Coping with Extinction Bursts: A Guide for Parents

May 16, 2023

coping with extinction bursts while sleep training; baby crying in a crib

If you’re a parent struggling with your little one’s sleep issues, you’re not alone. Many parents face difficulty getting their babies to sleep through the night. If you’re considering sleep training, preparing yourself for the possibility of an extinction burst is essential.

What is an Extinction Burst?

An extinction burst is an increase in the frequency, duration, or intensity of behavior targeted for elimination after removing or withdrawing reinforcement that previously maintained the behavior (whew, that was a mouthful). In other words, when a behavior is no longer reinforced, a child may initially exhibit an increase in that behavior before it eventually decreases. Extinction bursts are a common phenomenon that can occur during sleep training, potty training, and behavior modification training. While it can be challenging to endure, it’s essential to remain consistent in expectation and method of change, and eventually, the behavior should dissipate.

Why do Extinction Bursts Happen?

All humans experience extinction bursts when changes are made to everyday behaviors or expectations.  For example, when starting a new exercise routine or making healthy food changes, during the first week or two, there will be particularly tough days where all we want to do is go back to how things used to be. 

During sleep training, your baby might cry more intensely and for longer when you remove their usual sleep aids, such as rocking or nursing. If you stick to your new routine and don’t give in, your baby will eventually learn to fall asleep independently. Yep, that’s right… consistency for the win.

What to do when an extinction burst occurs

It’s important to note that extinction bursts are a normal part of a baby’s development and don’t indicate something is wrong. To cope with bedtime extinction bursts, consistency is key. When you change your baby’s sleep routine, stick to it and don’t give in to their protests. And don’t go back to doing all the work to get them to sleep. 

Trust your instincts and consult your pediatrician if you’re unsure whether your baby is seeking attention or genuinely upset. Remember, every baby is different, and what works for one might not work for another. Be patient and stay consistent in your efforts; your little one will learn to sleep through the night in no time.

Remain Calm and Carry on during extinction bursts.

Change is hard; I get it.  And this isn’t going to be easy.  The increased intensity of your baby’s protest will sometimes be overwhelming and stressful.   This is why it is important to remain calm and consistent.  Ensure you have a support team on hand and include your partner in making the necessary changes.  Sometimes having another person close by to offer some silent support and positive energy is immensely helpful. Another avenue of support would be to work with a pediatric sleep professional (such as myself) to provide you with helpful education and valuable guidance.  Being able to support families is an absolute joy for me. 

If the idea of handling a possible extinction burst is too much for you to deal with alone, I am here for you.  Please book a free call or Zoom with me to discuss your challenges and to see how we can meet your goals for your little one’s sleep in a supportive and compassionate way.  

Hey there!  I’m Jenn, a Certified Sleep Sense Pediatric Consultant and certified parenting coach.  I’ve been changing lives for the better for over 10 years and also am a mommy who has been in the depths of despair when my girls weren’t sleeping.  I get it! You’re tired, frustrated, overwhelmed and maybe feeling like you are alone in all of this. Please know you are not.  Let me be your village. I’m ready and able to educate you and support you.  Schedule a call with me today.

Are you ready to get off the Crazy Train and have the whole family sleeping better? Follow the link below to schedule your complimentary consultation with Jennifer today!

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