Sometimes I need to be reminded how capable kids really are. Facilitating healthy growth in our children can be one of the most challenging, yet most important tasks in parenting. However, facilitating healthy growth isn’t always the most natural and comfortable thing to do. Let me share a story to further explain my statements…
Recently when I arrived to pick up my daughter from school after lunch, I walked in and without a second thought started helping my daughter close her lunch box. My daughter dismissed my help and told me that her teacher asked her to take initiative to close her lunch box herself before I arrived. I realized…my daughter's teacher is teaching independence and by helping her I was hindering her from that learning process. Her lunch box is a bit challenging to close and I assumed because I was helping her I was doing her good, but I was doing just the opposite.
Age appropriate skills can be taught. In fact, my children's school is proof that a whole room of toddlers can do any age-appropriate task. Is it easy for them at first? No. Do you just throw them a pair of snow clothes and tell them to get dressed when they begin to learn? No. BUT can they do it? YES!! Over time, with practice, and help, they CAN do it!
Let me relate this back to an area in which most parents experience struggle: sleep. How many times do we parents work to make our children drowsy, or fully asleep, because we don't TRUST our children can do it themselves? I encourage you to recognize that falling asleep progressively independently is a learned skill just like closing a lunch box, tying a shoe, and putting on snow pants.
It’s not always easy to teach new skills. The learning process is not likely going to look linear. These words of wisdom from the head of my children's Montessori school stuck in my head: “children are dynamic.” Have truer words ever been spoken?! Children ARE dynamic. So, be ready for the teaching process to look unperfect, but continual progress towards a skill is what you want to see.
When I sleep trained my daughter (2 years old), I was hugely hesitant that my daughter could fall asleep on her own. But I gave it a try. I was shaking, I was nervous. I gave her a soothing routine and tucked her in and she fell asleep – NO PROBLEM + no tears! My hesitancy and my mistrust in her abilities hindered that milestone that she wanted to take for herself.
I OFTEN don't trust my kids. My house is a mess because I often don't trust that my kids can and will clean their mess. I recently taught them how to put their clothes away and guess what?!?! They did it, and have been doing it consistently (or semi consistently).
Since my children were little, I had them sit with me through church service. My kids are no different than other children – it literally took YEARS to teach them to sit quietly through a church service. Now at age 4 and 6, they are able to sit (mostly) quietly through a church service – it’s become a normal expectation. Since age 3, our son can even sit quietly by himself on the front row while his dad leads the music. This is possible by us making expectations clear, and setting them up for success by ensuring they were fed and well slept before church, and making that time a positive experience. They are still not perfectly quiet during church service, but they do very well! It is no different with sleep.
I don't like the word sleep training because it gives off a harsh, demanding vibe. I really view this process as a coaching process. Will your toddler get it in one night? NO. Will it be easy? Not always. But can she do it? Absolutely!
Pick ONE thing in which you want to help your child gain independence. Is it putting on pajamas? Or, turning the light off? Maybe it's laying in bed by herself while daddy calmy sits right next to her until she falls asleep. Maybe it's being okay with not holding mommy's hand while she falls asleep, but instead having a reassuring intermittent touch from mommy until falling asleep. There are so many little steps you can agree upon with your child to help him/her build confidence. Just trust that they can do it – because they can!
Tiny steps will make for a confident, secure toddler, preschooler, and kindergarten sleeper. No harshness, no hysterical tears, just baby steps to progress. If there is a regression, no problem, you have paved a way already with your baby steps, just jump back on that path.
I am writing this for parents who have toddlers, preschoolers, and kindergarteners who still have trouble with bedtime. Newborns and infants are still building that very important bond with parents and should not be expected to learn sleep skills until they get older.
I hope this blog has encouraged you to step out in faith and build your child's confidence and maturity in his/her abilities. Our children are amazing human beings. As such, I challenge you (as well as myself) to have faith in their abilities and be willing to get uncomfortable yourself to facilitate growth in your children.