Monday, August 24, 2009

Importance of Structure

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For many of you, I know your goal with Babywise is simply to get the sleeping through the night baby. After that, you might let the principles from the -wise series dwindle into a fond memory...then one day your two year old will cause you to think, "Is there a babywise book for this age?"

In my mind, the sleeping through the night is just the tip of the ice berg when it comes to raising your child. Believe me, it is great. Good sleep habits and good eating habits will be the foundation for having a happy, well-behaved toddler, preschooler, and beyond.

Something I personally love about the -wise series is the focus on moral training. If you are looking for nothing more than sleeping and eating, something like Secrets of the Baby Whisperer will suit you just fine. With the -wise series, you get good tips that help you train the heart of your child. The tips are often very much common sense. You just don't think of it on your own.

The -wise series also keeps you focused on structuring your child's day. What is the big deal about structure? As On Becoming Preschoolwise puts it, children left unattended for great lengths of time get into trouble (page85). And keep in mind that a "great length of time" is not as long for a child as it is for you ;). So structure helps your child stay out of trouble--though that doesn't mean your child won't ever get into trouble.

I have a couple of stories to illustrate children getting into trouble without supervision. A little over a year ago, Brayden and Kaitlyn were playing in the sandbox. Brayden was just over three and Kaitlyn was around 15 months old or so. I decided to go in the kitchen and clean. The sandbox is close to the house, so with windows open, I could hear if something as amiss. When I went out to get them, however, I saw that hearing was all that needed to be happening.

Kaitlyn was soaking wet. I asked Brayden what happened. Well, apparently she was dirty and he turned the hose on her. She was happy as can be...but wet. I had not been gone more than 5-10 minutes.

Another story happened about 5-6 months ago. Brayden was approaching four and Kaitlyn was approaching 2. My husband and I were busy painting and prepping McKenna's room for her arrival. Brayden and Kaitlyn were playing together nicely in Kaitlyn's room. When we went to get them ready for bed, we saw that they had covered Kaitlyn's bed in a huge pile of toys. Huge! They were quite proud of the structure.

These stories don't end in tragedy or really anything bad, it just illustrates that when kids are left to their own devices, they do things that aren't really beneficial to anyone and create a lot of cleanup for everyone (assuming you require their help).

Structure helps you guide your child's day. You can provide independent play time where he can learn to problem solve and learn to do an activity as directed. You can have set meal times and set nap/rest times. You can have free play where your child chooses an activity to do, but knows his limitations. You can have learning time where you teach him things based on age. You can have time that is unplanned and you are spontaneous if that is something you enjoy.

Structure helps you work those things into your day that are important to you. If you decide to continue on with the -wise series, I don't think you will be sorry you did. You can follow things as loosely or strictly as you like. You will find many helpful tips that provide prevention as well as tips for dealing with discipline issues when they arise.

Structure has definitely made life with three children much easier for me. I know when McKenna will need me. I know when I will have time to myself. I know when we can have learning time.

Here is a sample of the order we do things so you can see what you can get done with structure:

  • Eat breakfast
  • Learning time
  • Sibling play
  • TV time
  • Bath time
  • Independent play
  • Take a walk
  • Eat lunch
  • Scripture study
  • Nap
  • Learning time
  • Free play
  • Dinner
  • Spontaneous time (Daddy is the spontaneous one in our family). We do family activities and projects.
  • Family scripture study and prayer
  • Bed
  • Time with my husband! (I had to throw it in there because it is a nice perk)

We of course have variations. We have days we go to the park. We have random different activities thrown in there. But my point here is to show the many different things we are able to get in a day. It isn't stressful to get these things in, and it is all thanks to structure.

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Isabella Z. Ramirez said...

Great blog! It's very helpful after having scanned it for just a few minutes.
QUESTION - We are first time parents. Our baby girl is only 8 days old and she is extremely fussy at night. She typically feeds between 9-11 times a day, with my wife having to wake her for each of the feedings. After each feeding I change her diaper, hold her until she is calm, and then put her down to sleep. At night, though, whenever the feeding is finished, and I have changed her diaper, she will cry and cry until she finally calms down. Last night, in particular, was awful in that even though we tried everything to soothe her (swaddling, "Shushing", etc.), she cried for a stretch of about 4 hours. Any suggestions?

Elaine said...

Thanks for your blog. It's a great resource, especially for a first time mom like me. I love that someone else out there realizes the importance of structure in a child's day, for the benefit of the child and the parents. I have a 9 week old and we already have a routine established for each day. He wakes, eats, then has specific activities he does during his awake time. That way we are making sure he gets time with both parents every day, reading books, having tummy time, having independent play time, and spending time outdoors. Otherwise once he finished eating I would be trying to figure out what to do with him until he got tired. Great Post :)

I have one question for you, and its completely unrelated, sorry.
Right now our little guy has his dreamfeed at 10:30, then sleeps until about 4:30 or 5:00, eats, and then we start the day at 7:30. For the past few days he has not been eating well at 7:30 when I wake him up. Does this mean he is ready to drop the 5:00 feeding?? And if so, how do I go about doing that? Thanks so much

Katy Hayes said...

I have commented a couple times, but I love your blog! I am a first time mother and I have a friend who goes to church with the authors of Babywise and she recommended your blog and the book before my son was born. I read the Babywise book cover to cover before my little boy was born. I seem to express more positive sentiments about the first 5 months of my sons life than friends who didn't have structure and schedule. I had less chaos and more predictibility. We get comments EVERYWHERE we go on how happy he is and how he is always smiling and in a good mood and people always ask us how we do it. Friends & family were shocked I woke him to eat. Everyone always lectured us on the "never wake a sleeping baby" saying. But ironically, they are the same ones who end up completely exhausted and spending hours trying to figure out what is wrong with their child. Our son absolutely thrives on a schedule and it is so easy to plan your day! I would strongly recommend the Babywise book to every parent! I plan on continuing the series!

Rachel said...

Thanks for this post Val! I just got Preschoolwise and Pottywise from Amazon a few days ago, but haven't opened them up yet! I am off to go start reading!!!! I love this series and now have 5 of them!
Also, thanks for your outline of what your days look like- I need to write mine down too.

TamPerth said...

Thanks for your great blog and this post. I have 2 gorgeous boys 20mths and 4mths. I totally agree with your comments. Structure is central to the way our family live. I did some (didn't realise how important some of the skills were (eg playpen time) of BW with my 1st but am now playing catch up in some areas as I am sure you can imagine with my 1st. I never did playpen time (big mistake) purely because I presumed he had independent play time. Boy was I wrong. I have Implemented room time gradually about a month ago. We are up to 10mins with me sitting at a table nearby. The problem is he comes out of his room at 7/8 mins and basically tests me to make him go back in and play. After a couple of times of this testing he will go back and play until I come and get him a couple of minutes later. Also if I leave the table he will come out of his room looking for me. I have also tried when I stay in his room and he will play for longer and seems to even be more focused on the play and only interacting with me once or twice. I am really aware that this is a crucial time for teaching focus, creative etc etc. I also do mummy time etc so I don't think it is more time with me he needs but I could be wrong. Thanks for your advice.

Victoria said...

Thank you so much for your blog! You have given me so many wonderful ideas and I look forward to working through the -wise books with our baby. I do have some questions for you (and your readers). I work third shift and breastfeed. Our baby is 4 months old. I didn't find Babywise until it was time to come back to work and crying it out while I am trying to sleep just does not work. What are your suggestions for getting out of the habits of 1) nursing him to sleep? 2) having him in bed with us/my husband when I am at work? 3) establishing a routine when our lives are anything but? Working 3rd is very difficult to have a routine on, even before we had our baby. I am having a hard time because I want the best for him (and us), but I don't know what to do. Also, my husband is a pastor, and does several other jobs--leaving him with a different schedule everyday. Any suggestions are welcome (and prayers for a first shift job). Thanks and God bless!

bradysmom said...

This is a great blog! People always mwke fun of me and how much structure we have. But it really does help!
On a side note - val are you still getting notified about new comments? I left one last week and hadn't heard anything. Thanks for all that you do!

Kristy Shreve Powers said...

First, I agree with Katy Hayes! And I really appreciate this post. Working through challenges with a 3-year-old really shows me how the -wise lessons keep building on the foundation of sleeping and eating habits. As intense as the infant days are, older kids need so much from us as they become more aware and more integrated into the world at large. Having babies who sleep and eat well gives us the opportunity to teach them with some major obstacles removed. And our spouses don't have to be put on hold while babies grow older! :)

Kelike said...

I have always been a free spirit. My jobs as song-writer and stay-at-home mom have given me a lot of freedom. I am now realizing the importance of giving my daughter structure. At the very least, she knows that at bed time, Dad and I are going to read to her while she feeds, change her and put her in one of her swaddle blankets before putting her to sleep. Structure can be so important when getting baby to sleep

Angi said...

I have the same question as Elaine, so I am riding her coat-tail on this one.

Katy Hayes said...

Elaine and Angi,
Here is what we did (not sure if this is exactly what she would recommend, but it worked for us). The whole process took a little over a week. We started at 5 weeks. (We also fed exactly every 3 hours, round the clock, no matter what until he was 5 weeks old). At 5 weeks after his night feeding I would let him sleep until he woke to eat. I think he understood (well, as much as he could) night at this point since this was the only feeding he went to sleep after eating. He would wake once to eat. At 6.5 weeks (our waketime was 6:30am) he stopped eating as well at 6:30am (you also have to remember their weight is important, our son was a healthy eater, but my dr said at 12lb they are PHYSICALLY capable of sleeping through the night, but each child is different), so I knew he didn't need his night feeding. The first night I pumped a bottle before I went to sleep, so I could see exactly what he was getting and offered him less (only 2oz). He went right back to sleep and slept until waketime. Then I did two more nights of offering less. The fourth night I offered him a pacifier instead of his bottle, he went back to sleep but woke at 6:15am to eat. I again offered him the pacifier the next two nights if he woke. I also heard that you can offer a little bit of water but we never had to try that. I think there was a night or two in there where we tried the pacifier and tried to sooth, but it was clear he was hungry, so we offered a couple oz. That worked for us. He is now 23 weeks old and has slept throught he night since he was 9 weeks old. We can tell if he is going through a growth spurt if he wakes at 5:15am to eat. My recommendation is to try and sooth back to sleep before offering a bottle. I think most parents get into the habit of offering the bottle because it is easier, and we desperately want sleep :), then have the long-term struggle of the baby contiuing to wake for food because they think that is what they are supposed to do - time to eat :) and if they are anything like my son - he will never turn down food :) But again, each child is different but I hope this helps.

Plowmanators said...

Isabella Z Ramirez,

It might be some sort of witching hour (see blog label "witching hour" for more).

She also might be having her night and day mixed up.

Plowmanators said...

Elaine, Thanks! That is a good sign that he might be ready to drop that feeding. See this post:

Early Morning Feedings Before Waketime:

Plowmanators said...

Thanks Katy! I have a friend who just had twins. She said her MIL can't believe she wakes her babies up in the day to feed them and says she never woke her kids. My friend asked her how nights were, and the MIL said, "They were up all night" to which my friend replied, "Well see!"

Plowmanators said...

You are welcome Rachel! I think Preschoolwise is my favorite book of all of them.

Plowmanators said...


Try an egg timer. Set it and tell him he needs to stay until the timer goes off. He will learn that the timer, not his coming out, decides when his independent play is over. You can even start with a reward if he stays in the whole time. It can be anything that is rewarding to him. It could be a treat, or something as simple as a big hug and kiss from you. Most kids will respond well to mom telling them what a great job they did :) good luck!

Plowmanators said...


1- You would have to put him to sleep while he is awake. You can look into the methods by the Baby Whisperer, but while that isn't CIO, it doesn't mean baby doesn't cry and also doesn't mean you can sleep during that time.

2- Put him in his bed :). It will take him time to get used to sleeping in his own bed, but he will get there. You just have to put him in his bed to sleep.

I am not sure what time "third shift" is for you, so for help on a schedule I would need some basis to go off of :)

Plowmanators said...

Thanks Bradysmom! I am getting notified (of most, but not all). It is taking me two weeks to get to comments since there are so many. Did it get answered about a week ago?

Plowmanators said...

All excellent thoughts, Kristy. It definitely is nice to not have to worry about sleep while you are working with older children :)

Plowmanators said...

True Kelike. The structure helps cue baby as to what to expect.

Plowmanators said...

Katy Hayes, that is a good method. I wanted to caution against the use of water in a baby that young (I know you didn't use it, but said you had heard you could). It can change the blood chemically and be dangerous for baby.

Getting Baby to Sleep said...

Isabella-- Some of what you're experiencing could just be your baby's adjustment to the outside world. Other than that possibility, she may not like the re-diapering. Cold wipes can be very jarring. Also, she may be uncomfortable because she just ate and is getting changed. My RN recommends keeping baby upright for at least 30 minutes after eating. Click on the link for more tips on getting baby to sleep.

Jessica said...

This may seem to be a silly question, but it is sincere none the less. How do you facilitate the switch from one activity, say roomtime to TV time, or any other activity? Do you just say, "Ok, sweetie, let's go have TV time?" My black-and-white mind is having trouble making the transition...ha! Do you follow the clock pretty precisely? I am sure, as more children enter the picture, following the clock may become a bit more important. Thanks!

Plowmanators said...


I will go in and say, "Hello (name) did you have a fun solo playtime?" (that is what we call it). Then I say "let's clean-up"

Then we go to the next activity. When it is something like TV time that they get sucked into and might never want to stop, I usually give a five minute warning. "In five minutes, it will be time to turn the TV off XYZ"

As they get older, they come to know the pattern well and don't need to be told what is coming up next.

As far as the clock, I do need to be pretty close on stuff to get it all in with three kids. When it just me with the kids (and it is from when we wake up until about 4:30), I am pretty tight. When DH is home and I have back-up, then we are a lot more flexible.

Meals and naps happen within 5-10 minutes of each other. Independent play is pretty consistent because my kids really like it, so I have to watch the clock or they might stay there forever :) Things probably happen within a 10 minute window for us until daddy is home.


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