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Does your parenting style impact your child’s sleep?

Updated: Nov 6, 2023

If you’ve been a parent for a hot minute, I bet you’ve heard the terms, “attachment parenting,” “gentle parenting,” “respectful parenting,” and/or “responsive parenting.” Do the names Drs. William and Martha Sears ring a bell? Janet Lansbury? Daniel Siegel?

There’s a whole slew of terms out there that many different kinds of parents may consider themselves. These parenting styles (and probably more that I or you have never even heard of) are more fads than are actually rooted in research.

Do I love a lot of what respectful parenting guru Janet Lansbury suggests?? YES! I love the overall idea of respectful parenting, but also, some of it does seem a little out there. Like, if my child clearly needs to take a bath (I have toddler boys - they get very dirty, very often), I’m not going to ask them, “Can I give you a bath tonight?” Instead, I’m going to ask them, “Would you like to take your bath with a bath bomb or with bath crayons?” This is really a non-negotiable in my house. And also, taking a bath nightly helps with their sleep…which you know I’m all about!

Not to say that these fad styles are “bad” - just that we don’t necessarily know the outcomes of them. How will children parented in these ways turn out?? It’s simply something to be mindful of, especially if you think you really align with any of these parenting styles!

But did you know that there are actually some parenting styles that are truly rooted in research and are recognized and accepted by child development researchers and practitioners??

Those are the ones we’re going to focus on in this post.

Evidence-Based Parenting Styles

There are four main evidence-based parenting styles, and they are categorized on two things: boundaries and warmth.

Check out the four evidence-based parenting styles below:

  • Authoritative Parenting - lots of boundaries, lots of warmth

  • Authoritarian Parenting - lots of boundaries, little warmth

  • Permissive Parenting - few boundaries, lots of warmth

  • Neglectful Parenting - few boundaries, little warmth

Using my bath time example from above, here’s what that might look like across the different parenting styles:

In the authoritative style of parenting, a parent may negotiate with the child, but still hold the boundary that a bath will be taken tonight, even in a gentle way. Perhaps they’ll agree to a snack in the bathtub (I’ve been known to give a yogurt stick in the tub or a popsicle after a hot day!) or give the child a choice of showering instead.

A parent who aligns more with authoritarian parenting may simply put the child in the tub, even with the child protesting. They may take it upon themselves to wash the child without having them participate, rinse without warning, and remove from the tub. The child is likely protesting most of the time.

The permissive parent, upon hearing that their child doesn’t want to take a bath, may let it slide, saying something like, “Okay, as long as you wash your hands and your face.”

And, a neglectful parent would definitely let it slide and probably wouldn’t follow up with any direction or interaction.

Can you guess, based on these examples, which evidence-based parenting is the most effective at positive child development outcomes?

Authoritative parenting is shown to have the most successful child development outcomes.

However, you may be identifying with a more permissive parenting style, or some days are more authoritarian. I’M THE SAME WAY. It’s okay to not be 100% one way or another. We’re human. And if you’re a mom, you’re probably tired, too.

I just want to help give you tools for how to be the best parent to your child, especially when it comes to their sleep. So, keep reading for more actionable steps you can take to become more authoritative when it comes to your child.

Child Outcomes from Authoritative Parenting

In their article For Parents Particularly: Raising Competent Kids: The Authoritative Parenting Style, published in Childhood Education in 2001, professors Helen Altman Klein and Jeanna Ballantine write that

“Authoritative parenting without physical punishment produces the most positive results and the fewest problems for children in today’s world. Children who have been raised in authoritative homes score higher on a variety of measures of competence, social development, self-perceptions, and mental health than those raised in authoritarian, permissive, or neglectful homes. This is true not only in childhood but also in adolescence, as evidenced by higher academic achievement and psychosocial development, and fewer behavioral problems.”

So, have you identified your parenting style yet?

Maybe you’re like, “Yes. This is me!” Or you’ve figured out that you align with one you’re not too keen about. Maybe you want to focus on being a little warmer or having more boundaries for your child. Now that you know this will serve them better, why not focus on making some changes?!

For me, making changes to our household sleep habits was a start. When we were all sleeping better, I could focus more on being the kind of parent I truly wanted to be, and not just react or let it go because I was drained.

In the words of the great Maya Angelou, whom I end up quoting a lot, “When you know better, you do better.”

Authoritative Parenting Goals

If you’re wanting to make some changes, start by identifying yourself as an authoritative parent. Often, this change in mindset alone will help you align with the behaviors of someone who practices authoritative parenting.

Then, let’s dig into boundaries and warmth a bit more.

Think of boundaries as expectations for your child. They must know what’s expected of them. And the key to providing a boundary around the expectation is actually following through and holding them to that expectation. This builds trust and security.

Using schedules and routines also provides these expectations and some predictability…other indicators that your child can trust you and feel safe knowing what’s coming next or what’s expected of them.

If you’re not already, build in routines throughout your child’s day. What are the first few things they do when they wake up? What about transitioning out of the house? Getting back into the house? Bathrooming routines? Nap and bedtime routines?

When you think of discipline, think of teaching - teaching the right way to do things. Natural consequences are a beautiful thing. Your child doesn’t want to sleep in their bed tonight? Fine. They can sleep on the floor! I promise their hips won’t burn the next day as yours would. Eventually, they’ll learn that their bed is a much comfier and cozier option.

Remember, if the main goal here is for them to sleep in their room, sleeping on the floor can be a small win. They’re in their room, right?! Great job! That’s the first step. In this situation, I might be thinking, I don’t care where you do it - I’ve provided you with a nice bed, blankets, and pillows, an age-appropriate schedule, plenty of love and connection today, and healthy hygiene around sleep - now it’s your job to go to sleep!

What about the warmth aspect? Essentially, this is how you respond to your child. Are you calm and caring? Respectful? Or do you yell and get upset? At times, we all do! It’s a matter of recentering yourself and reminding yourself that you are, in fact, an authoritative parent, remember?!

Think of your child as a teammate. You need to work together to attain your goals. If they’re old enough, come up with possible solutions together to solve any problems that arise. If they’re younger (say, toddler through early childhood), give them choices so they feel some control in solving the problem. And if they’re a baby, just take care of them as they need you to - think of yourself more as the coach in this situation than the actual teammate.

Back to the whole teammate thing…really only use this idea when working to solve or respond to a problem – do not act as a teammate when it comes to holding boundaries. That’s for sure where you need to be the coach.

The best way to hold a boundary with your child is to do so calmly and confidently, leading them to what’s best for them in a loving and respectful way.

There’s a whole lot more I could get into, but I’d like to focus more on sleep now.

Helping Your Child Sleep Better (in an Authoritative Way)

I had already mentioned the power of using routines and schedules, so if you’re not already doing that, start today!

Read more about routines:

I have a ton of content on routines because, truly, they are that important in setting your child up for sleep success.

Another thing to keep in mind regarding your child’s sleep is that it’s your job to offer sleep at an appropriate time, and it's up to your child whether or not they take it.

Children aren’t robots. Sometimes kids won’t nap. Sometimes they won’t go to bed right away. It’s okay!

The above are all part of the boundaries. But what about the warmth?

Authoritative parents are responsive. So, if their child cries out during the night, they’ll pause and listen. Identify what could possibly be the cause:

  • Are they waking from habit?

  • Is it hunger? When did they last eat? Was it a full feeding?

  • Are they not feeling well?

  • Do they just need a gentle touch, a reminder that mom or dad is nearby?

Then, they meet that need and respond appropriately.

In the case of sleep training, having a consistent response teaches the child that the responsibility of sleep is now theirs and not their parents. This is not bad; it’s simply a new boundary.

During the authoritative parent bedtime routine, there is lots of time for connection. Cuddles while reading books, hugs, and affection. They share with their child how much they love them and put them into their bed with a smile on their face and a heart full of love until they get poured into again the next day.

Sounds pretty great, right?! That’s because it is!

If you resonate with this post, I know you’ll love working with any of the consultants on the Lake Country Sleep team. Learn more about us here.

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