One of my biggest rules for parents who are sleep training is to remain consistent. Whether it’s the bedtime routine, where baby sleeps, or what the consequences are for leaving their room in the night, consistency is absolutely essential to regular nights of quality sleep.
However, there’s this crazy little thing called life that tends to get involved and throw the occasional curve ball into your routine. Special occasions, family functions, and the occasional emergency can all call for an exception to me made and for your little one to stay up past their scheduled bedtime or miss a nap.
So when can you make exceptions? Well, I would say, “As rarely as possible, but as often as is absolutely necessary.”
The truth is, is you’re visiting family or friends, having extra fun in the park, or you let your little one stay up late in order to extend their visit, they’re probably going to be a bit of a handful the next day. So ask yourself, is it worth it to have a grouchy baby on my hands tomorrow in exchange for a couple of hours of fun tonight?
Another important thing to consider is how well your baby adapts to a change in routine. Some kids are quite good at dealing with a slight change in the schedule, whereas others can get thrown for a loop for the next couple of days if they so much as go down late for a nap.
But I don’t want to sound like I’m condemning parents and kids to a lifetime of repetition. It’s important to have some new experiences and to enjoy life, so yes, exceptions should be made. Just make sure that you evaluate the costs and benefits and prepare as best as you can for the situation.
In addition, I would advise against making any changes too early into the program. If you just started sleep training a week ago, don’t pick this moment to go on a trip or stay overnight at someone else’s house. Once you’ve had a month or two of really solid, quality nights, then you can start playing around with the rules on occasion.
The other piece of advice I would offer when it comes to breaking the rules is, “Try to bend them instead.”
If you’re going to be at a friend’s place when baby’s supposed to be taking a nap, consider bringing along a Pack and Play or a stroller so that they have somewhere to lay down when it’s time for a snooze, or if you have a bit of a drive involved, try to plan so that baby can sleep in the car when they would normally be going down for a nap. It’s not ideal, but it’s better than skipping a nap altogether. Overtired is always harder to settle.
This may all sound a little authoritative, but overtiredness is an absolute monster when it comes to bedtime. Kids who are overtired will have a harder time falling asleep, which leads to a bad night, which leads to more overtiredness, and so on. It’s a cycle you really don’t want to get into.
So you’re ultimately the only one who can decide when it’s okay to break the rules. If you feel your little one can handle it, give it a try. If not, I suggest you play it safe. As they get older, you’ll find they’ll be more accepting of changes in the schedule, but developing them into champion sleepers in these early years will go a long way towards that goal.