“Flexible-izing” a Baby

This is the cute baby of my friends Bree and Travis

Yes, yes I did just make up a new word. “Flexible-izing”–to make one more able to withstand disruptions to life. In this case, we are talking babies. When I recently asked readers on Facebook what their summer concerns were, one question came up on how to get a baby or young child to be flexible with all of the summer disruptions going on. Whether you are facing summer vacations, Christmas party mayhem, or just adding a baby to a busy family schedule, you might be wanting to know how to make a baby flexible.

Rule #1: Evaluate and Accept Natural Disposition

Here is the hard truth. Some babies are flexible. Some are not. A HUGE portion of the impact on your child’s ability to be flexible is based on his/her natural disposition. Some people like to blame a baby’s inflexibility on a consistent schedule at home. They look to babies who appear to be more flexible on the go who live with basically no structure and think, “Well, if I wasn’t so strict with the schedule, my baby could be flexible.” Most of what you see is a baby with coping skills. You see a baby who has learned to adapt to a certain lifestyle. As you are comparing, pay attention to how interactive the child is with the world around him.

For more on personality, see:

I will concede a few things. Yes, a child gets used to sleeping in certain conditions and can find it harder to sleep in other locations–but this is largely impacted by the child’s natural ability to be flexible. Brayden, my oldest, was by far (WAY far) my most inflexible baby and toddler. He had a ten minute nap window even as an older two year old. My most flexible children have been Brinley and McKenna. Guess who had the most inconsistent schedule as a baby and who had the most disruptions in life? It was Brayden. Guess who had the least? It was Brinley. Brinley has had the least variance in her life in sleep location and in nap times. She is by far my most pleasant child when missing naps or being late for naps or bed. Natural disposition is HUGE.

Another concession I will make is yes, babies who are never given a consistent schedule at home typically learn to adapt and get sleep in where and when they can. These babies also typically do not sleep in a crib for naps or go to bed for an early bedtime at home. I have long said I would rather have a baby sleep in the crib when we are home (where most of our time is spent) and have a hard time sleeping in my arms when out and about than me need to hold the baby for naps at home and have a baby sleep in my arms when we are out and about.

A final concession, I know that with practice, children can get used to disruptions and be able to roll with it better. See The More You Do It, The More Your Child Will Get Used To It.

Here is my main point. Your baby will have a natural disposition. Your baby will have a natural level of flexibility. Your baby will have a natural threshold for how often naps can be missed and how late naps can get. Recognize these limitations and accept them. Work with what you have.

Also, know that sometimes it is good to have disruptions. Even if your child doesn’t handle the disruption with as much grace as other children his age, know that Disruptions Are Good. Remember also Let Your Schedule Serve You: You Don’t Serve Your Schedule (Don’t Stress).

Rule #2: Practice Pushing Limits

You might want to get to know how far your child can go happily. I know how long Brinley can happily and nicely stay up past her nap because for a few weeks, I experimented with it once a week. I kept her up longer and longer to see how late she could start a nap and still nap well. This allowed me to know what her ability to be flexible was so I could plan for what to do when I needed her to be flexible. Keep in mind, sometimes you will make mistakes as you figure out the flexibility thing. That is okay. See In Action: Flexibility and Mistakes. Just don’t practice pushing limits to the point that you sacrifice your consistency…


Rule #3: Maintain Consistency At Home

A great paradox to flexibility is that it can’t work without consistency. You can’t haul your child around, ignoring naps and bedtime, without seeing some consequences from it. Also, your child is more likely to handle disruptions well if you maintain consistency when disruptions are not needed. Have a Consistent Bedtime. Have a consistent morning wake up time. Have consistent nap times.

Do not view consistency as the enemy to your desire for flexibility. An overly tired baby will not respond well to disruptions in life.

On this note, if you have a vacation or a day coming up where you know you will need some flexibility out of your children, be super consistent with naps and bedtime leading up to it. Also, expect to need a couple of days after the trip of consistency so baby can get back on track.

Fore more on this, see:

Rule #4: Vary Sleep Locations

Vary the places in your home where your baby takes a nap if you can do so without compromising the quality and quantity of sleep for your little one. The consistency and avoiding a sleep deficit are more important than this.

Some children are flexible enough that this is not necessary, but if your child needs some help in feeling comfortable sleeping in different places, try it out. When Kaitlyn was a baby, I had her sleep in her crib in her room and in a bassinet and later a pack and play in my room. she took at least one nap a day in my room, sometimes two.

Rule #5: Work Around Schedule

When you are going to do something that will require a disruption to the baby’s routine, do your best to work around the schedule as much as you can. Try to have times and places you can try for a nap. Have plans in place for when and where you will feed. Don’t expect baby to have her entire world turned upside down and have her stay perfectly content.

We recently spent the day at an amusement park as a family. Brinley takes one nap a day. I went into it with the following scenarios as being acceptable:

  • Best case scenario, Brinley would skip her nap and remain a happy person to be around. We would leave to be home in time for bed since she had skipped her nap.
  • If Brinley seemed to need a nap, we would see if she would sleep in the stroller. I brought her favorite blanket to sleep with and the stroller that lays flat when desired.
  • If she needed a nap and wouldn’t sleep in the stroller, I had her pea pod in the vehicle. I was willing to set that up on a grassy spot out of the way and see if she would take a nap in there while my husband took the older kids around.
  • If it was necessary, we would leave if Brinley couldn’t handle skipping a nap and wouldn’t nap there. I knew already that she can handle being a couple of hours late for a nap, so I knew we at least had those two hours as buffer. We would have tried all we could to help her be flexible and work around the family and if it was asking too much of her, we would have worked around her.

In the end, she went with the best case scenario and was quite pleasant about it.

Rule #6: Try to Keep First Nap

If your baby is taking more than one nap, try to wait and start your fun disruptions after the first nap. The first nap is so important to those young babies. See Importance of the First Nap.

If your baby takes one nap and is close to two or older, there is a good chance the one nap can be skipped. If not, try to plan a way for your toddler to nap at nap time.

If your baby takes one nap and is closer to one, try to plan a way for the nap to happen–even if it is just a short catnap.

Rule #7: Be Prepared to Entertain and Distract

Tired babies need distraction. Come prepared with toys, food, lovies, and other ideas for how to distract baby from being so tired. This can buy you time and even get you through so the child gets a second wind. At our recent day at the amusement park, I brought a whole lot of snacks for Brinley. She snacked a lot more that day than she ever does at home. Part of being flexible is you being flexible with rules you typically have.

Rule #8: Recreate Sleep Routine When Away

Have a sleep routine and when you are away from home and it is baby’s nap time, recreate the routine. I brought books with us to the amusement park and kept them in the stroller. Brinley loves to read stories before nap or bedtime. While we didn’t end up doing any sleep there, we did often read books while waiting around for family to go on rides.

Rule #9: Recreate Sleep Environment When Away

Do your best to recreate the sleep environment your child is used to. Do you use a sound machine? Bring it. Do you keep the room dark? Bring some sheets or blankets to hang around baby. Does your child have a pillow, lovie, or special stuffed animal she likes to sleep with? Take them with you.

When Kaitlyn was a young toddler and taking two naps, we would go to the beach. I would set up her pack and play on the beach in the shade. I draped blankets over the edges. I hung a blanket so it covered most of the top. Then put her in it and told her to go to sleep. She stood up one time and I told her to lay down and go to sleep. And guess what? She did. She went to sleep. It was a short nap, but it was a nap. And it was enough to get her through the day until we needed to leave.

For more on this, see:

Also remember, young babies can often sleep in a lot of different locations. Front carriers, slings, carseats…so watch the clock and try to keep baby on a nap schedule and don’t be afraid to use these items.

Rule #10: Realize (and accept) that Naps Will Be Shorter When Away

More often than not, a nap away from the baby’s normal bed will be shorter than it is in her normal bed. I know I don’t sleep as well when I am in a hotel or visiting someone in their home. Plan on the nap being shorter. It won’t always be. The more flexible children usually take a normal nap (sometimes longer since with all of the excitement going on, they are worn out).

Rule #11: Don’t Push Your Luck

Remember baby joins family. Don’t be unfair to your baby. Yes, you can try to get your baby to be more flexible, but you will also have to do some giving. You might have to leave earlier than you ideally would like to. You might be holding baby more than usual. Whatever your child gives you so far as flexibility goes, don’t ask for more than she can give. Accept her best.

Rule#12: Keep Long-Term Perspective

Believe me, I know it is challenging to have an inflexible child. Believe me, I know it seems like it will be FOREVER until you can do things without worrying about sleep again. I have been there. I have spent many years having to sacrifice a good time in order to help the baby. I have stayed home from trips, I have had trips where I basically just sat with the baby, and I have had trips where I tried to console an upset and mad baby who had been pushed too far. I know how much it all sucks.

I also know how you look back on the last 9 years and realize that wasn’t so bad. I am not totally out of the woods–Brinley still needs to be considered in our plans–but I see the light and I realized I survived just fine. Yes, there have been sacrifices, but as Chris Rockk said (yes, you read that right), “When I hear people talk about juggling, or the sacrifices they make for their children, I look at them like they’re crazy, because ‘sacrifice’ infers that there was something better to do than being with your children.” Here is another great quote on sacrifice: Quotable Mondays: Sacrifice and Investment

Our time is short with our children and there really isn’t anything better to do right now. Take your days off, have your girls night out, hire a babysitter so you can go have fun without worrying about kids. Yes, do those things for your sanity. But also don’t wallow in self-pity. You will come out of these sacrifices just fine in the end. See also

It’s All About Perspective


When trying to help your baby be flexible, remember to offer practice when you can. Have some contingency plans for how to help your baby be as happy as possible and maintain the same consistency  in schedule as long as possible.

And always accept your child for who he is on the flexibility scale. Work with what you have. An inflexible child will only get more flexible as he gets older. I promise, the years fly.