Claudine Gillard is Abu Dhabi’s first certified sleep consultant. She chose this career due to her own bedtime experiences with her four-year-old son. She tells us why putting toddlers to bed is no child’s play.
Tell us about how the sleep issues you faced with your son triggered you choosing a career as a sleep consultant?
My son, Joseph, was born in November 2013. Attachment parenting was most aligned to my style of child raising and we co-slept from day one. At first this was the perfect arrangement for my husband, Joseph and me, until he reached four months.
Then we started struggling with lack of sleep. I relied on Google and of course the internet will tell you anything you want to hear, so I believed it to be normal. Fast forward 14 months and there wasn’t even one night where I slept peacefully because he would have a very disturbed sleep pattern and wake up frequently throughout the night. I was like a zombie of my former self and emotionally fragile. It went on until Joseph turned two years and we decided this could not go on any longer.
That’s when you decided to study more about sleep?
Yes. A friend recommended the US-based Sleep Sense programme as she used this successfully with her two children. I googled sleep trainers and found one in Dubai to help us.
Once we sleep trained Joseph, it was like a miracle had happened to our family and I just knew I had to bring this to others. I felt it was my calling. Since there were few in Abu Dhabi doing this at the time, I knew there were lots of families that would benefit from this help. I went to Florida in April 2017 to train under Dana Obleman, the founder of the Sleep Sense Program.
How long did it take you to train?
After a week’s training course in Florida, I had a three-month distance mentorship with Dana and graduated as a Certified Consultant last July.
What are the main techniques you use?
I use a gentle, child-centric, parent-led method that helps families get a good night’s sleep. It is called ‘Gradual Withdrawal’. It does not involve excessive crying or causing the child emotional discomfort. Parents feel confident as they are present during the sleeping time but they reduce their contact over a course of 10 days. The child acquires the skills of self-soothing and self-reliance, giving them the confidence in their own abilities to fall asleep at bed time and to go back to sleep if they wake up in the night.
I create a customised sleep plan for each family; it’s a schedule for 10 days and nights of when to eat and sleep. The plan varies depending on the age and needs of the child or children.
You also visit them at home...
Yes, I visit them at home to outline how they can create an optimal sleep environment and discuss the steps parents need to carry out to ensure they are fully prepared to follow the instructions. I also support them as they implement the plan via telephone calls and messages. The time we usually work together lasts two weeks.
Do you have clients outside Abu Dhabi?
Yes. I do video phone calls for people not based in the capital and have also done phone-only consultations.
How many families’ sleep issues have you helped resolve so far?
I have worked with over 60 families, helping them get the sleep they deserve. My clients range from newborns to 10 years.
Tell us of some of the tricky cases you have handled.
A few parents have told me that their children are untrainable. That’s never the case. Some children will deliberately throw tantrums or do drastic things like induce vomiting just to have their own way at bedtime. Usually such issues take a day or two of training to overcome.
What kind of responses do you get from people you have worked with?
Nothing brings me more joy than receiving the first ‘she/he slept through the night’ message from parents. I look forward to those and it makes me feel this really isn’t a job but a community service for tired parents to get a good night’s sleep.
What are your future plans to help more sleep-deprived parents?
While I would love to continue helping families one to one as much as possible, I also want to increase the opportunities to speak at seminars and conduct workshops to reach a wider audience and spread the word that this service exists for those who are struggling with sleep issues.