When it comes to sleep, we all have the impression that its something that should naturally happen with children. If they sleep, they sleep, if they don’t than they obviously don’t need too. This is simply untrue. Yes, babies and children shouldn’t be “trained” to sleep, they’re not animals or robots, and sleep is something that our brains are hardwired to do. What they need to be is taught how to sleep and, sleep well. Some children “learn’ how to sleep quickly and these parents have never had to struggle to put them to bed and, keep them there. These are the parents who, if you’re experiencing sleep troubles, you envy and hate all at the same time.
I feel like most sleep consultations starts with a parent saying “I know I’m creating bad habits” or “I know I’m doing everything wrong but…” I want to start off by letting all you parents know, YOU’RE NOT DOING ANYTHING WRONG! Babies, children, they don’t come with manuals. I never expect any of the parents I work with to be experts at anything when it comes to raising children, especially sleep. I’m assuming thats why they contacted me in the first place.
Here are a few tips to help everyone get some more shut eye:
1) When working with families to get sleep on track (or back on track) more often than not, parents have a hard time with my encouragement of an early bedtime. I understand thats its really hard to wrap your head around putting your baby or child to bed before the sun even goes down. Trust me, I honestly do get it but it wouldn’t be something that I would ask families unless I knew all the benefits of an earlier bedtime.
Babies and children up to a certain age really have no concept of “time”. Yes, there are times throughout the day which are biologically better for babies and children to be sleeping but when it comes to going to bed, if your child is tired, why do we have this misconception that we need to put them to bed at an hour in which we feel is a “normal bedtime”? Why do we keep pushing them?
We need to understand that our little ones need more sleep than we do. 4 + month old babies can sleep up to 12 hours a night with up to 4 hours of sleep during the day! Babies have so much more going on developmentally than we do as adults. They need that much sleep!
The more we push our kids, the more overtired they can become in turn, making it much more difficult to fall asleep and then stay asleep throughout the night. As I mentioned above, kids don’t really have a concept of time. They don’t know thats its 6PM or 9PM, all they know is that they’re tired. An earlier bedtime will not cause an earlier wake up in the morning. It will actually encourage a later wake up time and a much better quality/restorative of sleep throughout the night.
I know that for many families, an earlier bedtime may not be feasible due to work schedules, etc. I always suggest that on weekends and days where it is possible, don’t hesitate to put them to bed early. While we can’t “catch up on sleep” we can always keep our children better rested when we are able too.
The bottom line, don’t be afraid of an early bedtime! It will not only help your child be better rested, it will help the family as a whole.
2) I understand that crying is hard. It can be heart breaking for any parent/caregiver. I even had a hard time when I know that a child had had a bit of a tough time when I am working with families. I talk about this a lot with my colleagues, friends and peers. When having this discussion with a family therapist one day, she offered me this way of thinking.
“We always look at any emotion other than being happy as a negative emotion. We instinctively want to suppress any “negative” emotion, especially when it comes to our children. I have a lot of parents call me and say “I’ve never let my child cry”
I have learned that we need to let our children ride out the emotion and not feel that how they’re feeling is wrong, no matter the age. We need to acknowledge that feeling whether it be through voice or action. We don’t want to suppress that feeling by stopping them from feeling that way. This is how we help them to develop a sense of self. We are born as a “we” but we want to develop into an “I”. We want to allow her children to cry. We want to allow them to feel sad. Yes they are frightened because they don’t know what is going on. It is OK to feel scared and it is OK to feel sad and we don’t want to stop them from feeling this way even tho society programs us to do so.”
I have found this so helpful when talking about sleep training with families. The baby is going to cry and it’s totally ok! Even super healthy!
Stay strong and be confident no matter what choices you make. You are amazing!
3) You have worked so hard on your child’s sleep. You have a routine down pat, bedtime is a breeze then all the sudden it comes to a screeching halt…O M G! You start questioning yourself. “Was my mother in law right? Was this all just a fluke? Is my perfect sleeper not so perfect after all?!”
Stop yourself right there! Take a very deep breath. It’s going to be okay. This too can be fixed.
Here’s my story.
I have a daughter who just turned 2 this summer. We have encouraged healthy sleep habits since she was 7 months old. For over a year and a half we had a pretty perfect sleeper on our hands. This past summer we travelled around like gypsies. Back and forth from the cottage. Weekend BBQ’s. I was treating the 80/20 rule more like 60/40. September hit and it was back to reality. Or so we thought. We now had a child on a sleep strike. She was so used to her schedule being so inconsistent, her sleep was now inconsistent. Bedtime was a nightmare. The night wakings were unbearable. And naps! Don’t even get me started on naps! When Alanis sang about irony, she should have sang about this. The Sleep Consultants child not sleeping. Here’s what we did. We got back on track. Plain and simple
I knew a lot of what was going on was my fault. I got cocky. Over confident. I had to fix this and fix it ASAP. We started at square 1 and it only got better from there. Now our once perfect sleeper is sleeping again.
When your child gets sick, you go on vacation, their schedule gets thrown off for whatever reason, it’s okay! Life happens! You just need to pull up your pants when its all over, brace yourselves for a few days/nights of work and you too can get back there. There are a few things we just need to keep in mind.
- Are you being consistent? Many families that we have worked with know about our 80/20 rule. As you read above, I wasn’t being consistent with my daughters sleep. When we need to get them back on track after being off track, lets treat the 80/20 rule more like 99.9/.10. We need to stick to our guns and be super consistent until our children are sleeping again
- Is bedtime getting too late? As our children grow, we feel like they need less sleep and are able to stay up later. This isn’t necessarily the truth. Yes, as we grow, we don’t need as much sleep but that doesn’t always mean a later bedtime is the answer. Lets make sure your now ‘non-sleeper’ is hitting the hay at an appropriate time.
- Are you choosing the right method? You need to make sure that the method you have chosen to help your child sleep again is the appropriate method. When we first introduced healthy sleep habit and routine the method we chose doesn’t mean that it will necessarily work now. Make sure that the method is the right one for this age and stage.
Like any bump in the road, this too will iron out. Again, after a few days/nights of work, you too can get back there.