With so much information on the internet and advice from well-meaning friends and family, it can be really challenging to know where to start when it comes to supporting your child’s sleep. The difficulty is, in part, down to conflicting information and research and also because your child is unique: they don’t fit neatly into a ‘box’. What helps one child can be completely different to another and often parents approach me and say, “We did X with our first child and we are doing exactly the same with our youngest and it just doesn’t work!’
The stress and pressure parents can put themselves under when it comes to their child’s sleep can also be overwhelming. I see parents mentally, physically and emotionally drained and relationships between partners can become strained.
Now, don’t get me wrong, there is no magic pill I can give you. I can’t wave a magic wand (even though I would like to) but I can point you in the right direction when it comes to establishing positive foundations and set you on your way.
First of all, it is important to reflect on your own personal values and parenting style. What sits comfortably with you? We need to consider your child’s age, development, health considerations, temperament and personality before making changes. It is also important we ‘normalise sleep’. It is easy to have unrealistic expectations. The amount of sleep a child needs really does vary so we have to look at other cues and clues to find out what is appropriate for each individual child.
Parents are often, if unsurprisingly, anxious about starting ‘sleep training’. It gives the impression we are ‘training’ our children in the same way me might train a pet. ‘Training’ often suggests ‘rewards’ and ‘punishment’. However, if we instead see it as ‘sleep shaping’ this suggests gentle guidance, support and a more holistic or natural view.
It is important to understand there really isn’t a right or wrong approach when it comes to introducing sleep techniques. There will be approaches which fit one family but do not suit another. Making changes and bringing in new habits can be really challenging. We all like to stick to what we know and that is no different for babies and children. Habits are quickly engrained for both the young and adults which is why of course there can be some tears. However, learning how to be responsive to your child when they are unsure or upset, rather than being reactive, is a great first step. With responsive approaches, your baby or child won’t be left alone to tire themselves out from crying. They won’t be ignored, they will instead be supported in a way which matches their needs at any given time.
When I support families, the first thing we discuss is not the ‘techniques’. Of course, we will look at these at some stage, but not straight away. Instead, we first of all look at the bigger picture and what other factors impact sleep. As I have previously mentioned, understanding what is ‘normal’ is really important. It can help to understand the hormones that influence sleep, how much physical exercise your child needs and what exposure to natural light supports sleep. We also review the child’s diet, the environment they are growing up in and healthy routines. These all provide initial foundations for healthy sleep.
If you would like to know more and get help to take you through the first steps in understanding how to optimize your child’s sleep, I am running a Live Webinar called Back to Basics on Zoom. The next session will run on Tuesday, 11th July from 2-3pm and will be repeated live at 8-9pm on the same day. Tickets are £10.