Peaceful. Participatory. Predictable. These three P’s characterize an infant environment that builds self-confidence and a sense of security. Bedtime is one of the most obvious and important times in an infant’s day to employ these three P’s.
Settling a child down for an afternoon nap or a good night’s sleep can be one of the most difficult and elusive processes in parenting. Establishing consistency is key, of course. Parent and child are on the same page, and a baby will always feel more secure. Elements may involve bathing, feeding, singing, snuggling and, of course, the age-old ritual of storytelling or reading a favorite book. But whatever the routine, the three P’s are the essential underpinnings:
- A peaceful sleep environment with minimal stimulation from toys, screens, light, and exterior noise, all of which distract from the matter at hand, and a relaxed, unrushed parent who is available to provide intimate, undivided attention.
- Gentle, participatory activities like dressing, pulling down a shade, choosing a book.
- All under the umbrella of predictability, so that our children can anticipate the ritual and even lead when we invite them to make choices. Predictability breeds security, which leads to calm, which is the gateway to relaxation and sleep.
Essential to these P’s is respectful, two-way parent-child communication, which we ideally begin at birth. Authentic person-to-person conversations with our babies make their involvement possible. We can invite them to participate in bathing, diapering and dressing and empower them to predict each step. At the same time, we teach language in the most profound, meaningful manner and promote bonding and trust. In a strictly practical sense, there is nothing that unwinds and calms babies more effectively than simply knowing what comes next in their personal bedtime story. Jamie’s experience illustrates:
“I had to share with you! I’ve been following you and Magda Gerber’s RIE approach since I was pregnant with my now 8-month old daughter, and while I try to stay consistent with most RIE practices, there have been a few that I’ve let slide a little. In particular, our nap/sleep routine. I’d gotten into the habit of nursing and rocking her to sleep. Low and behold, it would take 25+ minutes in order to get her down. Just when I thought she was ready to be put down in her crib, she would cry. Time for a reset!
The last few times for nap and bedtime, I started nursing her as the first step in our sleep routine, and while doing that, I’d tell her step by step what we would do once she was done nursing: “We will close the door, and then we will turn on the noise machine. Next, we will close the blinds and make the room dark. Lastly, I will give you a cuddle, and then I’ll lay you in the crib and you’ll take a nice rest.
Today, I repeated this to her three times while nursing. And then when it came time to do these things, she was totally engaged in each step — looking at the door, reaching toward the sound machine, and lastly, not crying when I closed the blinds like she usually does. And the most amazing part: when I stood by her crib and gave her a last hug, she put her head on my shoulder and we cuddled for a few moments. Then I set her down and she turned over and went right to sleep. No crying or tossing and turning! It was amazing. My heart is bursting with how smart and attuned and capable these babies are.”
While parents won’t necessarily have such a magical result, the 3 Ps empower us and our babies.
(Thanks so much to Jamie for this story and gorgeous photo!)