I'm a night owl with a mind that often starts racing with ideas and questions right as I'm trying to fall asleep, so I'm not surprised that my toddler is much of the same. Even as a baby, he would fight to stay awake so he could keep playing, or look around at his surroundings, or listen to stories. After doing a lot of research and talking to others in the hopes of finding ways to help him sleep, I've learned that there are plenty of things you don't have to do when your kid has sleep issues, even though almost everyone says you do. (I've also learned that there may be a link between sleep resistance and curiosity/giftedness, though I wonder if those articles — and the people who believe them — may just be trying to make me and other sleep deprived parents feel better, like all those articles that say people who stay up late and cuss a lot are more likely to be geniuses.)
I definitely want to note that I'm not saying people should never do any of the following things on this list. Many of these suggestions absolutely do work for some people, so those people should absolutely feel free to keep doing what works for them and their families. But if you're not one of those people, don't keep banging your sleepless head against the wall trying to do something that just makes you and your kid miserable. I'm sharing what I found to be optional, because I want folks to figure out what works for them and their families, rather than feeling like a worn-out, tired failure because someone else's "surefire" trick just doesn't have the same effect on their child.
So with that in mind, here is a collection of totally optional things you might think you have to do, or someone may have told you you have to do, when your child is having sleep issues. Here's hoping that whatever is happening for your child is just a temporary glitch in an otherwise restful sleep life, and that it passes soon.
You Don't Have To Freak Out
Easier said than done, I know. To clarify: it's totally natural and normal to freak out mentally because if your kid isn't sleeping well and you're probably not sleeping well, either. However, you don't have to do anything based on your inevitable freak out. It's normal for little ones to experience sleep changes and issues related to their growth and developmental milestones, so assuming sleep issues automatically mean something is wrong with your child, and taking radical steps in response to a normal (and potentially temporary) change, could do more harm than good.
You Don't Have To Assume You’re Doing Something Wrong
There are some parents who wear their "my child sleeps through the night" status like a badge of honor on the playground, which can lead other parents to think they must be doing something wrong because their child doesn't. But honestly, some kids just naturally have a more agreeable sleep pattern than others. Chances are, those parents are just lucky. It's normal and even potentially advantageous for babies younger than a year to wake during the night, and it's normal for a child to experience sleep changes at certain points in their development. In other words, you shouldn't necessarily take it personally if your kid is having a temporary sleep issue.
You Don't Have To Overhaul Their Sleep Routine
Unless your child has no bedtime routine in place at all, you don't necessarily have to change your kid's sleep routine completely if they suddenly start having sleep troubles. They may just be going through a developmental change.
Always pay attention to what is and isn't working with your little one's natural rhythms so you can tweak things accordingly, but don't feel like you have to start over from scratch in order to successfully match someone else's suggestions (unless you are sure your old routine isn't working for you or your child).
You Don't Have To Overhaul Their Sleep Space
Same goes for sleep space. All kids eventually outgrow their bassinets, cribs and the like, of course, but if they're not necessarily ready for the next kind of bed, or if what's in or on their bed doesn't bother them, don't feel like you need to totally change it up because someone else said to.
You Don't Have To Take Away All “Sleep Crutches”
If you normally do something to help your child fall asleep — like nurse, rock, or wear them — and those things are no longer working for you; figure out a new plan. Definitely don't break your back wearing a 70 pound child, or feel like you have to stay up all night rocking a baby or toddler.
However, if you're physically and emotionally still comfortable nursing or otherwise helping them to sleep, again, don't feel like you need to stop because someone else suggested it's wrong somehow.
You Don't Have To Hire A Sleep Consultant Or Buy Espensive Sleep Aids/Gadgets
As a general rule, I'm automatically skeptical of any solution to a parenting problem that requires people to spend money. Obviously, some purchases can be really useful or necessary, but others can often be worked through by rethinking what you already do rather than shelling out for something new. Aside from the necessities, most things and services that cost money are things people have managed to do for themselves or live without, and sans any problems. You don't have to buy anything just cause someone else says it works.
You Don't Have To "Cry It Out"
I'm not saying it's bad to cry it out. There are lots of different approaches to helping a child sleep, and lots of methods that are erroneously lumped together under the "cry it out" label have worked for some families. However, if your child is suddenly waking more in the night or having another sleep struggle, and you've never done this before, don't feel like you need to just leave them to figure it out on their own so they don't get "too dependent" on you. Kids are supposed to depend on their parents, and your child may really need your attention if they're suddenly having new sleep issues.
You Don't Have To Set Stricter Limits On Naps And Wake-Up Times
While it's good to set a routine that honors your child's natural rhythms, trying to force them onto a schedule that requires you to make them go to bed when they're not tired yet, or wake them up when they're sleeping, could just end up making both of you tired and miserable.
You Don't Have To Keep Your Child Awake During The Day
While there is a certain surface logic to the advice that keeping a child awake all day will help them sleep better at night, that could actually end up making them overtired and, in turn, makes it harder for them to fall and stay asleep later. That would just result in them not getting enough sleep overall.
You Don't Have To Radically Change Their Diet
Some folks swear that introducing solid foods, switching from breastmilk to formula, and other food related changes will result in kids sleeping longer.
For young babies, there is no research to support this, so parents should really consider sleep choices and feeding choices separately. Overall, if kids are eating a healthy, balanced diet at appropriate times, then there are probably no food tricks that are going to affect their sleep. Cutting out certain foods, or putting them on a new diet recommended by anyone other than a medical professional, really isn't necessary, no matter what that one lady in your mom group says.