Are You Setting Your Kids Up For Failure? Accidental Parenting

If you're getting into sleep training at a later stage, having troubles with your baby, or finding some bad habits forming, chances are you're a victim of Accidental Parenting.  Or rather, your baby is the victim.  You're the enabler.

If you missed the first two weeks of this Sleep Training Series, catch up now.

Accidental Parenting

Accidental Parenting refers to forms of child rearing that start as harmless quick fixes to baby issues, then progress into entrenched habits and full-blown time busters.

Maybe your little one needs to be rocked to sleep for naps.  Then it becomes an entire production with musical toys, lullabies and a cuddly blanket on top of the rocking.  How long are you going to do that for?  Until she's 4?  As much as we love snuggling our littles, I don't think any of us have that kind of time or, more importantly, sanity.

Here's the truth about babies: it's just as easy to form good habits as it is to form bad ones.

Forming Good Habits

You see, the point I'm trying to make is this: start as you mean to go on.  Think about what you're doing and how you want life to look in a few short months.  Concentrate on habits and techniques for the long term.  It's that simple.

In the moment, it will feel impossible, frustrating, and never-ending.  But, stick it out and, in a few weeks, you'll be on the other side of the tough patch and glad you held your own and taught baby to fall asleep on her own.  The pride is immeasurable.

It's best to start early on.  I had the best luck at 2 weeks with my first.  She was sleeping through the night at 3 weeks old.  I say luck, but that isn't really accurate.  We followed the EASY routine and never looked back.  She's still a phenomenal sleeper.

However, not everyone is blessed with learning the golden words of Tracy Hogg when their babies are small.  Which is when accidental parenting happens.  Starting EASY after 4 months is usually complicated by accidental parenting seeds that were planted in infancy.

This sleep training series is adapted from the works of No products found. and No products found.. These are both written by Tracy Hogg.

How you respond to your baby's irregularities and frustrations will dictate the habits that are formed.  These will either be helpful in teaching the set of skills that babies need to learn to sleep, or harmful and form bad habits.

Stay Away From Bad Habits

It takes only 2-3 nights for a baby to become dependent on a form of accidental parenting like bouncing, jiggling, rocking. But it can take two to three weeks of repeating the right habits to fix it.

Because you've switched up how you put baby to bed, he becomes confused.  He doesn't know what to expect and reaches out with a cry.  When you come to console him, he fancies what you're doing.  Next time he wakes up, he expects the same thing.

Here's where the habit is formed.

Instead of teaching him the right way to go to sleep on his own (and stay asleep), you've inadvertently taught him that he needs to be picked up and comforted back to sleep.

If nothing seems to be working for you, it's likely a case of accidental parenting.

Don't Confuse Your Baby

By trying many different methods, you could have confused your baby.  Learn how to recognize the signs of accidental parenting.

  • Has there been a sudden and drastic change in routine (return to work, new babysitter, sibling)
  • Is your child waking at exactly the same time every night/at naps?
    • If a baby is waking due to hunger (which is ok), the time will be erratic and baby will take an entire feed.  Consistently waking at a certain time and hardly eating signifies habitual waking.

If your baby is waking up every hour, or even every two hours, and [you've] ruled out hunger and pain, there's a good chance that you are doing something that makes nighttime appealing to her.

  • Baby won't sleep unless I fill in the blank
    • Here's the truth: by allowing baby to fall asleep in that way, you're teaching him that this is how he is supposed to go to bed.  It's all he knows, now. Work towards getting him to go to sleep on his own.
  • I can't get my baby to nap more than 30-45 minutes
    • You could be waiting until he's too tired, not using a structured routine, or trying to keep him on a routine meant for a younger baby.

Props and prop dependency.  A form of accidental parenting

As the name suggests, a prop is anything the baby needs to fall asleep that is out of his control and has been introduced by the parent.  They can be physical (pacifier/soother, bottle) or motion props (car ride, rocking, swing).

Props often start as a desperate measure.  In all fairness, it's hard NOT to use a prop.  Any sleep-deprived parent who doesn't rock, bounce, or give a pacifier is a hero in my books!

There's a catch, though

You might think it's cruel not to give your baby a pacifier.  The trouble is, there's a difference between a prop and a comfort item.  Comfort items are adopted by babies at 6 months or older.  Props often start in the first few weeks after birth and will come back to haunt you.

Pacifiers can go either way.  If the baby needs the pacifier to sleep and cries/wakes when it falls out?  PROP!

Using shush/pat or pick up/put down (more to come) will likely be necessary to break prop dependency.

Here's the Scary Part

Accidental parenting can start in infancy and continue through childhood.  At that point, they have most certainly become time busters – a frustrating, seemingly endless and prolonged behavioral difficulty that robs hours from the day and night.  Your child ends up controlling you and your life.  Your marital relationship may suffer because of it, as well as any other adult relationships you have.

Here's the truth: babies don't sleep “like a baby”.  They sleep like us.  They have interruptions all night, too. Babies have the same sleep cycle we do.  The difference?  We know how to put ourselves back to sleep (if our parents taught us how).  Now you need to teach your baby.

There's good news.

You will be able to alter your child's habits and train him back to the well behaved little one you always dreamed of.  The important part is to be consistent.  When you change the rules or offer a quick fix, you are just putting a bandage over a dirty wound.  Sweeping the problem under the rug.

I'm going to show you the steps to get your routine on track, be consistent, and commit to the proper techniques for sleep preparation.

The Four S Routine

This is the recommended routine for every sleep time when starting sleep training.  Being consistent will have your baby recognizing the cues to settle down and expect sleep.

Set the stage

Get the environment ready for sleep.  Go to his room, dim the lights, keep noises to a minimum, play soft music or white noise if you like.


Get your baby ready for sleep.  Swaddling helps minimize stimulation from moving limbs, and keeps baby cozy.


Sit quietly without physical stimulation.  Don't rock or jiggle.  Hold baby vertically with his head tucked into you.  You may feel baby relax and possibly jerk or twitch.  Try to move him to his crib before he falls into a sleep.  Give him a reassuring word as you lay him down.  If all is calm, head out.

Shush Pat (Under the age of 3 months)

When necessary, you may need to intervene with physical touch to help a fussy or fidgety baby drop off to sleep.  Simultaneously pat his back and whisper “shh, shh, shh…” past his ear.

Terrifying Reality

Are you the cause for your child's sleep disorder? Does she have trouble at naps? Do you have to rock your baby to go to sleep? Learn how to stop rocking, stop holding baby to sleep. It's the cause of accidental parenting. Things you inadvertently did to form bad habits.Sleep disorders are becoming an epidemic in North America.  By not training our babies, at a young age, we are setting them up for failure and pain later on in life.

It's preventable

To reverse these long-standing habits, No products found. the following course of action:

1. Figure out what you have done to encourage or reinforce the problem

It's not likely the child's fault.  By not setting limits, giving in to every tantrum, whine, whim and puppy dog face, you're allowing your child to walk all over you!  Your child won't change if he keeps getting his way with a little whimper.

While things likely are your (and your partner's) fault, it's important not to beat yourself up.  Yes, you made some choices that have led to frustration, but you're here to fix them and help your child better manage his life.

  • Do you feel guilty about setting limits?
  • Do you tend to be inconsistent with rules?
  • If you work outside the home, do you let standards slide when you're home?
  • When you say “no,” do you feel sorry for your child?
  • Does your child tend to have tantrums only when you are around?
  • Do you tend to placate or cajole?
  • Are you afraid your child won't love you if you discipline her?
  • Do you get upset when your child doesn't seem happy?
  • Do your child's tears make you feel sad?
  • Do you often feel that other parents are too strict?

If you've answered “yes” to any of these questions, it's a good chance that your kiddo will continue to use his charm to get his way until you put an end to it.  Additionally, he will realize he can up the ante to get even more out of you.  Instead of a quick snuggle when he wakes in the night, it will multiply into a snuggle, 3 books, a drink of water and maybe even a little play time.

You see, in the second year of life, kids take a developmental leap.  They're better able to understand cause and effect and use it to their advantage.  Y'know, parental manipulation.

2. Make sure you are ready to change.

If you find yourself making excuses for your behavior (or your child's), you aren't aware of your own reluctance.  Again, it's not the child who has a problem here, it's you allowing bad habits to form and grow.

Denial is the biggest hurdle in getting started on the right path.

3. Use ABC to analyze the problem

A – Antecedent, what came first?

What was happening in the moment?  Was baby crying, someone at the door, baby not getting enough attention?

B – Behavior

How did the baby react?  Feelings + emotions?

C – Consequence, what pattern has been established as the result of A + B?

What happened in the end?  And what continues to happen?

Example: You were out shopping and get home late for nap time.  You have an important call in 20 minutes, so instead of taking the time to put baby down for her nap properly, you do something outside of the routine.  She likes it.  She falls asleep.  She now expects it for every sleep time.

4. Have a plan and stay with it

I can't stress this enough; consistency is key.  Just as you were consistent in the bad habits, you need to be consistent in the good.  Keep with the same technique, use the same words and actions, and form proper habits.  Keep the routine a little closer to the clock if need be.

This includes setting limits.  When you say one more book, you need to mean it.  One slip and that little rugrat will know he can wriggle an extra candy out of you next time, too.

Problems don't magically disappear.

5. Take small steps; each change could take 2-3 weeks

There are no quick fixes.  Parenting is hard.  It takes work, dedication, time, and lots of energy!  The good news?  It takes less time to change habits with infants.  Toddlers, not so much.  So start early, if you can.

But don't let that discourage you!  If you are dealing with a toddler and bad habits, take the time to correct them now.  Next week, you'll wish you started today.

Target the end goal and work backwards.  If you have a child who will not sleep in his own bed, break down the process into teeny, tiny accomplishments.  It will be more manageable and more rewarding, encouraging you to continue. Here is an example No products found. with a toddler…

  • Let him have play time in his bed, getting him used to the area and knowing that it's safe
  • Start him in his bed immediately, but stay with him on a blow up bed or mattress in his room (only do this for 1-2 nights)
  • Take the bed out, but stay until he falls asleep
  • Continue to stay until he's asleep, but move slightly closer to the door, using reassuring words if you have to
  • Let him drift off on his own, even if he plays a while in bed first

Take each step of progress as a win and build on it.  You're inching toward your goal.  You're working hard and developing life-long skills for your child.

6. Be respectful; your child needs some control

What?  Give my child control?  This is why we're in this mess!

Not exactly.  I said some control; not all.  Give your little one options, but only those which have outcomes that you agree with.  Instead of asking “ok, do you want to go to bed now?”, say “ok, it's bed time, do you want to read book A or book B tonight?”

Tips for Success

  • Acknowledge and recognize your guilt, but don't dwell on it.  That does nothing but harm.
  • Don't fall into the “poor baby” mindset.  You've taught your baby everything she knows.  Now it's time to teach her how to sleep properly.
  • Be consistent and persistent.
  • Understand that your baby is changing every day.  As she becomes more active, getting her to sleep might become more challenging.  Don't be tempted to offer a quick fix.  This might mean putting her to bed earlier around the 7-8 month mark.
  • Gain your baby's trust and don't break it.  You are his entire world.  Remember that.
  • In terms of comfort and pain, don't overreact.  Treat your child appropriately with a remedy and cuddle, then stick to your terms and put him back to bed.
  • Don't encourage poor behavior with laughing (even if it is super cute and funny!).
  • Be patient and conscious in all aspects of parenthood.  Get to know your baby and develop a perfect routine for him.
  • Get to the root of the problem
    • Consider all things in your child's life: newfound mobility/standing, tummy aches from new foods, vaccines, separation anxiety (typically around 8 months), reflux, gas, colic, teething.
  • Be an Objective parent.
    • Objective: realize your child is a separate being with all the unique human characteristics any other person has.  Base your reactions on the situation at hand, gathering evidence and clues from the surroundings.  Teach new emotional skills.  Use praise appropriately.

What are you going to do right now to help your child sleep better tonight?

The topic of Accidental Parenting also relates to behavior issues in areas such as meal times, bathing, social settings and more.  I am only presenting the facts in terms of sleep training to fit with my Sleep Training Series.

  • See Week 1, Into + 5 Different Baby Personalities, here
  • See Week 2, Sleep Training the EASY Way, here
  • See Week 4, Shush-Pat Method, here
  • See Week 5, Pick Up/Put Down, here
  • See Week 6, Wake to Sleep, here

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