Will sleep training make my baby Inflexible

Will sleep training make my baby Inflexible

I decided to write this article because, in some way, I feel guilty. Guilty for all those parents who, once their child’s naps and night sleep have dramatically improved, decide to give up any sorts of social obligations so that they won’t risk losing the enormous progress they finally have achieved.

What I always say to all my clients (and to friends who, from time to time, ask me for some “expert advice”) is that “the exception proves the rule”!

Yes, sleep training means adhering – at least for a few weeks – to a rather strict schedule as this will make it easier for your child to learn their new sleep skills by creating an ideal sleep pressure. In fact, it would be counterproductive to try to teach your kid to fall asleep independently and peacefully for a nap with the knowledge that they have just fallen asleep in the car (even if only for a few minutes). And that is the reason why, when you decide the time has come for you to sleep train your baby, it would be good to make sure that there are no situations that might prevent the family from following a daily routine to support the process.

However, once your child starts to show a certain consistency with their sleep (both during the day and at night), it is totally possible to deviate from the norm from time to time without compromising the new healthy habits that you have established with commitment and effort.

You are probably wondering what does “from time to time” mean? Well, I want to give you some concrete examples of how you can adopt greater flexibility without blowing everything up.

Let’s say your baby has a doctor’s appointment on a Tuesday morning at the exact time where they usually take a nap. And on that day, of course, having your baby checked is the priority! They can sleep on the way to the doctor’s office (in the car or in the stroller, both of which usually make it easier for children to fall asleep) or right after the appointment and make up for any “lost sleep” with the next nap that you can offer at home in their usual sleep environment. If you have a newborn of just a few months, it is very likely that this will only happen once a week and that the remaining 6 days will be consistent enough so as not to throw anything out of whack.

Let’s assume instead that you have an older child, 2 or 3 years old, and that you are planning a trip out of town during the weekend. I absolutely do not want you to give up a nice family experience out of fear of going backwards with your child’s sleep! All you need to do is stick to some basic rules, like avoiding bed sharing – if possible – or delaying bedtime too much at night and this will be enough for your little one to go back on track in no time once you get home.

I am not saying that you must plan hectic weekends all the time or live your days without any structure. Having routines in place allows babies, toddlers, and preschoolers to internalize the pattern of the day and reduces the stress associated with not knowing what will happen. Being able to predict what will happen in the future reassures both our little ones and – let’s face it – ourselves! At the same time, kids modulate their emotions by mirroring the attitude of their parents. If we show our children that we are unable to manage the unexpected or that we can’t handle change, we will only teach them to do the same.

To sum up, it’s not sleep training that makes our kids inflexible. But, for us parents who have gone from total sleep deprivation to an ideal situation where the whole family finally gets the much-needed rest, it is totally normal to feel anxious or scared whenever we feel like something might negatively impact our new reality. Still, what would life be like if we just had to stick to the rules?

My advice? Go for an “80% rules 20% exceptions” approach. This will allow you not to lose the amazing results that you have achieved with consistency, patience, and perseverance, but will also leave space for you to enjoy your social commitments without the fear of throwing everything upside down.


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