Before I traveled with young kids, I was deathly afraid of traveling with young children and couldn’t understand why anyone would do it.

I remember reading pieces like Don’t bring your child on a plane or Leave your kid at home next time

But another thing stuck with me as well.  When I was young, single and traveling the world I would see young happy children living in these amazing places that I was going to.  AND I would see families traveling with their little ones!

The two pictures didn’t mesh well in my mind- “don’t travel with kids” and “little kids are experiencing things all over the world”.

So when my boys were born, my husband and I started thinking about how we could travel around the world with our little ones.  And I’m so glad we did.  Here are 8 reasons why traveling with kids is the best:

1. You don’t always get what you want.  Yep, it sounds like a nightmare to most parents (and toddlers) that when you are traveling you don’t always get your way.  This can end up in a tantrum.  It happens.  But when you are home, you have the temptation to give in to your kiddo.  When you are traveling, and your child wants a particular snack, a different kind of wipe, a blue cup instead of a yellow cup, they have to learn how to deal with what you have.  It can be rough for a short bit, but most kids are fast learners.  Once they realize that there is no pizza hut, they get over it.  For the first week of traveling with 2 three-year olds, they didn’t eat much because all the food we had was different, but now, they will eat mostly whatever is offered to them.

2. Building awareness.  Again, this one has a learning curve and it was something that we started before we traveled and has only grown.  I’ve written about it before and believe that it is a very important topic.  It is tempting to find ways to entertain our kids when we travel but one of the huge benefits of traveling is building awareness for our world and seeing all the amazing things out there.  Children will be fascinated with what is going on outside the plane, on the road, or next to them on the bus so allow them to just watch and ask questions.

3. Trying new things. We often get into ruts and although routines are a good thing, doing something different is also a good thing.  Especially when your kids are young.  I found that as an adult with young children, I didn’t always feel like an adult.  I felt like my life revolved so much around the young kids that I always ate the same food, I would draw silly pictures and play with blocks on the floor and I just needed something else!   When we traveled, I tried new foods (and my kids did too!).  I looked for hermit crabs on the beach instead of blocks on the floor.  I heard different music and went to new places.  It was all very invigorating for me and the children.

4. Letting go of expectations.  Have you always made your child wear shoes since you know that they could step on something sharp?  Do you stress about how many vegetables your child has eaten in one day?  I’ve done all these things and more- until I traveled with my little ones.  The one expectation that I haven’t dropped- seat belts.

5. Seeing how differently other cultures raise children.  Kids menus don’t exist in many other places in the world (unless they are heavily visited by North Americans).  Children climb trees without supervision in some places.   My friend in France said that young children went to the bakery by themselves in the morning to get the family baguette.  I’m not saying that these things are better or worse, but just observing or even experiencing another way to raise children is such an eye-opening experience.

6. Getting your routine down to a science.  I talk about creating a routine all the time.  It creates structure and security for a child and improves behavior drastically.  Traveling will take your routine to the next level.  If you always read two books before bedtime, then you will use that routine to help your child fall asleep in any old place.   If you always sing the same song before nap time, then you have that amazing tool to let your child know that it is nap time even though your are 5 hours off from your regular time zone.  Having a routine in place allows you to travel with children by changing everything else- except the routine.

7. Not having to worry about school. Once your children are in first grade, it is much much much more difficult to travel.  Every school is different, but most schools require attendance and will put you in touch with the truancy officer after missing more than 10 days of school.  But this gives you a pretty big window of about 6 years to travel with your little ones.

8. Paring down and traveling light- The first time we traveled with our 1.5 year old twins, we took two carry on bags for two weeks at the beach.  Now, most travel sites will recommend planning ahead and making sure that you have everything that you need.  Those two sentences may not look synonymous but they are compatible.   See, you do need to plan ahead, and you do need to bring everything you need, but when you travel, you really get down to the questions of “what do you really need?”  Do you really need that noise maker enough to haul it around?  Are toys that important or can your children play with sticks and string?  Can you get away with not bringing the special nose cleaner outer or the spoons that your children request everyday?  When you travel, you realize what you actually need and what is truly important.

Book your ticket today!

 

 

The shift from having a social life and being flexible before you had children can be a jolt when you think about putting your baby to sleep around the same (early!!) time every night. Is it worth it? Can’t you be the cool parents who have a baby and still have a life? Well, Let’s look into this a bit more.

We know that sleep is awesome for kids and especially for parents. But we’re not always sure why or how to get there.

Sleep is key to harmony in families and a new study just found that it also affects how children function at school (even many years later).

This article in the Wall Street Journal talks about the toddler and preschool years which are often the hardest to be consistent.  But those years are when the brain is developing and enormous rates and needs the consistent sleep.


It is hard as a parent to forgo some of our old habits (happy hour, evening hikes, dinner at a friend’s house) but when we know the importance of a consistent bedtime, it will be easier to make those changes.

If you start today with a consistent bedtime, you will also see an immediate change in behavior.  Children who are tired are much more cranky, defiant and difficult than children who are less tired.  

Children who have consistent bedtimes also go to bed easier and quicker than children with an uneven routine. 

So you know that things will get easier (albeit less social) when your children go to bed almost the same time each night, but we now also know that it will help academically down the road due to healthy brain development.

So back to the new non-existent social life: it is gone forever?  No.

Once you have a consistent bedtime set up, you can stick to the schedule about 90% of the time and through fate into the wind about 10% of the time and your child will still benefit from having a consistent schedule.  This will actually make traveling easier and will make those couple of times that you are spontaneous easier because your children will just fall into your schedule whether you are on a train, in a car, on a plane or off too far. 

So how important is a consistent bedtime?  Very important!

 

I just read another article discussing co-sleeping versus sleep training and after reading the scathing comments afterwards it really feels like parenting is becoming as polarizing as politics.

There are families where co-sleeping is definitely the right decisions  and there are families where sleep training is definitely the right decision and there are even many families who have done both depending on the child or the situation.

There is only one thing that all of these families need to be thinking about with their children and that is one things is sleep associations.

So it doesn’t really matter which style you choose, just make sure that you think about what sleep associations your child is making and just be aware of how they are falling asleep.

What is a sleep association?  A sleep association is something outside of the child that helps the child fall asleep.

Common sleep associations are:

Darkened space

Rocking motion

Snuggling

Sucking

White noise

Lovey

Routine

Music

These are all things that help a child fall asleep no matter whether you are co-sleeping or sleep training.

So as your child gets older, you will want to look at what sleep associations your child relies most heavily on.

  • If your child will only fall asleep while rocking and with white noise (i.e. in the car), and you know that your child won’t be able to rock if they are in a bed or a crib, then know what white noise is a must and that you will need to add in another sleep association once you take away the rocking.
  • If your child will only fall asleep while sucking (bottle or breast) and you know that they will need to wean from the bottle or the breast soon, then you can look at other associations to replace the sucking.  Or just can introduce the pacifier or thumb-sucking to replace the other sucking.

When we talk about sleep associations, someone might interpret that having sleep associations is a negative thing.  But it isn’t.  They are essential.  They are how we learn to sleep.  So this doesn’t mean that you never nurse your child to sleep as an infant because they will always associate nursing with sleeping because that isn’t true.   Infants nurse to sleep.  And as they grow, they learn new associations.  All of these are positive things and all are used to fit the child, the family and the situation.

Speaking of situations, they change.  You may have a child who co-sleeps wonderfully with you in the family bed.  You are happy, your husband is happy and your child is happy.  However, you soon find out that you are pregnant and you realize that you will need to move your child to their own bed.   This is a common scenario and a very stress-inducing one at that.  Your child knows that snuggling with you and either breast-feeding or drinking a bottle in your bed means that it is time to sleep.  So those two sleep associations (sucking and cuddling) mean sleep.

But now you need to move your toddler into their own room.  Set up the room with new sleep associations.  Maybe get a noise machine and black out curtains.  If you have a rocker, use that in the new room.  See if your child attaches to a lovey.  All of these are possible new sleep associations that will replace the cuddling and sucking associations.  If you have the time, only remove one sleep association at a time.  So if you are breast-feeding, you can continue to do that while moving your child into their new room.  It will mean that you will need to come to the room to feed which initially be less sleep (stick to it; you can do it!!) but more sleep in the long run.  Once your little one is settled in the new room, then you will remove breastfeeding as a sleep association.  You will need to keep your little one awake and make sure they go down drowsy but awake.  Then you can be there to shush, sing, pat their tummy, etc., until they fall asleep.  Sounds easier on paper than in real life but again, this isn’t forever.

Your goal: remove sleep associations that are more work with sleep associations that are less work as the child gets older.  This is a process that you may have to do over and over.  Change is inevitable.

With each change, your child may protest and they may be tears.  But don’t fear change. It’s ok if they cry.  You will be there to support them through the change.

 

I’m going to cut to the chase and give you the three steps to better behavior right now.  Before you do any thing (go to the grocery store, get ready for bed, go to a friend’s house, etc) tell your kids:

  1. What it is going to look like
  2. What are the expectations
  3. What will happen if they don’t do what they are supposed to do

 

Ok, now that you know the 3 magic steps, let me walk you through some situations and why these 3 steps are so important!

Kids thrive on routine because they know what is coming next.  If you always get dressed right after breakfast, then kids often run to the clothes dresser right after breakfast because they know what is coming.  They know what to expect.  So just take this same idea out into the world.

Are you going to the library?  Tell your kids.  Are you going to let them check out 55 books.  Tell them that they get 55 books.  Do they get to play on the computer for 20 minutes.  Let them know.  Do you only have space in your bag for 6 books?  Then tell them they only get 6 books.  Do you have time to play at the park afterwards or will your parking limit run out of time and you’ll have to head home?  Let them know ahead of time.

Where else could you use this technique?  The store, the doctor, grandma’s house, running errands, a playdate, going out to dinner, flying on a plane, road trip up to the mountains, getting ready in the morning.  The possibilities are endless.

A lot of parents don’t tell children what is going to happen ahead of time with things that are unpleasant like going to the doctor or dropping them off somewhere.  But we need to build trust with children and we do that by preparing them for the good and the bad.   Before we go to the doctor, I tell them whether they are getting shots or not and then we talk about what we’ll do after the shot (go get ice cream or go to the park).   This way they know what to expect and they are actually less nervous than they would be if they were guessing the whole time (Is this the place that hurts?  What’s going to happen? Am I going to be safe?!?)

The second part is to let them know what the expectations are.  This is true for adults as well. I mean, we all like surprises now and then, but what if you signed up for a hiking trip and then found out that it was a hard-core rock-climbing trip or maybe the hiking trip was actually walking a 1/4 mile.  Both of those would be difficult to deal with because your expectations were totally different than what was presented.  So if you are going to a friend’s house and they don’t mind if the kids jump on the couch, let your kids know.  But if there are going to be fancy tables and maybe even a glass vase somewhere in the living room, tell your kids ahead of time, “no running around AT All at our friends house. We can run outside afterwards, but no running while we are there.”   

I once met up with some college friends and their toddlers at a fancy hotel room that an out-of-town friend had booked.  One of the friends walked it and said, “oh jeez, this place is nice, too bad my kid is totally going to tear it apart.”  So the kid looked up at his mom right after she said that and subsequently began to tear the room apart.  That was her expectation for what he was going to do and so he fulfilled that expectation like any kid would.

This works for bedtime too.  If bedtime isn’t what you were hoping it would be and it is a mess of emotions, push-back, fussing and headache, then make a plan of what bedtime should be.  Find a picture schedule online and use the parts that work for you.  Add in other parts and take out what won’t work.  Then let your kids know.  Talk to them about what they need to do.  Do you help them with their pajamas but they need to brush their own teeth?  Let them know what the expectations are.

Finally, let kids know what will happen if they do or don’t do what is expected of them.

On long days with lots of errands or chores, I list the things that need to be done and then the last thing is something enjoyable, something outside, something relaxing or energy releasing.  This way, kids have something to look forward to and know that they need to hold it together for such and such amount of time before they can release it all.  And if there are issues, problems, etc, then the errands stop and everyone heads home.  Now they can still run around at home, you can still take some space in your room if it was really bad, but the last stop at the park didn’t get added into the mix if the kids just couldn’t handle everything.  And it’s ok.  Your kids won’t always be able to run 3 errands in a row.  They won’t always be able to sit while they eat at a restaurant.  And if they can’t sit, then it means it is time to go home, maybe time to go to bed.

Time to start again new tomorrow.

And the next time, let them know ahead of time and chances are, they’ll be able to do it.

 

Problem solving skills are useful for a variety of reasons and can be brought out in any situation.  If bedtime isn’t working for you, your spouse, your children or your neighbor upstairs, then bring out your problem solving skills!

First: what are the steps to problem solving?

  1. Name the problem
  2. Come up with some solutions
  3. Try those solutions
  4. If they worked, you’re all good- if they didn’t work, go back to number 2

OK, so, what’s the problem?

The kids whine and keep asking for things and bedtime takes forever?  Or, they go to bed just fine but an hour or two later, they are up and in our bed and won’t fall asleep? Or, I have to lay with them for hours and hours thinking about all the work I need to do? Or just before bed they start jumping and yelling and playing and throwing things?

Let’s pick one:

The problem is that bedtime takes forever.

We start the bedtime routine at 7 and the kids are finally asleep at 9 or 10 at night.

So now let’s go to step 2: find some solutions.

First talk with your partner to see what ideas you each have and what each person is comfortable doing and then take the problem to the whole family.  If you have kids over a year or a year and a half, they can participate.  If they are younger than that, then they can’t give input but they can still hear the verdict.  An infant who is told what their bedtime routine is does better than one who has no idea.  True story.

So, the whole family is sitting around the dinner table, and you say, “We have a problem.  Bedtime isn’t working.  We need to come up with some ideas to make bedtime more enjoyable for everyone.”  Then start asking for some ideas.  No idea is a bad idea.  One idea is to move bedtime to 9 or 10 pm since I met with one sleep expert who gave out that idea and it works for some people.  Another idea is to move bedtime to 6:30 since many children get over-tired and become hyperactive just to stay awake and then they have difficultly falling asleep.  This also works well for many families.  Ask your children what they think.  Would a picture schedule help?  Would cutting out chocolate help?  Let’s try it.  What do you think about having a timer during bath time so it doesn’t go on forever?  Maybe we could all lay together in one bed and then one child switches to their own bed so that I don’t spend two hours laying in each bed every night.  Idea after idea after idea.

Then try the ideas. Not too many changes all at once.  Depending on the age of your children, you can choose one or two changes and try those for a couple weeks up to a month before revisiting and seeing if the new idea works.  

If it works, then great!  If it doesn’t work, that’s OK- back to the problem solving table!

You don’t have to be stuck in the spot that you are in.  Changes can happen and although there might be some tears with the changes, you can be there to support your children through the different routine.

Finally, set up a plan for when things don’t go the way they should.

Let’s say that you talk with your family and you make a picture schedule with dinner, bath, pajamas, brush teeth, story and bed.  Then make a plan for what happens when we get off-track.  Listen to ideas from your children.  Then add in your own idea of losing one of the stories.  “We don’t have enough time to read a book since we had a big problem when it was time to put on pajamas”.  Or maybe you have another idea when things aren’t going well.  At any rate, have a consequence for that boundary so that you can all stay on track for a reasonable bedtime.

It may take a couple of weeks for the changes to show up so don’t get discouraged if you don’t see anything right away but know that a more peaceful bedtime routine is just around the corner!

 

So hopefully, at some point you have built story time into your day or into your nighttime routine.  If not, you can start at anytime.  It felt really weird reading to my infants who couldn’t even keep their head up (why in the world would they have interest in a book that they can’t see, hear, understand?!?) But not long after that, they were looking at the pictures, and then right after that they were pointing and now they can talk for hours about each book that we read!

So- here are my top 5 tips for reading bedtime stories to toddlers:

1) Routine- Read in the same place whether it be a bed, chair, couch or book nook.  Also do the same thing before and after the book.  We would put on pajamas, brush teeth, read our book and then go to bed.  When we would be out traveling (or in our car, or on a plane) we would follow that same routine and the boys would go right to sleep no matter where we were since we had a nice routine.

2) Be OK with the same book every night for the next three years.  Not only do kids love repetition but it is imperative for their learning.   They build relationships with their books and reading through repetition.  They also learn about sounds, letters, reading, rhymes and rhythm when you read the same book over and over and over and over and over.

3) Snuggle – Be comfortable.  If your reading space isn’t comfortable and cozy then find some pillows or a place that you really look forward to every night.  If you are reading in bed and it causes you to strain your neck, then get more head support or move to a seated reading space.  If you really look forward to reading each night, then undoubtedly your kids will too.

4) Be silly– Have voices, read fast, then slow, loud then quiet.  Give the story life!

5) Extend the story – Maybe just read a couple of pages and then be open to talking about anything or everything. If they start talking, don’t shush them, follow their lead.  The goal of story time isn’t necessarily finishing the book, but it is connecting, talking, learning more about each other and the world.  The story might be about a fish going to bed and all they want to talk about are the colors of the fish, then talk about the colors.  There will be a million other nights to read about the fish’s story- let tonight be about the colors.

Enjoy reading with your kids- one of life’s simplest joys.

 

outside

The concept is simple enough- get outside every day.  Sounds too simple right?

But the actual task is quite difficult (daunting even) many, many days.

When I was pregnant, I worried a bit about postpartum depression and the best advice I heard about beating the blues was to get outside everyday.  Even if it was for five minutes.  Even if it was just to your porch.

There were days when it was easy.  The weather was perfect, the boys were happy.  We got a good stretch of sleep the night before.

But then there were days that it was very, very difficult and I just didn’t want to make the effort.  But even if it was just for a short bit, it made the difference in my over all mental health.

But there was something else good that came out of getting outside every single day.  It became part of our routine. 

When I was a preschool teacher, there were 11 different preschool classrooms and so there were about 11 different teaching philosophies under one roof.  When it came to taking the children outside, the philosophies ranged from: “That is too much work, we don’t go out very often” to “We get outside everyday, rain, snow or shine.”

I fell into the latter category and that drew me some strange looks as we marched down the hall to the playground on the worst of days.  I would hear grumbles of “It takes 20 minutes just to get them all ready and then what?”  or “All that work for 5 minutes outside? No thanks!”  And what I would repeatedly explain to the other teachers was that:

Getting ready to go outside is part of the learning process.  Sometimes it is the goal of the day.

But what I should have explained even further was that every time we got ready to get out, we were only making the next time easier.   

As a parent, getting kids ready to go outside has not gotten any easier.  But since our routine has always been to get outside at least once per day, we have the routine down.

I know that it is a lot to get your kids outside, but you have to re-frame your thinking into- “getting them ready is today’s learning goal”.  As you make it part of your daily routine, not only will getting out of the house become easier, but your children will benefit from being able to make that daily transition.

Your mental health will thank you.

This was the exact question that I got asked yesterday and I love this question!  Unfortunately it isn’t a short yes or no answer, but there is some concrete information out there that can really help parents.  But there are also a lot of emotions out there that can really complicate this topic.

So the shortest answer?

There are two extremes:

  • Cry-it-out extinction where the parent leaves the child alone in the room for the night is on one end
  • Attending to every single whimper so that the child never cries is on the other hand.

Neither of these is recommended by a single expert.

 

So now for the longer answer:

Your child is going to cry at some point.  That is OK and is normal, expected, not going to cause any harm and is actually recommended with you there to support your kiddo.

You and your child are going to go through transitions as they grow.  You will eventually stop night feedings, your child may develop fears, you might return to work, your child will develop separation anxiety, your child will drop naps, your child will develop independence, and with each of these transitions, there will be some adjustment to the change.

There will be tears.

You can be there to support those tears.

You can also give some space.

So on one end of the spectrum cry-it-out might look like this:

Your 6 month old baby sleeps in a crib in another room.  You have your baby on a pretty good schedule but she is still waking every two hours at night.   You make a plan with her and your husband that you are only going to feed her two times at night.  You tell her that she can do it and that you will be there for her.   Then when she wakes when it isn’t time to feed, you or your husband are there to comfort her.  You may lie by the crib or you may rub her back for 2 minutes and then leave for 5 minutes until she stops crying.  After a couple of nights, she gets used to the new schedule and only wakes to feed twice a night. 

And on the other end of the spectrum, cry-it-out might look like this:

You share a bed with your 13 month old.  You feed her when she asks but it is getting to be too much because it is every one to two hours at night.  You would like to bring the feedings down to one or two feedings per night.  You make a plan with her and your husband that you are only going to feed her two times at night.  You tell her that she can do it and that you will be there for her.   Then when she wakes when it isn’t time to feed, you or your husband are there to comfort her.  You may sleep in another room while your husband comforts her so that she doesn’t try to get milk.  Or you may just remind her while rubbing her back or cradling her that there isn’t any food until a certain time.  There will be crying and you will be there for her and comfort her while you cut back on night feedings.   After a couple of nights, she gets used to the new schedule and only wakes to feed twice at night. 

 

What does the research say about cry it out?

You have probably heard that there are studies that say that cry-it-out will cause long-term damage to your child.  You may also have heard that cry-it-out is just fine for your baby.  There are actually only two heavily referenced studies on cry-it-out and both of them only give limited info on the subject.  The only thing experts truly know about this is that we don’t know enough and we could do a plethora of studies to learn more.

The cry-it-out is bad for babies study

This study was done with a group of babies in a lab and it was testing the synchronicity of the mother’s and baby’s cortisol levels when they were crying-it-out.  We don’t know much about how the babies were supported but what we do know is that after 3 nights, the mothers’ cortisol levels went down and the babies’ cortisol levels remained high.  We do know what cortisol levels are an indicator of stress and we do know what certain amounts of stress are bad.  We also know that it good when mothers are in tune with their babies.  So yes, there will be a certain amount of stress with crying-it-out.  Does it cause long-term damage?  This study doesn’t show that it does.

The cry-it-out is fine for babies study

This study was done over five years with a group of families and one group of families was given sleep training information and the other group got no additional information.  After 5 years, they couldn’t tell much of a difference in either behavior or sleep habits.  So what does this show?  Nothing really. It just says that the babies who may have been sleep trained turned out fine and that the parents who didn’t sleep train have children that sleep just fine. 

Summary:

Your babies are going to cry and that’s OK.  All babies will cry.  

You choose the level of support and when you want to make transitions.  

It isn’t recommended by anyone to leave your baby to cry for hours by yourself.  You baby may cry for hours, but you will be there so support them. 

 

 

 

I was talking with my husband about kids last night and how difficult it is to raise children with drugs, media, violence, diseases, addiction and all the other bad things out there in the world.  We were starting to feel a bit depressed when I remembered that there is one thing that you can do to guard your children against all that.

The Family Dinner

Here are the top 5 reasons why you need to have a family dinner with your children this week:

1) Connection

When you sit down at a dinner table, all facing each other, there will be conversation, questions, and connection.  You will build memories, vocabularies, world knowledge and just know more about each other.  This connection will be with your family through the thick and thin.

2) Screen-free

An important part of the family dinner is to turn off all screens.  Not only does this set a precedent for how to eat with others, it will carve out an automatic screen-free time where everyone can be in the present and not connected to something else.  

 

If there is just one change that you make to create a stronger family, more resilient kids and a better world (corny, I know, but it’s true) then have at least one family dinner this week!

 

3) Nutrition and picky eaters

Do you have picky eaters?  Family dinner is one of the many ways that you can help them, but the most important thing to remember, is no pressure.  When food is presented in an attractive way, everyone is eating it and everyone is happy and comfortable, children are more likely to try it.  That doesn’t mean that they will eat it, or like it, but if a child just tries a bite of food, science shows that after 20 tries, they will like the food.  So don’t pressure them, just enjoy the food yourself and over the years, your children will be less picky.

4) Family stories

One of my favorite New York Times article talks about how children who have more of a foundation can weather trauma better.  So if they have heard more stories about their family and know more details about their parents and their lives, then they have more tools in their toolbox when things get rough.

5) Routine

With routine, you build trust and create rituals that will ultimately build a foundation on which your child can grow.  One of my favorite routines is to have everyone take a deep breath before everyone starts eating (or once everyone is sitting at the table).  “In through your nose” *breathe* “Out through your mouth” *breathe* “Smell the flowers” *breathe* “blow out the candle”.  This daily exercise will not only help you as a parent to relax and ground yourself, but it also teaches your child essential calming skills.

If you have a child, or even just know a child, you have probably heard all of the advice for helping your child sleep.  From Ferber to bed-sharing, there is a wide spectrum of philosophies.  Your head is probably spinning from all of the information, so I’m going to break it down for you.

 

the-sleep-spectrum

The crazy thing is, that contrary to the comment sections on blog posts, your children will be just fine no matter which of these methods you choose.  It really comes down to your family and how everyone will get the best sleep.

You may have heard that having your child cry-it-out could be traumatizing for your children, but the reality is that all children cry and get upset. And as you can see in the info-graphic above, if you stop your child from nursing or sleeping with you (no matter where you fall on the spectrum), then you will illicit some tears.   It should also be known that the statement about traumatizing children is based one study that was done with a small sample and in a sleep laboratory.  There is another study that looks at children 5 years later whose parents used different cry-it-out techniques and who show “no lasting harm”.  Until many, many studies that are longitudinal and have a large sample size have been done, you can rest assured that your child will be fine if you allow them to cry it out.

That doesn’t mean that you should, though.  If if doesn’t work for you, then don’t do it.

You may have also heard that if you allow your children to nurse on demand and share a bed, then they might be smothered or they may continue nursing and bed-sharing until they are eleven years old.  The SIDS fear has been blown out of proportion because many people mistake co-sleeping for bed-sharing and they are not the same.  Very young infants are safer if they are in a bassinet or co-sleeper and not in the same bed. However, there are many studies that show the benefits of co-sleeping and bed-sharing as the infant gets older and as long as the parents follow safe guidelines.   So if you are not drinking alcohol or smoking and you are enjoying the night nursing and toddler bed-sharing, then you by all means, co-sleep and breastfeed for as long as you want.

That doesn’t mean that you should, though.  If it doesn’t work for you, then don’t do it.

The one thing that we know for sure is that sleep deprivation is a real thing and it isn’t OK.  It can cause depression, memory loss, grumpiness, the breakdown of marriage, not taking care of your self or your children among other things.  So if you are experiencing extreme sleep deprivation then you should do something!  

Here are some tips that help no matter where you find yourself on the spectrum:

1. Mom needs at least 5 hours of uninterrupted sleep

This is where dad or another care giver comes in.  If you are exclusively nursing, start introducing a bottle once nursing is established so that you can pump and dad can take care of feedings during those five hours.  This means that mom goes to bed when baby goes to bed and for the next 5 hours, mom sleeps in another room and has earplugs in while dad feeds, rocks, carries, soothes baby.  Once the 5 hours are up, dad has the rest of the night and mom takes over with the feedings.   

2. Routine

Once the baby is 3-4 months old, a routine can start to take shape.  Routines are really the cornerstone for good sleep habits.  With a routine, many children don’t need any sleep help, they simply fall asleep on their own due to the consistency and comfort of knowing what’s going to happen next.  Of course, many more infants, babies and toddlers need more help than just a routine.

3. The “French Pause”

This was made famous by Pamela Druckerman’s book, Bringing Up Bebe, where she talks about how the french culture always waits a minute or two before they rush to the baby’s side.   This allows the parent to determine what kind of fuss they are experiencing and often allows the child to settle themselves.  

4. Sleep associations

Newborns are always going to fall asleep nursing or drinking from the bottle so that is always everyone’s first sleep association.  But you can start to build in other sleep associations that go alongside nursing if you eventually want more independent sleeping.  White noise, music, essential oils, a special toy or lovey, or a certain kind of light are all good things to do while your child falls asleep so that you can remove one association and keep another to help them achieve independent sleep. 

5. Make sure your child doesn’t get overtired

An overtired child is a child who will never go to sleep.  They become hyperactive to keep themselves awake.  They go and go and go until they crash.  This is not a healthy situation for anyone.  Keep a lookout for signs of tiredness and use them to your advantage.  When you see yawns, droopy eyelids, decreased activity, or even some crankiness, it is time to put your child to sleep.  If you can, start the process before this happens so that once they are showing signs, you are right on schedule.

6. Have an active day and get outside

Be sure to get your children outside at least once per day.  It helps regulate their bodies and helps with night sleep.  The more active children are during the day, the better they will sleep at night.  This doesn’t necessarily mean keeping them from napping since sleep begets sleep, but it does mean to have a fun and active day!