By Expert Contributor Katie Kovaleski
Most sleep problems are like little silent ninjas, they sneak up on you in the night and before you know it, you wake up and realize your child’s sleep has totally fallen apart. But the truth is, it’s an abundance of obvious changes that are typically the culprit, slowly wearing down routine and structure in favor of quick fixes.
Those quick fixes can end up spiraling and creating all sorts of spin off sleep issues.
The Science of Mom blog offers a great personal account of the breakdown of one mom’s child’s sleep. In her blog entry, How My 3-Year-Old’s Sleep Fell Apart, she details all of the factors that had slowly broken down, creating a messy sleep debt for her previously amazing sleeper.
She also references an ongoing study by Dr. Douglas Teti of Penn State and the research he is currently doing on the “study of infant sleep and how it relates to child development, parenting, and family dynamics.” (ScienceOfMom.com, 2014) While his research has not yet been published, (and boy are we excited for when it is!) he has already narrowed down a few key points in the parent/child dynamic that can influence sleep.
He pinpoints the “emotional availability” of the parent at bedtime to be one of the most important factors. Essentially, like we have discussed in previous posts, attitude is everything. Sitting with your child for hours when they are capable of putting themselves to sleep and then giving into calls for more water, another bathroom break, a re-tuck in etc., leaves parents feeling annoyed, drained, irritable and frustrated; all of which leave a parent emotionally unavailable.
The act of being physically close at bedtime, i.e. sitting in their room or being close to them while they fall asleep was much less important than the emotional component. In this blogger’s case, being physically closer actually led to an even further breakdown of sleep and caused her daughter to have a harder time unwinding and putting herself to sleep.
As with most parenting issues, you are a mirror for your child, they will pick up what you are reflecting. Toddlers test boundaries, it’s pretty much their job, and it’s your job as parents to stay firm. Giving in once or twice can easily lead to a negative change in structure and routine, which leads to poor sleep for everyone.
Have a set and structured plan and routine and if life causes deviations, go right back to the plan, and if you need extra sleep help, that’s what we are here for! A great sleep training plan can serve you for years and is always the best place to go back to when you’re experiencing sleep obstacles.