I hope you're ready, because I'm about to get a little bit philosophical on you with this post! For those of you who don't know, my background is in early childhood development and education. Between my degree in elementary education, my training to become a certified infant and child sleep expert, and the knowledge I've acquired as a parent, I think it's safe to say I have quite a grasp on these early years. That's not at all to say it's easy for me, but I am quite familiar with what best practices are when it comes to children ages 0-10.
As a parent, my goal is to raise my boys to be happy, healthy, independent, kind, and responsible individuals. I'm not here to make a bunch of mini-mes, although if my boys were to turn out at all like their father that would be pretty spectacular - he is a wonderful guy! As an educator, I have those same goals for the children in my classroom. As an expert in pediatric sleep, my goals are to help you help your child develop some of these very same attributes...both in general and when it comes to their sleep.
I believe some of the very first steps in reaching these attributes are forming healthy and loving attachments, and then providing plenty of opportunities to form independence from an early age.
To some, those two things together sound a bit contradictory, right? Let me explain:
In order for children to form independence, they must first learn boundaries, and to healthfully explore boundaries, they must first feel safe and loved, which, you guessed it, comes from healthy parental attachment.
In my opinion, healthy parental attachment allows for a child to explore the world around them while simultaneously knowing there is a safe and loving space for them to come back to whenever they need it - their parents' arms.
As a newborn, your baby depends on you for EVERYTHING - nourishment, cleanliness, sleep, and a safe environment. Slowly but surely, each of these develops as your newborn graduates into infancy, infancy into toddlerhood, toddlerhood into early childhood, and early childhood into middle childhood. Obviously this keeps going, but for the sake of this blog post, we will stop there! As a newborn becomes an infant, their stomach grows, allowing for more milk or formula. If bottle feeding, you will notice your little one eventually start to hold the bottle for themself. Solid foods are also introduced. Your baby will start to hold utensils, and the spoon may even make its way into your baby's mouth all being guided by their own chubby little fist. Soon, your toddler goes from the highchair to a booster seat at the table with you. Before you know it, there's no longer a need for the booster seat because your young child is not so short anymore. The milk doesn't even get spilled on a weekly basis like it used to! Just as your little one develops and we foster their independence when it comes to feeding, we must do the same with sleep.
Many parents who reach out to me for help or guidance are unaware that skills around sleep can be taught and reinforced as their child develops, just as we do with food. And it doesn't surprise me; I didn't know you could teach your child independent sleep skills either at first. After all, if you asked me when I was pregnant with my first son, "How will you get your baby to sleep?" my answer simply would have been, "Feed him and rock him, duh!" But I quickly came to find out, that didn't work so well. He would fall asleep, yes, but he certainly wouldn't stay asleep!
The thing with sleep, though, is that it changes as your child grows and develops. Our expectations with sleep changes over time. Even the environment changes over time. And all of these things play a factor when it comes to our sleep. Think of sleep like a puzzle. In order to successfully complete the puzzle, you must fit all of these pieces together in just the right way. And then once you've figured it out, there's a new, more advanced puzzle!
So, how exactly does one solve this sleep-puzzle? When I work with families in a one-on-one coaching situation, I have them fill out a questionnaire giving me as much information as possible. I need to know all about their baby and their family structure to make the best possible plan based on their needs. We look at the whole child as well as the whole family - things like age, stages of development (this can vary so much from baby to baby!), whether or not they were born premature, health and wellbeing, weight, daily schedules, personality and temperament, work schedules, childcare - there really is a lot that goes into it! The good news is, that when we fit all of these pieces together perfectly, a typical baby is able to independently sleep a consolidated 10-12 hours at night, and take quality naps (based on their specific needs) during the day. We work together over the course of a few weeks to accomplish these goals.
Now, I mentioned above about a "new, more advanced puzzle" - this doesn't mean that your child will lose their sleep skills as time goes on. It simply means that as they continue to grow and develop, their sleep needs change, and you may need to tweak schedules, routines, or awake times as your little one demonstrates a need for it, and help them readjust. There are also outside factors that can affect sleep - time changes, traveling, and illness, for example. When we work together, I give you the tools and information you need so you know what to look for moving forward, and can handle your child's sleep confidently.
If you're needing help or guidance with your child's own sleep puzzle, don't hesitate to reach out for help - I'd be honored to help you attain your sleep goals!