Things Not Working? Change Your Parenting Strategy


Inside: When things aren’t working out in your parenting journey, change your strategy until they do work.

Child walking holding parent's hand

My husband and I really enjoy playing games of strategy. One of our favorites is Settlers of Catan, with the expansions. The board is set up randomly each time so each time you play, it is a different game involving different strategies. You build settlements, cities, and roads among other things to earn points. One night after we finished playing the game with some friends, my husband made an interesting observation. He said when you first start the game, you look at the board and come up with a game plan. You decide where you want to build and which commodities you are going to strive to acquire. As the game progresses, however, other people usually do things like build in your path that interfere with your original plan. If you remain stubborn and stick to your original plan, you are sure to lose. In converse, if you change your strategy to accommodate the new game conditions, you have a good chance of winning the game.

Last week, I was reflecting on my 11 month old daughter’s current schedule. It has changed a bit in the last few weeks (as it often does throughout the first year). I was thinking about her current evening eating schedule and realized I needed to change my strategy with her.

My daughter has always been a big sleeper. She held on to her third nap for a long time. For her, this nap hasn’t even been the short 45-60 minute nap many babies have. It has been a full 1.5 hour nap, only ending because I woke her up. Nothing to complain about. When she was about 9 months old, I decided to start to work with her on dropping the nap. With my daughter, she does better with a “weaning” from naps than a “dropping” of naps. I first gradually shortened the naps down to the 45-60 minutes. My daughter also doesn’t display sleep cues; I have always had to just put her down when it is time to sleep without help from cues. I started keeping her up rather than putting her down unless she was fussy. For her, fussiness is a late sleep cue (for my son, fussiness was his nap cue, for my daughter, it means she is very overly tired). The days she got fussy, the nap was then knocked down to 30 minutes. She slowly started eliminating the evening nap. Some days she needed it, some days she didn’t. At first, days she didn’t nap, we needed to put her down for the night a little earlier than normal. To make a long story a little shorter, she didn’t fully drop the nap until she was 11 months old.

Shortly after the nap was dropped, she got very sick (as did my son and I). We all lost a lot of weight. My daughter has always been a smaller girl. A small girl got even smaller—down to 18.1 pounds as an 11 month old. Once she finally got better and got her appetite back, it came back with a vengeance as I hoped it would. She pretty much ate for a couple of hours straight in the evening (eating finger foods while I cooked dinner, eating finger foods and sharing with me while we ate dinner, then nursing and eating her dinner). This went on for a couple of weeks. I am happy to say she gained her weight back and then some.

She is currently back to a normal appetite and normal meal schedule. My realization about her schedule has come in the form of her eating schedule in the evening. When she was taking the evening nap, her afternoon schedule looked like this:

3:45—independent play
4:30—eat finger foods while I made dinner
5:00—free play
7:00—wake her up and nurse her followed by her dinner

 When things aren't working out in your parenting journey, change your strategy until they do work.

I came to realize I was keeping that snack at the same time, then having her sit and eat dinner with the family at 5:30 instead of taking a nap. During her weight gain marathon, she needed to eat that often. However it hit me that she no longer needs that schedule. She now doesn’t eat finger foods while I make dinner. She waits for that until we are all eating dinner.

I tell you all of that to illustrate that you need to change your strategies with your children on a pretty regular basis. You start with a plan, but then life changes circumstances and your fellow family members might do things that block your path for accomplishing your goal in the way you originally planned.

This is really just another way to focus on why vs. how as discussed in the chapter titled “The Land of Good Reason” in On Becoming Toddlerwise and beyond (incidentally, I love this chapter and think it is very beneficial for parents with newborns on up to read it, understand it, and apply it). Your goals pretty much stay the same (though they are subject to evaluation and change as time goes by). To continue with my game analogy, your goal (the why) is to win the game. The most obvious way to win (the how) is to build settlements and cities, but there are other ways to win. Often times your path gets blocked by other players, making it much more difficult to build. Or perhaps you simply don’t have to resources to build what you need to. If you insist on winning by building settlements and cities, you are likely to lose. But if you change your strategy and build what you can and focus on other, less-obvious methods to win, you have greater chance of doing so.

Your goal is what is important, not your methods to do so. Yes, you keep your methods within the parameters of your moral goals (you want to win but you don’t want to cheat to do so). But there are a lot ways to accomplish the same goal. Don’t put your blinders on and stubbornly insist that your method is the best way to accomplish your goal. Focus on your goal and not your methods, and all of your parenting goals should be easier to accomplish. There are many different strategies available to reach your goals. Each situation is different. Each child is different. You need to be flexible and be ready to change your strategy as situations and people differ. It is impossible to take a “stock” method and apply it to every child.

As Anne Marie Ezzo once shared with me, “The other thing to keep in mind for all – is the proverbial ‘bell curve’ there will always be those on either end of that curve and of course it would be impossible to deal with all of that in one book and is why a blog site like yours is helpful.” Learn the principles and theories (the “why”) of the Babywise series so you can confidently decide what is best for your children. Don’t get caught up in the specific examples in the books. They are there to illustrate principles to you, not to cover every possible scenario that may arise in your child’s life. Understanding the theory will help you to focus on your ultimate goal rather than your methods to achieve that goal. Remember to periodically step back and evaluate your current schedule, goals, and methods of implementation. Make changes where necessary and move forward. Happy parenting!

For help figuring out what might need to change, read this post:

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24 thoughts on “Things Not Working? Change Your Parenting Strategy”

  1. Hi! I was so excited to find your blog. I have a 2 yr old and had a baby almost 3 weeks ago. My question is about my newborn. I am nursing him on a 2.5-3 hr schedule during the day. The last two nights he stayed awake after his late night feeding until about 3:15 am. Any ideas on how to correct this?

  2. This is a GREAT article! I am a member of the What to website, and BW has been a topic of lots of discussion today, and this article sums it up! People read the first pages of BW and think, SCHEDULE! How CRUEL! They don’t realize that it is more of a strategy than anything. NOthing in life is perfect, and if you set out for it to be, you are sure to fail. Thank you for all of your advice!

  3. My DS1 is a beautiful example of a BW baby…DS2 came along this past November and I’m not sure what happened. During naptime he has consistently awakened at the 45 minute mark since the beginning. I made the mistake of straying towards the Babywhisperer’s suggestion of “shhhh! pat (on the back)” to quiet him down and now at almost 5 months I’m at my whit’s end for naptimes. I’ve even moved him to the swing in the afternoon just to get him to nap….I know…I’ve failed at BW…but I want to be successful again. Also, I feel like I can’t keep up with his nap schedule because of running to take or pick up DS1 from pre-school. Please advise me on what to do!!! I want DS2 to be as good a sleeper as DS1.

  4. Okay, I told myself that wasn’t going to post again this week but I HAVE to respond to your comment Cheryl because I know where you are (my LO was also born this past November!) When I was pregnant with him I read two books “Babywise” and “Babywhisperer”– BIG mistake! I should have just read Babywise (although there is some good information in Babywhispher). The problem I know you are facing right now is that you hear the authors voice in the back of your head “breaking the bond of trust” when your child is crying. Plowmantors puts it best in this posting when she says “understanding the theory will help you to focus on your ultimate goal rather than your methods to achieve that goal.” The problem with Babywhisperer is the attitude and tone the author gives is that it has to be a certain method to achieve the goal. As a new mom learning the ropes this can be devastating when things don’t work as “the book states they should”- such as the shh/pat method which never worked for my LO (only stimulated him more to cry.)What worked best for me was to follow BW and focusing on my goal. CIO was the way to go for my LO. It only took 3 days! It is one of the hardest things to do, letting your baby cry it out. But is it SO worth it when they can go down to sleep on their own. What really helped me was creating the naptime routine, once I see the cues, I pick him up and whisper in his ear “time to go to sleep, sleep”, walk in his room, shut the shades, and lay him down. I can tell he just loves it because I am responding to his need and he knows how to surrender to falling asleep on his own. It is so cute to see him actually cuddle into his crib as if to say “thanks mom!” Naptime and bedtime is so much more enjoyable for all when they are confident and comfortable with falling asleep on their own.So Cheryl, I just want to encourage you where you are at right now:-)Megan

  5. Lehmansterms,How are your waketimes in the day? BW says that having waketime in the day fixes baby wanting to play in the night.

  6. Cheryl,I think your answer is going to lie in consistency. Babies transition around 45 minutes. If he hasn’t learned to soothe himself by himself, then it isn’t surprising he would wake up at that point. You will have a tricky time with the disruptions from school runs, but there isn’t really anything that can be done about that. Try to arrange the schedule with the fewest number of schedule disruptions. I would then also try to have as few disruptions as reasonable for your family as you work on him learning to sleep. Look through the blog index to see the various posts on napping and sleep problems. Good luck!

  7. Amen! When we give expecting or new parents BW, we tell them that it is NOT a scheduling book. It is an overall philosophy (or strategy, as you called it :D). It is a way of thinking, and if you try to follow what others do without taking into account your baby’s (and your own) differences, it won’t work and you’ll feel like a failure.I’ve read parts of Baby Whisperer and I got from it what I got from Healthy Sleep Habits–some good info, but not a good parenting philosphy.PS–Settlers of Catan rules!! (I like getting longest road :P)

  8. Longest road is a good one. If you add Cities and Knights, I find people tend to ignore the knights and I build those up.I haven’t read Healthy Sleep Habits also. I think many people read both of those in conjunction with BW then get confused trying to implement several philosophies.

  9. It has taken me awhile to get back to the computer. 🙂 We are working on waketimes and I can usually keep him up for about an hour before he crashes. Yesterday was better and he CIO after having two good waketimes but he still isn’t feeding and returning to sleep at night. Any other ideas to help? I haven’t done CIO at night because my 2 yr old is sleeping.

  10. I certainly don’t blame you for not wanting to CIO with the 2 year old in earshot. I think you are either going to have to wait for him to just get better at putting himself to sleep or put him somewhere else to sleep so your 2 year old can’t hear him.Kaitlyn would also have some nights where she wouldn’t go back to sleep. After a few times, we decided Brayden would just have to deal with it. He actually never woke up during it. You could put a fan or humidifier or white noise of some sort in his room so he couldn’t hear.

  11. I was reading this article and noticing that Kaitlyn is a smaller child. We have a daughter on the small side also and I was curious how big she was when she was born and how quickly she gained weight (I am also an exclusive BF’er). She was born 1 month early at 4lb15oz and is just under 10lb at 17 weeks. Our little girl and Kaitlyn seem to follow a similar path so far so I was just curious. (Can you tell I’m slightly worried about her weight??)

  12. I would like some advice for reassurrence. I feel as if I am failing at BW. My LO is 5 months and I have been very consistent, but he has not. He still is not STTN. He takes 40min. nap or 1hr 1/2 naps. He wakes from 2am-4am. I just don’t know what he is going to do. I try to stay calm, but it just bothers me. Am I doing this right?

  13. Caroline,I am sorry I missed your comment until now! Kaitlyn was born three weeks early, but she weighed 7 pounds even, so her weight was fine. She was, however, always in the 20% about for weight and height was somewhere close. As she has gotten older, I think she has moved more toward a 50% weight, but not until about 18 months. She hasn’t been checked since then (but will be in about a month!). Also, genetically I come from small females on my Dad’s side. At 5’4″, I am quite tall. Since your daughter was so small at birth, she might be really small for age for quite some time. I wouldn’t worry so much about what she weighs as how much she is gaining. If she grows at a steady pace (steady for an infant–with extreme growth spurts and slow downs), I wouldn’t stress about it. If you can 🙂

  14. Betsy,It is hard to say if there is anything not quite right or not. My son didn’t STTN until he was about 6 months old and didn’t take longer than a 45 minute nap until 6.5 months old. I have many theories on why this is, but no definite answers. All my ideas are outlined in my troubleshooting naps and sleep issues posts.Do your best to implement things, then try to stay calm and take things as they come. You don’t want to spend your son’s babyhood stressing out over things. Enjoy the moment. See:Enjoy the Moment:

  15. Don't know if you'll see this since I'm reading it and posting long after it was written. This post made me laugh because DH and I love to play Settlers of Catan and similar games. I was musing one day about how I always seem to start out way ahead of DH but then I get blocked or don't pay attention to what DH is doing and he has adjusted to the game play and almost always wins. In parenting and in that game, I have been trying to learn to do just what your post talks about. Adjust the strategy to reach the ultimate goal. I hope it's helping my parenting. And I did win Settlers the other night!

  16. lol Kristy! Good job! My DH gets pretty stubborn about his intial strategy, and I am far more flexible (which is funny because in general he is more flexible than I) and so I usually win. I love that game. 🙂

  17. Thanks – this post resounded with me both because I tend to get a bit stuck into the have-to-follow-BW-exactly cycle (which causes frustration when DD doesn't follow my plan), and also because DH and I love Settlers. So it made a lot of sense to me. I will focus more on the Why's now instead of only the How. Thanks so much. By the way, your blog is such an incredible resource, thank you!

  18. Help! This post was so helpful. I have a 5 month old. I started BW with her at 5 weeks and she has been on the same schedule for the past 2.5 months. Her day goes as follows: Wake between 7:30-8:30 am, eat at 8:30am, nap 10:30am-12:30pm, eat at 12:30pm, nap 2:30-4:30pm, eat at 4:30pm, mini-nap 6:30-7pm, eat at 8:30pm, asleep at 9pm. Lately she's been trying to drop her evening nap. When she doesn't take it, she is EXTREMELY fussy. When she does take it, she's fine. On the days she doesn't take her evening nap- should we just put her down early? (around 8pm?) Or should I let her nap longer at her morning or afternoon nap? I usually wake her up from at least one if not both of them. I'm just afraid of throwing off her eating schedule so what should I do?

  19. your blog is so helpful! I've been reading in the archives off and on since our baby girl was born 16 weeks ago…and you've definitely calmed a few of my fears! My issue is this. Our little girl has been on a pretty great schedule for probably about the past 2.5 months. Wake between 7-7:30 (feed), play time until 8:30ish then nap until 10, feed at 10 with play time until 11:15, nap until 1, play time until 2:30, feed at 4, play time until 5:15, nap until 7, feed at 7, playtime until 8:15, cat nap until 9:30 and then I top her off before heading to bed. She normally wakes up at some point during the night between 4 & 5 (we've had a few STTN occurrences, but not consistent) and I feed her and she goes right back to sleep. I've noticed in the past several days that I am waking her from every nap to eat and that she's not waking on her own. She eats well and is a very happy baby. When she had her 3 month growth spurt we tried switching up her schedule to a possible 4 hour, but that backfired for everyone involved. My question is this, when do I start extending her naptimes and just letting her wake on her own and sleeping as long as she wants. I'm a very scheduled person so I love having her on this schedule but I'm thinking it's time for a change. I want her to have all the sleep she wants and if it's in longer increments then I would love to let her. Should I attempt a crazy schedule that includes 2.5, 3, & 4 hour intervals?I work 3 days a week with my mom keeping her while I'm at work and I currently even have the chance to nurse her on my working days over the lunch hour. My mom is up for whatever schedule we decide on so it's just a matter of finding what works best for our baby. Any suggestions on switching things up? My biggest concern is that she sleeps a solid 7 hours most nights and I don't want to throw her off of that.

  20. Lauren,It would be totally fine to do 2.5-4 hour intervals. I wouldn't really ever go to letting her sleep as long as she wants. You could try letting her sleep an extra 30 minutes. Go up to 2.5 hour nap length, but don't go beyond that. Good luck!


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