Although I'm not big on suggesting any particular sleep-training method over another for all families, I do strongly believe that being consistent with whatever method you use is essential. This isn't any new, brilliant insight, I know. Many folks out there emphasize this point and most sleep-training "gurus" certainly urge you to use their particular method consistently. But here's the developmental / psychological reasoning behind this advice:
The reason consistency is such a big deal goes back to basic principles of "behavioural" psychology. Over and over, psychologists have discovered that “intermittent” reinforcement (in other words, reinforcing or rewarding a behaviour INCONSISTENTLY) is the BEST way to create a strong behavioural habit. Somewhat counter intuitive, right? You'd think the best way to teach a child (or animals in general) is to CONSISTENTLY reward whatever behaviour you're trying to teach. Nope. Decades of studies with human and non-human animals have shown that inconsistent reinforcement creates even stronger habits than consistently reinforcing a behaviour. So what's happening in a baby's mind if, for example, you sometimes let your baby cry-it-out (when you're at your wit's end and YOU. MUST. TAKE. A. BREAK) and other times you hold her and cuddle her as soon as she starts crying? When there is no predictability to the rewards your baby is receiving (YOU are the reward, BTW), the uncertainty of whether the reward will be coming this time or next keeps the goal of attaining that reward very strongly in the forefront of the baby’s mind. Without any predictable schedule of soothing, the baby may continue to cry longer and longer until she gets you back.
So, whatever sleep-training method (or bedtime routine in general) that you choose, I'd suggest to pick one that you can stick with. Don't try Ferberizing if you know you can't take the crying for more than 2 min. Don't try the more gentle, hushing/patting/rocking-to-dead-sleep methods if you know you will lose your patience and start raging and fuming after 30 min of your baby still being awake. Pick whatever method you personally feel is the right balance between what your baby can take and you can take... And then try to stick to it.
Oh yeah, and if you try something and it turns out you can't be consistent: Chock it up to another parenting lesson and move on. Re-start when you have a better idea of what might fit for your family. Spend no time beating yourself up for any of it.
And lest you imagine that if you're a developmental psychologist you will be a glowing example of consistency... um, not so much. Marc (my husband) and I try, of course. But in some of our darker parenting (and marital) moments, we could be overheard hissing at each other: "That was SUCH intermittent reinforcement!" and something about "Pavlov could have done it better..." Point being, KNOWING about the dangers of inconsistent reinforcement and avoiding it can be 2 very different things. When the boys look at me with those big, insanely sweet eyes and say, "Just ONE more story, mama, only one more quick, fast, short story, pleeeeeeeeeeeeeease?!" Yeah, I cave with the best of them. Last night after the fifth story, I VOWED that we'll stick to the "2 stories before lights out" rule. Let's see how I do tonight.
What about you? What are some of YOUR shining moments of inconsistency?