ambridge Paediatric Sleep consultant Isabelle Edmondson is sharing with the sleep lovers her best tips to parent good sleepers.
From passive smilers to active explorers, to toddlers and beyond, our children pass through a myriad of development changes. The changes can be small, big, unnoticed or apparent to all. When parents come to me to help them with the sleep of their children, the first thing I explain is: “I am a fervent believer that when a child’s needs are being respected, everything else falls into place, including sleep”.
The difficulty lays in the fact that there is a wide array of needs to be considered: Physical, emotional, socio-cognitive and medical to list a few and they evolve constantly (but not linearly) with age. The good news is, there are five elements that will support your child’s development in general and good sleeping habits in particular. These five pillars to parent Good Sleepers can be incorporated in your care from day one until the day your child leaves home.
know it sounds rather basic, but love is THE most important pillar of all.
Without love and respect, there can be no secure parental attachment. Without a secure parental attachment, a child cannot develop confidence. Without confidence, a child cannot surpass herself to learn new skills and develop her own internal resources. Finally, without internal resources, a child cannot build the one element that all beings need to cope with new situations and learn from them: Resilience.
WARNING: As our children grow, the way to build and safeguard a secure parental attachment evolves greatly and quicker than a lot of parents anticipate. When a toddler is parented like a new-born (constantly placated) or when a pre-schooler is parented like a teenager (relying on complex reasoning), their needs aren’t met.
A new-born “loving” tip: For the first two months, babies are only able to perform the most basic of survival functions, but they are (from day one until puberty) emotional sponges. They line up to their main carer’s nervous system. When awake, breathe deeply and regularly to regulate your own nervous system, and sleep when your baby sleeps.
eing consistent in your parenting approach will bring a great element of security to your child. Consistency is necessary in all aspects of care. For babies: Hugging, holding, feeding, sleeping, cleaning, speaking with infant directed tone (Motherese)… And for bigger children: Setting boundaries, showing example, communicating clear expectations, keeping to your words etc… Babies learn very quickly that different parents will foster different caring techniques. Parents of the same child can be different and consistent. However, when dealing with restoring good sleeping habits, it is preferable if all adults looking after the same child can line up their parenting approach. A stable and consistent family dynamic certainly increases a child’s sense of security.
Warning: Babies have no concept of time passing or contextual decisions. They live in the moment and are unable to implement any reasoning. When a baby needs to sleep, she needs to sleep. If grandparents have come to visit and you feel the need to keep your little one awake to entertain the visitors, you are being inconsistent and disrespectful of her developing body clock.
A new-born Consistency tip: Being consistent with a new-born does not mean being rigid. It is quite the opposite. It means being acutely aware of your baby’s needs and responding to them as soon as you possibly can. If she is hungry, feed her. If her nervous system is overloaded, keep her away from the loud noise and throbbing lights of the shopping centre. If she is tired, don’t jiggle her about.
aired with consistency, perseverance brings an element of durable continuity to your parenting. When a child needs to learn a new skill, whether it is a physical skill like lying down in her cot from the standing position, or a social skill like going to bed willingly, she needs to go through a series of “practice/learn/practice/fail” cycles until she can eventually master it and perform it consistently. If the parents change their guidance or directives too often, the child loses her points of references. She will no longer recognise any predictability in her surrounding care and her need for consistency won’t be met.
Warning: Some babies can learn to fall asleep independently right from the new-born stage, but that period of their life is not the right time to actively teach them independent sleeping if it doesn’t come naturally. Some babies will be more relaxed than others and learn more easily. When parenting a new-born, it is more a question of recognising learning opportunities and taking advantage of them as often as possible.
A new-born perseverance tip: During the first 8 weeks of her life, a baby transitions and gets used to the outside world. It takes time to adjust. The element of perseverance during those first 8 weeks should be directed from the parents onto themselves like perseverance in being loving, trusting, and patient, which is not the ability to wait but the ability to keep a good attitude whilst waiting.
onfidence is to a family what gravity is to a galaxy: an omnipresent force that affects all matter and keeps it in balance. Any change in a parent’s confidence level is directly and proportionally reflected on the whole family dynamic. Therefore, regardless of what you may read in a book or on the internet about parenting, hear from a friend, a family member, or a professional, you should never try to modify a parenting approach unless you feel confident about it. You can be the most caring and willing parent in the world, if your approach to dealing with your children is not grounded in a solid foundation of confidence, the results of your efforts may be short-lived and unsustainable.
Warning: Confidence is a feeling, not an attitude. Confidence is visible from the outside, but it is solely an internal job. Confidence is a feeling of self-assurance arising from the appreciation of your own abilities. It is an inner strength and can only be born from an honest aplomb.
A new-born confidence tip: Your home, your castle. The arrival of a baby in a family is big deal, and often an overwhelming one. Well-meaning family members and friends may be full of advice. Don’t feel pressured to implement them. If an advice doesn’t line up with your values or your instinct, there is probably a good reason for it. Listen carefully to your intuition and be honest with yourself, confidence will ensue naturally.
y trust, I mean trust in its simplest form: Trusting your baby to live and trusting your instincts to help you make the right decisions.
It sounds like a simple concept, but that trust isn’t accessible to every parent: When the conception, pregnancy or birth of a child have been straight forward, the emotional baggage resting on the parents’ shoulders is minimal or at least not aggravated. Those parents are more readily able to trust their baby, themselves and their intuitions. This is not the case for parents who are naturally insecure or who have endured traumatic experiences during either conception (miscarriages, lengthy, delayed and /or assisted conception, unwelcomed conception ), pregnancy (worries over foetal development or medical complications), birth (emergency procedures of any kind, lengthy delivery) or the post-partum phase (discovery of unexpected health conditions or defects, development difficulties etc ).
Warning: Traumatic experiences can bring strong emotions such as fear, anxiety, resentment and disappointment. These natural but unwelcome emotions can soon generate two of the most counter productive feelings: Self-doubt and guilt.
A new-born trust tip: Whatever ordeal you have had to endure, your story belongs to you and not to your child. It is not the place of a child to carry her parents’ traumatic past on her shoulders. Just be aware it so that as your baby grows, you don’t overcompensate by mollycoddling her in times when your insecurities, fears or guilt resurface.
Over the days, weeks, months and years of your child’s development, these five pillars in parenting will take different shapes, vary in colour and importance, but they will all remain crucial supports in your child’s progress, throughout childhood and into adulthood: Love, Consistency, Perseverance, Confidence and Trust.
Isabelle Edmondson from goodsleepers.co.uk