Top 5 Mistakes To Avoid When Teaching Healthy Sleep Habits
Kimberly Walker, the founder of Parenting Unlimited, provides us with some habits to avoid when teaching your babies healthy sleep habits.
- Putting your child down when they are already asleep:
When your child falls asleep in your arms, on your bed, in the swing or wherever it may be and then you transfer them to their own bed/crib, when they wake up, they are startled and confused. Often, what happens is you will go and pick your child up and put them to sleep again and then put them back in their bed and so the cycle continues. It is the equivalent to you falling asleep in your bed and waking up on the kitchen table… you walk back to your bed and wake up on the kitchen table AGAIN! You would be confused too! It is very important that your child put themselves to sleep from the beginning of bedtime and in the same place that they will be sleeping all night.
- Starting sleep training in the middle of the night:
Similar to putting your child down asleep, you should not start teaching your child to sleep in the middle of the night. This means, do not put your child down asleep and then when they wake up the first time try to teach them to go back to sleep in their own bed/crib. You must start at bedtime.
- Keeping the pacifier if your child cannot put it in their mouth themselves:
If you want to teach your child to sleep and your child is too young to roll around the crib and consistently find the pacifier and put it in their mouth themselves, then I recommend you take the pacifier away completely for both day and night. I am not against pacifiers, I just see them sometimes cause sleep problems when trying to teach them to sleep. Trust me, millions of babies do not take pacifiers and they are perfectly fine. They still survive in the car, on planes and in the middle of the grocery store! It is just a little adjustment. If your child cannot find the pacifier and put it in their mouth themselves in the middle of the night then you may end up either playing the pacifier game (it falls out of their mouth over and over and you get up to put it back over and over) or it is possible teaching them to sleep will actually not work because they do not understand why sometimes they get the pacifier and sometimes they do not and so they may keep crying hoping it is a time you come with the pacifier.
- Feeding your child in response to waking up/ Being Inconsistent:
Lots of people will tell me they tried to teach their child to sleep and it did not “work.” When I inquire about specifics, I often find that the parents were not ready to give up night feeds and so they decided, for example, “If my child wakes up before 12am then I will not feed them and make them go back to sleep by themselves, but if they wake after 12am, I will feed them one time.” The problem with this is that your child does not know time. When they wake at 11:30pm, they do not look at the clock and say, “whoops, it’s not 12am yet, I have to go back to sleep.” They learn through consistent behavior. If you feed them sometimes when they wake up and not other times, they may be confused and it could make things worse. Notice I said “the parents” were not ready to give up night feeds… of course, there are babies that still need night feeds, but talk with your pediatrician about this and remember just because your child wants to eat, does not mean they need to eat.
- Letting your child be the boss:
This mostly applies to toddlers, but I cannot tell you how many people call me and say things like, “I try to put my child in his crib and he won’t let me, “ or “Our bedtime routine is sooo long, I try to read only a few books, but she makes me read more and more” Or, “My child makes me stay in his room until he is asleep.” This is a mindset problem and this means that you are not clear in your own mind, and are not sending a clear message to your toddler about who is in control. If you find yourself even thinking, “My child MAKES me do ________ “ or “My child will not LET me _______ ” Then my recommendation is every time you find yourself thinking these things to change your mantra and say, “ I am the parent and I make the decisions and even if my child is unhappy, they are going to be OK.” Your toddler cannot tie you up or duct tape you down. They are not MAKING you do anything. Of course, you can put them in their crib. What this usually really means is, “I try to put my child in the crib, but they do not want to go.” And, “I would like to read only 3 books, but my child wants more.” That is OK! They do not have to like what you are doing or be happy about it. You are the parents. I know toddlers can be strong willed and stubborn and every other word possible, but realize it is best for them that you be the parent, believe it or not, they rely on you to be more strong willed then they are!
Kimberly Walker, the founder of Parenting Unlimited, is a highly regarded parenting consultant specializing in teaching parents how to encourage and implement healthy sleep habits for their children and in potty training. She is an expert in addressing a wide array of challenging sleep issues including chronic night wakings, the needs of twins/multiples, toddler transitions and managing siblings. She has been recognized in publications such as Time Out Baby New York, has worked at the renowned Soho Parenting Center as an independent sleep consultant and has lectured to a variety of parenting groups regarding sleep challenges. She is referred to patients by various pediatricians throughout the New York City area.
For over 17 years, Kimberly has worked with hundreds of infants and children and developed tried and proven techniques to help them form and maintain healthy and predictable sleep habits. She spent the first four to five years of her career solely working with exhausted parents of multiples. Her philosophy of childcare and parenting emphasizes the parents’ responsibility in fostering healthy habits for their children.
Kimberly has a BA in Psychology from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and a Masters in Social Work from Columbia University in New York. She is a Licensed Masters Social Worker in New York State and worked previously with adults and children as clinical psychotherapist. Her extensive and unique background in psychology enables her to nurture both the child and the parents throughout the process of sleep teaching and other sensitive issues that affect parents.