths-based solution-focused language.
Jayne Havens: Hold on, say that one more time. That’s a mouthful. And that’s a new term for me. And I’m sure it’s a new term for most people listening.
Tara Dankin Sauer: Yes, so I’ll dive into both of those. But strength based, and then solution focused. And using that kind of language is the way that I like to lay a good foundation for clients to feel competent, and motivated. And then also frame their goals in a way that widens their definition of success. So both those approaches are strength-based and solution-focused, they were born out of therapy modalities, but they’ve expanded to be used in coaching, leadership, and educational settings, and they’re very goal-oriented. They use language very intentionally. They both focus more on the present or the future than the past. They focus more on solutions than on problems. And they focus more on strengths than weaknesses. They see people as naturally resourceful and resilient, even when facing difficult circumstances. So there’s this foundation of trust in people’s competence. So these approaches argue that all people are capable of finding and implementing new solutions to their problems, just by drawing from the strengths and resources they already possess. And so by shifting the focus, using language to continually reframe things into that positive perspective, meaning getting the client to talk about what they do want, instead of what they don’t want, or getting them to describe what they or their child will be doing, instead of what they want their child to stop doing. It helps families move from a problem-centered narrative to a successful narrative. And the other reason I love using these approaches is that when we can help parents see and draw from their strengths, we can point out or remind them of what is working, what is going well, or how they’ve at least managed so far. All of that creates an atmosphere of hope, and optimism builds their confidence, and it evokes their intrinsic motivation to move forward and be committed to reaching those goals. And I also like it because it gives me a sense of maybe where they’re lacking confidence. So I know where to really direct my encouragement. And it helps me see what the likely obstacles could be that would get in the way of their progress so that I can help them remove those obstacles and be proactive in that if possible. So just to give you an idea of what this language sort of sounds like, some of my favorite questions that I like to ask to start setting the stage for success are what are called coping or survival questions. So, what have you been able to do to keep things from getting worse? So implying things could be worse and you’ve kept it from getting to that point? So yay, you doing something? Kind of asking how they’ve engaged so far, like whether it helped or made it worse or didn’t impact anything. What have you tried so far to help with your child’s sleep? I like to check for the kind of blocking beliefs or hesitations. Are there any solutions that have been suggested to you or that you’ve considered, that you just haven’t tried? For whatever reason, I also like scaling questions, those are great to get a baseline to measure progress, and to assess their openness to change. So one that I’ve asked parents is, like, how confident are you currently feeling that we can improve your child’s from zero to ten? Zero is like, I’m not even sure why I hired you, because I don’t think it can change. And ten is, I’m 100% confident this is better, but I just need a little guidance and support to get there. So that helps me know their starting point. And then, you know, let’s say they are at a six, then I would say, Okay, what would you need for that to be a seven? Or an eight? So just getting a feel for, what are the small steps that are just going to move them in a positive direction?
Jayne Havens: Yes, I think a positive mindset is so important, both for us as sleep consultants to have on our end, right? Like, we have to believe! I see so many parallels between the work that we do, like coaching our clients, and then the work that our clients do to coach their children. It’s so parallel. Because I’m always telling parents, especially parents of toddlers and preschoolers that are struggling with their child’s sleep, like, you need to make sure that your child fully believes that you are capable, that they are capable of sleeping independently, right? Because if that child doesn’t believe that they can do it, and the parent doesn’t believe that they can do it, then like, right, they have zero shot, right, like, you know, the child needs to see from the parent, that they believe in the child. And I think that the same sort of thing applies, it’s the same thing with us, like, we need to believe that our clients are capable of making these changes. Because if they don’t see that from us, then they don’t have the competence to make the changes in their own home. Right? Would you agree?
Tara Dankin Sauer: Oh, totally. It’s something we tell clients all the time. Like, you’ve got to trust that your child can do this, they can learn this skill, you got to believe in them, right? Well, we have to look at our clients the same way. Like you can teach us how to do this, right? Like you can push through, you can watch the timer or whatever that is, I believe in you, I know that you can do this.
Jayne Havens: Yes, and it really does have this trickle-down effect. I think the confidence that we have in our work when we’re really confident in the work that we’re doing. And we’re supporting clients in a way that feels really right. And on point. They feel that, and then when those families are feeling really confident, I think their children feel that.
Tara Dankin Sauer: Once you’ve laid that foundation of showing that you believe they’re capable, then you still have to get really clear about what your goals are. And so that strengths-based solution-focused perspective would go about doing that by helping the client create a really clear vision of their preferred reality. So basically, rather than focusing on our starting point, like asking clients to identify all the current problems they want to solve, I prefer to look ahead to the end of our work together, asking clients to go ahead and imagine the problem having already been solved. So that I get a sense of where they want to be. And then we work together to make that vision a reality. And so my favorite way to do this is to use what’s called the miracle question. So I say like, you know, sadly, there is no magic cure for sleep problems. But let’s assume for a moment, that I do have a magic wand. And I waved my wand. It’s two weeks from now and all your child’s sleep problems have been solved. Tell me how your life how would you feel having been freed from those problems? What would that allow you or your child or your family to do instead? And I find that when I encourage clients to get excited about imagining the future they want, instead of just explaining, reading, and complaining about everything they don’t like about the present, they actually end up creating goals that are bigger than just sleeping. Because the problems with sleep have been impacting multiple areas of their life. So it’s not just about fixing asleep. It’s about helping parents be the parents. They want to be helping families live in alignment with their values. And so looking at those other benefits, just the training helps us redefine what it means to be successful. So it becomes less about out, nitpicky things like, well, they have to be sleeping full 12 hours every night, or we need to get every nap longer than 45 minutes. It’s more just about their quality of life, their relationship with their child, and the joy and satisfaction they get from parenting.
Jayne Havens: Yes, I have this conversation with almost every single one of my clients. The benchmark for success is not that your child is napping for 60 to 90 minutes, three to four times a day, it’s not that you’re getting those 12 hours of sleep overnight, you know, the benchmark for success is that your child is thriving and that you are thriving, right? If mom and baby or if dad and baby are having a good day. And you know, nobody’s losing their minds, sometimes, a 45-minute nap does the trick. Like, sometimes babies wake up after a 45-minute nap. And they’re fine. And it’s the parents that are struggling with the fact that their baby only slept 45 minutes. But their baby is fine. And he’s happy and he’s ready to play now. And he’s good. So like, we’re having a good day, it doesn’t matter that it was a 45-minute nap. Right? So I think that’s really important to highlight. And that helps us as sleep consultants manage our own expectations around success. Because, you know, we cannot be responsible for whether or not these babies take 45-minute naps or 90-minute naps. Sometimes you get a 45. And sometimes you get a 90, and a lot of the time, it’s somewhere in between. And that is not a measure of our success. And it’s not a measure of our client’s success as parents either. I think sometimes parents feel like such failures, because their child isn’t sleeping according to the chart, or their child isn’t sleeping the same way that their best friend’s baby is sleeping. And all of that is so detrimental to mental health, in my opinion. I agree. Yes. And it’s hard to, it’s hard to sort of crawl out of that, when, when you’re really, really deeply in it. You know, for I know, a lot of my clients, they’re all you know, they’re all friends with a million moms who all have babies the same exact age, and it feels like a constant state of competition. And you know, whose baby sleeps the most and whose baby sleeps the best? And, you know, I think it’s our job as sleep consultants to normalize typical infant behavior, or toddler behavior, right? I just had a former client message me on Instagram and say, you know, my three-year-old twins are now waking up at six. And they used to sleep until eight. But like, they’re actually still sleeping the right amount in a 24-hour period. They’re just getting older, and they need less sleep. And they’re doing okay. I think it’s our job sometimes to normalize what’s expected of our clients’ children.
Tara Dankin Sauer: And helping them understand that again, every family is a little different, every baby is a little different. And you know, your baby best, you know your family best. And that may not look like your next-door neighbor or your friends from Mom’s group.
Jayne Havens: One thing I’ve heard you talk about before, and I’d love for you to tell everybody today is a little bit about how you look at sleep training as a collaborative project with your clients and framing it in a way that makes us part of the team rather than the leader. Can you speak to that a little bit?
Tara Dankin Sauer: Yes, absolutely. So I think many therapists, coaches, and consultants embody what would be called an expert approach. And yes, all helping professionals have invested a lot of time and money into their training and education, and we have a lot of valuable knowledge. So they are experts. But in the expert approach, the helper takes on the role of like an authority, where the authority determines what the problem is, gives advice, and tells the person what thing to do. And, you know, as a natural helper, it’s really easy to do that. If we see obvious ways to make a difference in a family situation, we want to tell them that we want to see that change because we know that it could be helpful for them. But even if that advice is well-intentioned, if we’re taking that authoritative approach to help, we’re essentially communicating that I know what’s best for you, and I just want you to comply with the plan that I’m giving you. Whereas a collaborative approach, we still honor and value our own expertise, because we know that we do have knowledge about infant or toddler sleep that our client very likely does not. But we also honor and value our clients’ expertise. So the knowledge that they have about their child or the knowledge they have about what’s going to work best for their family is based on their experiences, their values, and their parenting style. And so I will say to clients, I am the expert on infant sleep, you are the expert on your baby. And we will be most successful if we combine our expertise. So I want families to be active contributors to this project. So I’m not going to tell my clients that there isn’t a problem. They tell me what’s working for them. So you know, if somebody says their child is waking up at 5:30am, I’m not immediately going to say, well, that’s kind of early, we should work on that. Instead, I would ask, does it work for you and what time do you want to wake up in the morning. If it does, then it’s not a problem. Or I’m not going to assume what their goals are. I ask them what they want sleep to look like. Personally, I want my kid to be sleeping through the night and not eating as soon as possible. But some people may not want that, they may just want to get to a more predictable, middle-of-the-night feeding schedule, for example. And I don’t want to give the impression that there’s just one right solution that they have to follow. Your course talks about the importance of offering clients multiple options, firstly, training methods. And I like to encourage clients to even come up with their own ideas. I think, especially with toddlers, parents know a little bit better what incentivizes them the best. And so then alongside my recommendation, we work together to come up with a plan to reach their goals in a way that feels comfortable and specific to them. So I’m still educating them, I’m giving suggestions. But ultimately, I acknowledge the client’s autonomy, because they’re the decision-maker in their life. And I want to respect that. And most likely to be successful when they’re setting goals.
Jayne Havens: Exactly because that really positions them to take ownership and take responsibility for the outcome. If they are part of the decision-making process, then they’re taking ownership in the process, and they’re more likely to do the work. But what happens when parents aren’t doing the work? What happens when they’re having trouble being consistent? Or when they have hesitations? Have you handled those situations?
Tara Dankin Sauer: Yes, I think it goes back to that collaborative mindset, rather than the expert or authoritative approach. I really want to meet clients where they are, not where I think they should be. And I want to respect and embrace what they want to do, rather than what I think they should do. So I have to remember that the problem is not my job to fix. My job is to educate, empower, and encourage parents, they have to do the work. I am not the solution to their child’s sleep problems, the changes they make, that’s the solution. And so letting go of that responsibility, accepting that I can’t make them do the work, especially if they aren’t comfortable or if they aren’t ready. And so if I encounter hesitation or resistance, the first thing I do is check myself. And I check the goals. Like did I really collaborate on the goals and make sure that the family decided what feels realistic or authentic for them? Or did I maybe push an agenda, and that’s why it’s not working. And so we need to reset those goals. And then I also try to remember that, again, because I’m not there. I’m not doing the work. It doesn’t matter how much resolve or a commitment I’m bringing to the table. My ability to bring about change comes from my empathy, and my questions like how can I respond? What questions can I ask that are going to get the parents moving in a forward direction? There’s another therapy model called motivational interviewing that talks about this idea of rolling with resistance. So instead of getting frustrated or fighting it, you approach it from a place of acceptance. Have compassion and curiosity. And so there was a post in the Facebook group this morning, I think I’ll probably mix up the exact details. But there was a mom who was wanting to stop nursing her son overnight, but she was worried that she was going to be abandoning her child. And so the temptation is to respond like, well, but you’re not abandoning, just because we know that right? Like, she’s not. Or to, you know, try to get firm and give a reality check. Like, well, if you aren’t willing to try something different than what you’re doing now, then nothing’s going to change. And so instead, being able to just kind of accept and empathize with where she’s at saying, like, you know, I love how much you value, having a healthy attachment with your son, I completely understand that thinking about making these changes is bringing up some fears that he’s going to feel abandoned. But help me understand if you’re still, comforting him, responding when he’s crying, you’re just not nursing. How are you thinking I’ll feel a bit or saying like, I’m curious, do you really believe that patting him instead of offering the breast is a form of abandonment? Or is that just something you read or heard, and it’s bringing up hard feelings? So it’s just a very inviting open stance of like, tell me more about these hesitations? Tell me more about why you don’t want to do this. Instead of just being like, Well, you said, you want this goal, and you’re not doing it. So I guess I’m not gonna get it, I’m just really Yes, rolling with that resistance, and then walking alongside them with whatever they choose to do. Because at the end of the day, it is their choice, right?
Jayne Havens: If we’re going to use that example, and carry it out further, you know, perhaps that mom just wasn’t ready to night wean. And that’s okay, too, right. That’s where we sleep, consultants have to remember that. Sometimes goals that we would set for ourselves and our own families with our own kids look very different from the goals that our clients are setting for themselves. And, you know, if this mom was successful in teaching her baby to fall asleep independently, and largely sleep through the night, but he still wakes up to feed once in the middle of the night, and mom is happy with that, and baby is happy with that, you know, it doesn’t matter that he’s 12 months old and doesn’t need to eat in the middle of the night. If that’s what’s working for this family, then like, I think it’s our job as sleep consultants to celebrate that as a success and not drilling to what it could be because it doesn’t matter, right? If I sort of, I always say, like, my client’s goals are my goals. So, you know, whatever they want, I will support them through that as long as it’s developmentally appropriate and seems to make sense. And, you know, if somebody wants to feed their baby in the middle of the night, past an age where I think that’s necessary, that’s okay, as long as that’s working for them. And if it’s not working for them, then I’m happy to support them through the process of making a change. But I think you bring up a really good point that you know, helping families to realize, if their objection is really the real objection, or is it something else? I like what you said, like, Did you read that somewhere? Because, yes, she did.
Tara Dankin Sauer: Did you just get a text from your sister-in-law this morning? That was like, Oh, your sleep training what you know, and like, and it sparked this whole thing like? Or is this a legitimate belief that you have that I need to either find a way to accept and work with or educate you and try to maybe shift that perspective if her goals really are, you know, requiring a different approach?
Jayne Havens: Well, this was really, really enlightening. I actually learned a lot. So I really appreciate this. I appreciate you taking the time to educate me and our entire audience. And I have many takeaways from this conversation that I’m for sure are going to take back into my own work, supporting families. Before we wrap up, why don’t you tell everybody where they can find you? Online website, social media, etc?
Jayne Havens: And we’re going to leave all of this information in the show notes. And I think actually Tara has another resource that we’re going to also share there. So thank you so much. for being on today, and I can’t wait to continue these conversations with you and everybody else in our Center for Pediatric Sleep Management community.