If you have been following me for some time, you will know that I am always talking about consistency. For good reason, though! Consistency is crucial to see sleep success. If we are not consistent in our approach, we will not see improvement. When we don’t see improvement, we become easily frustrated or discouraged and throw in the towel thinking we have a little one who is just incapable of healthy sleep habits.
All children are capable of healthy sleep habits, but we have to remember that sleep is a learned skill. Just like learning to walk, riding a bike, or reading, babies need to learn the skill of sleeping independently. As parents, we play a pivotal role in our child’s ability to learn sleep skills- as long as we are consistent, they will learn!
What role does consistency play?
Our children rely on us to be consistent. They learn through consistency- when this happens, this happens next. Children thrive on predictability so knowing that if they do something, mom or dad will react in a certain way and this is reassuring for them.
We know we need limits and to be consistent, we know how important these things are, but yet sometimes we struggle with them just the same. Setting and sticking to clear limits and expectations at bedtime and then consistently responding (or not, depending on your chosen sleep training method) can mean the difference between a 2-hour bedtime battle with our little ones or them settling off to sleep, independently, within a few minutes after a nice calming routine you completed together.
For many of us, settling limits is easy during the day, but when it is bedtime, that is a different story. We do whatever it takes because we are exhausted and just want our little ones to go to sleep! We give in to “just one more hug”, “just one more drink”, or “just one more story” for countless reasons.
Some of us feel guilt, “maybe I didn’t hug him enough today!?”, “maybe he really is thirsty, I can’t sleep when I am thirsty!”, “they do say I should be sure to read to him every day, I hope I am doing it enough!?”. We all know we love an excuse for more hugs and more precious moments with our littles!
Whatever the case may be, it is crucial for us to set clear expectations and limits when it comes to sleep. If we do not follow through with these limits, we are not being fair to our children. Our children learn best when our actions and responses are always clear and predictable.
Why do our children thrive on consistency and clear limits?
The reason for this is actually due to brain development. Babies and children operate using their “lower” or “limbic” area of their brain. This area is responsible for survival, memory, fight or flight response, emotions, etc. This is not the area of the brain that is responsible for reason, impulse control or emotional regulation- these things happen in the prefrontal cortex (the “upper” brain) which, on average, does not develop until around age 7. This is important to know because when we are inconsistent in our response, attempting different sleep training methods, setting limits but not following through, etc. our children are unable to reason through this. Their brains are simply not capable.
When we are not consistent, our child feels uncertain, anxious and out of control.
How does this apply to sleep?
In order to feel calm and secure, our children need a predictable soothing routine, one that is clear, concise and does not change. Then, our little ones need us to set clear limits and expectations and follow through with them. When we have successfully done these things and then allowed them time and space to learn, they develop healthy sleep habits.
Be there for them, respond consistently, be the calm to their chaos.