Equal Expectations

There are SO many expectations, both realistic and unrealistic, when it comes to sleep for our little ones. It is so important to us that we are doing the best we can to help parents to decipher between which of these expectations are realistic, and fall in line with what is biologically normal and appropriate for babies and toddlers, and which are not. 

One thing we’ve realized is that there are quite a few expectations we have for our children that we wouldn’t have for ourselves or other adults in our lives. We’re going to quickly break down 10 of them we think are truly so important to reframe our perspective on. 

1.We expect children to have the exact same sleep needs as children the same age as them, even though we do not have the exact same sleep patterns as people the same age as us.

      Let’s say you’re 30 years old. Would it be reasonable to expect that you have the EXACT same sleep needs as your best friend just because you are the same age. Of course not! Some adults thrive off 6-7 hours of sleep just fine while others are much better off with closer to 9 or 10 hours a night consistently. Generic age based schedules for babies and toddlers drive us a bit bonkers because when we look at things from a biological perspective there is a HUGE range of what is normal. Daily sleep total and average wake windows guides are a great starting point, but there are huge ranges of what is normal so use that as a baseline and then focus on your individual baby’s needs and meeting them where they are at!

      2. We expect children to not be affected by sleep interruptions, such as pain, discomfort or illness.

      Have you ever woken up in pain or had a crappy sleep while you had the flu? These are normal sleep interrupters and our babies and toddlers are not immune to them! Babies may need extra rest, extra support, extra snuggles and may wake more frequently during these times!

      3. We expect children to not need any sleep associations (aka bad habits or crutches) even though we as adults do.

        How do you unwind for bed? Sleep associations for adults are something we don’t think twice about. It could look like brushing your teeth and washing your face. Maybe you chat with your partner, maybe you stretch or read a book. We all have things we do to help us transition from awake to asleep, our children included. Sleep associations are not bad habits and patterns such as nursing to sleep don’t need to fall into the negative narrative of “crutches”. Sleep associations are only negative if they are no longer working for you, and when that happens you can make changes (join us for our webinar on this Thursday!)

        4. We expect children to sleep without any wakes even though everyone has partial wakes through the night that can lead to needing to meet needs.

          Did you know that ALL of us wake throughout the night, even if we can’t recall it. As we move through from one sleep cycle to the next, we all have partial arousals. For us, this might look like getting up to use the washroom, taking a sip of water, checking the clock, adjusting the covers or rolling over without even noticing. For our little ones, it isn’t all that different. During a partial arousal they may call out to have their needs met, needs that can vary from cold to hot, hungry or thirsty, discomfort to seeking connection, all of which are valid needs.

          5. We expect children to sleep alone at all times, even though many adults do not. 

            Many of us sleep next to our partners. We may even feel weird or lonely on nights they are away at work or out of town. Children are designed to be near us and separation can be really, really hard for them! It is normal for them to seek proximity with us, especially when in the face of separation. There are many ways to help your child with this, from bedsharing to bridging techniques all of which we can provide you with guidance on. 

            6. We expect children to not need extra support after a hard day, even though many of us need this often. 

              We all have hard days. Days we feel extra emotional, more exhausted when we get home than usual, days we feel frustrated or lonely. Our children obviously may not feel the exact same things at the end of the day as we do, but they do have their own emotions for their own reasons and there is no reason that we should respect that and support them in this. Days that have been harder for our children, can often mean they feel the need to check in with us extra at night. Remember that dependence fosters independence and giving a little extra on those hard days is an investment in the relationship you have with your little babe! 

              7. We expect children to need to fall asleep and wake at the exact same time every day, even though the true is not the same for adults.

                Yes, we all have an internal biological clock that helps us to regulate our days and nights, but this clock is not down to the minute. Now us as adults, may wake at the same time most days if we use an alarm clock sure, but we would imagine that if you let yourself wake naturally everyday there would be a bit of a variance in the time you woke. If we look at bedtime,  we may have a time when we start to wind down and climb into bed, but it is doubtful we fall asleep at the exact same minute every night. Kids are human, too! It is okay if you notice wake time and bedtime vary a bit regardless of having routines and rhythms in place!

                8. We expect children to always react calmly and happily to changes they face, even though we as adults are allowed to feel frustrated and upset.

                  Children have the right to a full spectrum of emotions. As parents it is not our job to understand or rationalize our children’s feelings and reactions, but instead to acknowledge, validate and hold space for their tears, while continuing to show up for them and show them unconditional love. It is our responsibility to manage our reaction to their emotions, but not their emotions themselves. We can’t speak for everyone but we know we regularly feel frustrated, angry, annoyed, sad, confused, defeated…. many different emotions about so many things! Why do we so often take away that same opportunity for our children? Instead of expecting our children to react calmly, let’s instead focus on welcoming emotion and coaching them to work through emotion in a healthy way.

                  9. We expect our children to never have difficulty falling asleep in the middle of the night, but many adults experience this often as well.

                  Have you ever had a night you just cannot sleep? It happens! Or maybe you've had one of those nights that you just can't fall asleep at bedtime no matter what? The more we force sleep, the harder it becomes. The more we stress about sleep or overthink it, that harder it becomes. Sleep is not within our conscious control and is simply a biological function. Those times we know we are ready to sleep, we would fall asleep immediately if we could, but we just can't, but we CAN extend the same understanding and courtesy to our children.

                  10. We expect children to not need guidance in healthy emotional self-expression, we expect that they should be okay alone in their emotion, but we wouldn't always expect the same of our adult partners or friends.

                  If your partner had a hard day at work, would you simply tell them to get over it, or would you listen with empathy? If your best friend was upset would you leave the room and tell her to come out only when she got over it? If your mom was struggling with a change in her life would you support her and be responsive, or would you leave her alone in her emotions? We all need support sometimes. Children need us to be there for them, especially when they are upset. 

                  We hope that by reframing these expectations, that are not always equal between children and adults while maybe they should be, we can help you feel less stressed about sleep, and also more empowered. 

                  Categories: Emotion, Motherhood, Normal Infant & Toddler Sleep, Parenting, Sleep Associations, Sleep Support, Sleep Without Sleep Training