The Extinction Burst
Picture this. You are 5 days into sleep training your baby and things are going amazingly. Sure, the first few days were tough but then he started to get it and you started seeing things improve. Then all of a sudden, your baby starts waking up at all hours of the night, resisting bedtime, resisting naps. The crying escalates to screaming like you’ve never heard before and you are left wondering ‘what on earth just happened’? Things were going so well so why is your baby seemingly regressing and fighting all of your sleep training efforts? This is often a point where parents call it quits because they think there’s no way sleep training is working.
So what is an extinction burst?
What if I was to tell you it’s a completely normal part of sleep training? We call it an ‘extinction burst’. An extinction burst happens anytime you stop reinforcing a behavior (feeding to sleep, climbing into your bed at night, etc.). Before, all your child had to do was cry or throw a tantrum and they got exactly what they wanted. Then you, the parent, stopped responding the way they are used to. Now they start to realize that their normal behavior doesn’t seem to be working so they figure they’ll amp things up to try and get the response from you that they want. Suddenly, everything gets way worse. Good news is that it’s temporary. The bad news is that this won’t be the last time you’ll see an extinction burst. Anytime you try to remove an unwanted behavior, your child will react. That time that you tell them no to the cookie that they usually get at the grocery store and now come to expect every time you go into said store….they will throw a tantrum in the hopes that you will give in and give them that cookie.
What can you do about it?
Extinction bursts can be confusing and discouraging but they are very normal from a developmental point of view. Keep in mind that the extinction burst lasts for a very short period of time and parents just need to power through. Your child will know that you mean business when you don’t go back to responding the way they are used to. Remember that every child and situation is different so this may look different for each family but will often occur within the first week and last anywhere from 3-5 days. Giving in will only create setbacks and cause more trouble down the line.
So parents, hang in there! It will pass.