One question that I get asked all the time is whether or not I ever come up against a situation where I am not able to get my clients results. Spoiler alert… YES, this happens! When You Can’t Lead Your Clients to Success
On this episode of the Becoming a Sleep Consultant Podcast, I break down when and why this happens, and also how I handle these situations in the moment. I hope you enjoy the show!
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Jayne Havens: One of the questions that I am asked most often, by both graduates of Center for Pediatric Sleep Management but also prospective students who are interested in becoming certified, is If I am ever faced with a situation where I’m not able to help the family, I’m not able to get them results.
And what I will say to answer this question is that when families show up and they are ready to make a change in their household, when they are committed to the process, and when they are able to be coached by me, we are always able to make very significant progress. We are always able to make a major, major change in the way that their child both falls asleep at bedtime and back to sleep in the middle of the night.
Now, of course, sleep is fluid. It’s not robotic. Sometimes kids have long stretches of sleep without interruption. Other nights, they have more wakeful periods. That’s just the reality of the human body. So every single night is not going to look perfect. And I always think it’s important as a sleep consultant that we manage our clients’ expectations around what sleep does look like and what sleep should look like for infants, toddlers, preschoolers, little kids, whoever you’re working with.
What I want to talk about today is not sort of the stuff that comes up because babies aren’t robots. What I want to talk about today is the stuff that comes up when parents are not committed to the process. When parents hire you as their sleep consultant, and then they just don’t do the work.
Because that happens sometimes. It actually just happened to me recently. And when it does happen, it’s very frustrating. Because I feel terrible. This family paid me a lot of money, and they were expecting really great results. I think in their minds, part of them, I think they sort of thought, “If we just hire a sleep consultant, this will all get better.”
But the reality of the situation is that paying for a sleep consultant doesn’t change your circumstances. In addition to paying a sleep consultant, you also have to change the way that you are handling both bedtime and night wakings. You have to shift your mindset around your child’s frustration that they may be expressing or experiencing, both at the start of the night and throughout the middle of the night. And really, you have to be committed to making a change so that everybody’s sleep can improve.
This family that I just wrapped up with, they were entirely uncommitted to the process. This was a little three-year-old boy who was still in a crib, and he was being rocked to sleep at bedtime. He was being rocked back to sleep in the middle of the night. And if his dad was not able to rock him back to sleep in the middle of the night, they would go downstairs and drink milk and watch TV until he was tired enough to go back upstairs and then be rocked back to sleep and put into his crib until the next night waking.
Of course, this wasn’t sustainable. They so desperately wanted to have a child that would just go to sleep peacefully and confidently in sleep all night. But when it came time to actually doing the work to make the changes that were required to see the results that they were looking for, they just weren’t committed to the process.
One of the things that I tell all parents to do with their toddlers, preschoolers, big kids, is to turn off all screens. No TV not before bedtime, not in the middle of the day, and not early in the morning. No screens until sleep is resolved. The reason for why I suggest this is because I think TV is a major motivator for kids.
Frankly, all kids can stand to watch a little bit less TV, right? And so I like to tell parents that it’s a really good idea to just eliminate screen time until their child is sleeping all night without any struggle. This will motivate both the child and the parent. Because parents are very, very reliant on the screen so that they can have some peace and quiet themselves, right? So when you remove screens, the kids are incentivized to start sleeping better. Also, the parents are incentivized to do the work. Because they want the screens back so that their kids can watch some TV, and they can get a break. This is one of my favorite tools.
Most of the parents that I work with push back on this. They don’t want to take away the screens because it feels too hard. But it’s those parents who don’t want to take away the screens who are in most need of a screen-free week or two. This family that I was working with was unwilling to turn off the TV. They were unwilling to put the iPad on a high shelf.
The plan was to implement the chair method where we were going to, instead of rocking him to sleep, we’re just going to sit beside his crib. Maybe rub his back a little bit, provide some words of calm and reassurance, and slowly pull back the support, moving the chair from his crib to the middle of the room, to the doorway, out into the hall, and implementing that same strategy in the middle of the night.
With this family, they were implementing the chair method at bedtime, for the most part. They were moving a lot slower than what I would have liked them to do, but that’s okay. I’m willing to work at a family’s pace. If they want to move slower, I fully support that. As long as we’re moving, that’s totally okay.
The problem was, in the middle of the night, this little boy would wake up. When he didn’t want to go back to sleep with dad sitting in the chair, he would start screaming for milk or TV. Dad was taking him down to the living room for milk and TV in the middle of the night. And here I was, as their sleep coach, doing everything I possibly could to remind them that this was their moment. This was their chance to make a change. I reminded them that when your three-year-old is in charge of what sleep looks like in your home, usually, that doesn’t go very well.
Sleep is something that parents should be in charge of. Just like parents choose where their children go to school or who their nanny is for their family, they should be choosing what sleep looks like for their family. It’s an adult decision, if you ask me. I did everything I could to help this family realize that their child making the decisions in the middle of the night around what sleep looked like was not beneficial for their family, but they just couldn’t hold the line.
It just felt too hard for them in the middle of the night. I get it, and I did everything possible that I absolutely could to help them realize that just a few nights of holding these loving limits and respectful boundaries, and their child would be sleeping. I was confident that we could get it done. But I couldn’t get it done if dad was offering milk and TV in the middle of the night, right? And so the end of our two weeks came up. We just didn’t get it done.
Frankly, in these situations when parents are not having success, a lot of the time, if I feel like the parents are doing everything possible, that they’re really following the plan, they’re really committed but progress is just slower than what I typically see, I will be more than generous with my time. I’ll give them an extra week. I won’t charge them. I’ll stick around. I will help them to get to the finish line. But with this family, they just weren’t doing the work. They were doing their own thing. Every single night looked a little bit different. And come the end of the two weeks, I just had to love and release them. I had to say goodbye.
What I did was, I focused on the positive. Because they did make some positive changes, especially around bedtime. This little boy was used to being rocked to sleep in a rocking chair, and now he was falling asleep — by the end of our two weeks, he was falling asleep with mom and dad at the doorway, I think. They weren’t even out of his sight. But they were close. That was a huge change. That felt like a major shift for them.
So when we wrapped up, I highlighted the positives. I reminded them of all of the progress that they had made, and I wished them well. I told them that what I thought they should do is to spend a week or two on their own, and try to move the needle at a pace that felt safe and comfortable for them. And if and when they felt that they would benefit from my support again, I would be more than happy to do another week or two with them. This just wrapped up a week ago about. I don’t anticipate that they are going to reach back out for additional support. That’s okay. We ended on good terms.
I don’t think that they are mad at me or disappointed in the support that I provided. I think that they know that the reason that they didn’t get results is because they didn’t follow the plan. Sometimes that happens. And you know what? I always remind myself that you can go to the best restaurant and get a raw steak. It happens sometimes. Sometimes, not every meal is perfect. Not every event that you go to is perfect. Not every service that you were offered is perfect.
And really, I don’t know that I could have done anything better. I do think that I did my job to the best of my ability, but maybe it just wasn’t a great fit personality-wise. Maybe they would have benefited from a coach who was more prepared to work on a more long-term basis. Maybe they need support for months rather than just two weeks. But it wrapped up. Everybody said their goodbyes and thank you’s, and it’s okay. It’s okay. I did my job. They did theirs to the best of their ability. And it just is what it is. I think, a couple of years ago, I probably would have been really beat up about it. I would have been really upset. I would have felt like a failure.
Now with a lot of experience and thicker skin, this stuff just doesn’t really get to me the way that it used to. They were loved and released. I still sent them a thank you gift and a note in the mail, because why not? So I sent their son some PJs and a handwritten thank you note. They emailed me to thank me, and they said it was such a nice gesture. And that was that. Not every case is a slam dunk. You don’t win every game. You don’t always bat a thousand. That’s okay.
So I wanted to share with you today a circumstance that’s not all puppies and rainbows. Sometimes our work is tricky, and emotionally complex, and heavy. And that is okay, onwards and upwards. Moving on, I actually have been working with so many toddlers and preschoolers recently. I’ve had so many amazing success stories. And really, in my mind, day to day, I like to focus on the positives and I like to really pour my heart and soul into the cases where families are committed and ready to make a change. Because when they are, we see success every single time. So I hope you enjoyed this little story. I will be back next week to share something else. Who knows what?
Outro: Thank you so much for listening to this episode of the Becoming a Sleep Consultant Podcast. If you enjoyed today’s episode, it would mean so much to me if you would rate, review, and subscribe. When you rate, review, and subscribe, this helps the podcast reach a greater audience. I am so grateful for your support.
If you would like to learn more about how you can become a certified sleep consultant, head over to my Facebook Group, Becoming a Sleep Consultant or to my website thecpsm.com. Thanks so much, and I hope you will tune in for the next episode.