About 90% of my clients describe their children and babies as being “strong-willed” or “stubborn.” These traits typically give them pause about sleep training and whether or not it will work with their child. Fortunately, every single one of them has discovered throughout the process that their children aren’t unruly, stubborn or particularly strong willed; they were just chronically sleep deprived.
The afterthoughts of some formerly sleep deprived parents and strong willed babies:
“Now she seems lit from within and she is starting to develop much more quickly (almost crawling, pulling up, etc.)….I think she may have just not had the energy before”
“It is wonderful to see her real personality come out!”
“It’s pretty incredible. I was convinced he was stubborn and strong willed but he’s super mellow and easy going now.”
Being strong-willed shouldn’t have a negative connotation. In these cases, strong-willed refers to children who put up a fight when going to sleep at night, sometimes taking over an hour to go to sleep, have tantrums when changes to the routine are implemented or have meltdowns throughout the day, especially at night. These are children who would always fight sleep, for naps, bedtime and during night wakings.
Those traits often lead parents to believe that nothing will work for their children. They start to believe that they will never be good sleepers and that tends to lead to the creation of poor sleep habits. Poor sleep habits are often the result of misguided solutions to strong willed behaviors, e.g. deciding to co-sleep because your child wakes up in the middle of the night and will not go back to sleep. Unfortunately, the longer those poor sleep habits persist, the more discouraged parents become.
It’s amazing to watch those same discouraged parents go through the sleep consulting process and come out of it with an understanding of their child’s true personality. A chronically sleep deprived child behaves much differently than a well-rested child. Just like a chronically sleep deprived adult will become moody, depressed, quick to anger, and exponentially more unable to deal with issues logically, a child is the same way.
There are so many facets to achieving consistently great sleep and, for sleep sensitive children, having all of those facets line up and work together is imperative. There is no such thing as a “bad sleeper.” Some children just need a little more help than others when learning how to sleep independently.
I encourage all parents to consider the possibility that what may appear to be a strong willed child might actually be one who is in desperate need of sleep.