Crayons, Flower Pots, and Canceled Lunch Dates: How Daily Life Relates to Sleep Training
Yesterday was a really bad day. My daughters Paz (3) and Lennon (2) absolutely broke me. Before I could even open my eyes, I had 499 requests, a hair pulling session, and a very heated argument over a book that hasn't been touched by either of them in probably a year. In other words, a very normal start to the day.
After breakfast, Paz requested the crayons that she had taken off of her the day before for drawing all over the floor. Her big blue eyes were staring straight through my soul as she begged, "Please mama, I just want to practice my name. I promise I will only do it on paper." How do you even say no to that? Not to mention the majority of the time she spells her name P Z A, which absolutely melts my heart. So, against my better judgement, she got the crayons.
Well, I'm sure you can guess what happened. The second I ran upstairs for a phone charger and bathroom break, Paz decided that paper was no longer gonna cut it. Naturally, she chose bongos, a 70 year old cedar chest, and the Peloton to practice her newfound skills on. Why? Just, why?
As I'm scrubbing the house, Lennon comes inside with one of my flower pots. Nicely, I say, "Oh Lennon, that's mama's can I please have it?" In the mind of my fiery two year old, that translated into chuck it out the door so it shatters into a million pieces. Okayyyyy, I guess I'll save the crayon graffiti for later.
The shenanigans went on and on. Just one thing after another, to the point where I got frustrated, yelled (which I hate doing), and canceled our lunch date. And that really sucked because I really wanted to go out to lunch. But, I'm a stickler for following through so we stayed home when deep down I wanted nothing more than to strap them in their car seats and go for a very long ride.
Before I knew it everyone (including me) was crying. As in, blubbering, can't catch your breath, snot running, uggggly crying. It was a really bad day.
Soooooo, what does any of this have to do with sleep training? Actually, a lot!
They're gonna test boundaries
It is natural for kids to test boundaries. In my mind, I knew Paz didn't go drawing all over some of my most favorite things because she knew it would make me mad. I'll be the first to admit, work was taking precedence over both of them that day. I'm sure part of her just wanted to know that I was paying attention to her no matter if that came in the form of a punishment or not.
Kids also want to know where they stand and if you're going to react the same way or differently than you did yesterday. Luckily at this point in my day I hadn't quite made it to the level of irrational parenting and reacted exactly as I did the day before. Which was - no more crayons for the rest of the day. The good news, she can try again tomorrow.
When it comes to sleep kids will test boundaries just like Paz did with her crayons. They're gonna push for one more book, one more song, or one more kiss.
When you're teaching your child to sleep, you have to be the one to set boundaries. Talk to them about what to expect and what's expected of them. When they know what's expected and what your reaction is going to be, they are less likely to test the waters.
Here are some actions you can take
Set timers so they know exactly when bedtime is
Create a routine that is followed consistently among caregivers
Talk about sleep rules every night as part of your routine
You have to follow through and stay consistent
Growing up, if my sister and I were acting up on the way home from somewhere my mom would threaten no ice cream. Except, my mother couldn't resist an ice cream cone on a -10 degree day. We knew we didn't have to stop acting out because we knew it wasn't true. We got ice cream on just about every car ride we ever took rather we were good or bad.
Just like my mom, I threatened Paz and Lennon with no lunch that day. The difference is, I followed through. Which, as I mentioned above, was crap because I really wanted to take them to lunch. But, out of my frustrations, I said we couldn't go so we couldn't go.
Following through and staying consistent are just as critical in sleep as they are in every day life. How can we expect our kids to do what we ask if we're just going to reward them rather they do it or not?
When it comes to sleep training toddlers you have to implement some kind of consequence if they don't stay in bed. And that consequence has to be something you can follow through on.
Here's some tips when it comes to choosing consequences
Make absolutely sure it's something you can follow through on - if you tell them you can't take a walk if they don't stay in bed then you can't go for a walk
Make consequences relatable to the situation - for example, "You kept mommy up all night because you wouldn't stay in bed so now she's too tired to [insert physical activity here]"
Remember this - "Say what you mean, and mean what you say."
You're going to have bad days
In a beautiful world, every child would sleep 12 hours without making a peep, take age appropriate naps, and fall asleep within 5 minutes of lights out every night, and there would be no need for sleep consultants. But let's be real, the child sleep world is messy and less than beautiful. And, I'm sorry to say, the child sleep consulting profession is going nowhere.
You. Are. Going. To. Have. Bad. Days.
I still have bad days. Heck, I still have bad weeks. Weeks that have humbled me and made me think, "How can I get other people's kids to sleep if I can't even get my own kids to sleep?"
Who knows why our kids tend to press our buttons a little more on some days than others. Who knows why some nights our kids are so sweet and crawl into bed with no issues and the next night they are fighting you tooth and nail every step of the way.
Here's the thing, one bad day is not worth figuring out. Sure, if this is a trend and bad days are happening every day then we have work to do. However, if your great sleeper has one sleepless night or a bad nap day, forget about it and try again tomorrow.
Too often I get clients that had a great sleeper with a couple bad nights that spiraled out of control and ended in a "now she's in our bed situation". Don't let that be you.
What can you do for these bad sleep days?
Resist the urge to "fix" things right away
Crying doesn't hurt
The number one fear that parents express to me when considering sleep training is the crying. Trust me, I get it. Nobody wants to hear their baby cry. And, honestly if I got on the phone and you were all bubbly about your kid crying for a large part of the night I would be a little concerned.
There is no doubt about it, sleep consultants have a million and one ways to ease the fear of tears. But the one that always gets me the furthest with clients is this. Think about yourself when you cry. Does it physically hurt? The answer is always no.
That bad day we had ended with all of us crying, but none of us were hurt. It was just our way of dealing with a situation that, frankly, we weren't used to. It only lasted a short time and honestly we all felt better after a good cry, a nap, and some popsicles.
When we start to teach our babies to sleep their situation changes drastically. Crying is often the only way they can express to you that they don't like what's going on. Stay consistent, and those tears will go away in no time.
Remember I'm not here to change your mind, I'm here to help if you need it!
Makenzie Miller, better known as Mak, is a Certified Sleep Consultant through the Family Sleep Institute who is passionate about learning and teaching all things sleep. Along with running her sleep coaching business she also works as a Respiratory Therapist on the transport team in a level 3 NICU in Pittsburgh, PA. Her inspiration to become a sleep coach became clear when she realized that, although leaving the NICU is an amazing step in your journey, it can also be scary and stressful. When you suddenly don't have monitors to watch and a team of medical professionals to ask questions, it can be hard to manage life at home. She is passionate about both her NICU and sleep coaching jobs and is excited to share with parents the ways in which these two worlds collide.