If you have toddlers or preschoolers, you’ve probably heard that phrase more than once. And if you have a toddler and a preschooler, I’m betting that’s an almost-constant saying in your home!
Young children have a strong sense of what’s fair and what’s not. They seem to know instinctively that it’s unfair when their brother gets a bigger snack, or when their sister has a longer turn with a toy.
And so, as a parent, we do everything we can to keep things fair, don’t we? We insist that our toddlers share their toys. We make sure food is doled out in equal portions.
Does the “Rule of Fairness” Apply to Sleep?
We may even try to apply the “rule of fairness” to sleep. After all, it’s only fair that your older child gets to stay up later or your toddler and preschooler go to bed at the same time, right? And it’s only fair that if one has to nap, the other should have to nap, too.
Those of you who have multiple children at home know that when it comes to sleep, “fairness” just doesn’t work! If you have a newborn and a toddler at home, for example, you know that their sleep needs and schedules are way, way different. It’d be crazy to expect your toddler to nap as often as your 8 week old!
But what about when your toddler and your preschooler have different nighttime and naptime schedules? That can be when the problems begin. For example, your toddler’s perfectly aware that he has to take a nap, but that his older brother doesn’t. Unfair!
Even worse: if your preschooler has just transitioned from one nap to no nap, you may find that she needs an earlier bedtime than her younger siblings. Imagine how that feels — she’s the oldest, but she has to go to bed before her younger brother. Really unfair!
So what’s a parent to do? When it comes to sleep, do we do what’s “fair”, or what’s best?
I’ll bet you know what our answer will be. 😉
With Sleep, Fairness is Not the Goal
With regards to your children’s sleep schedules, sometimes, you have to just throw fairness right out the window. And while your toddlers and preschoolers might not understand this, that’s okay. You do. And you know what’s best.
Because after all, every single child is different, and that means your children are likely to have different sleep needs. Your preschooler might be extremely sensitive to overtiredeness (this has been the case for Nicole, with her older son). If that’s true for you, is it really “fair” to put him to bed at the same (later) time as his younger brother, even if that means he’s not going to get the sleep he needs? Not really.
And of course your toddler think’s it’s downright evil of you to force her to take a nap, while her older sister gets to keep playing.
The cruelty! The injustice!
But you know that your toddler needs sleep in the middle of the day in order to be healthy and feel good, so really, you are being fair. You’re considering her needs and then making sure they’re met. Very fair!
In part 2 of our Sibling Series, Nicole explains the idea of fairness and sleep this way:
“One important thing I have learned since I’ve had two sons is that everything can’t be 100% ‘fair’ all of the time. They are different people with different needs. You must make decisions based on what’s best for each of them. It will be impossible for everything to appear fair and, although I do try when it applies, I have stopped trying when it doesn’t make sense.”
In other words, be fair when it makes sense to be fair (like during snacktime or playtime), but forget about fairness when it doesn’t (like during naptime and bedtime.)
Tips for Being “Unfair” As Nicely As Possible
It’s easy for me to tell you to forget about fair, but how does one do that, exactly, without feeling like the meanest mommy or daddy on the block?
One of the best ways to handle this is to simply talk to your child about her feelings, and to let her know that you understand. In our Sibling Series, Nicole offers this advice:
“Adjusting expectations and explaining why something is a certain way often helps. Also, listening to their frustration and empathizing helps them feel heard, which is important. It may not change the outcome, but at least they can feel good that you understand how they feel.”
It doesn’t feel good to be “unfair”, of course, but simply put unfairness about sleep in the “Things I Don’t Like Doing But I Know Are For the Best” category (right along with things like discipline and potty training!)
“I hear from parents who feel guilty the baby can’t be home all day for naps (it’s hard to keep a toddler in the house all day!) or they feel guilty keeping the toddler home ‘too much’ for the baby to sleep. The best you can do is just try to balance it with everyone’s needs in mind. I still rush through my older son’s routine to make sure he’s asleep earlier, even if his younger brother goes to sleep later than him. My younger one can simply handle it better and we are all happier. :)”
Are you fair or unfair when it comes to your children’s sleep schedules? Any tips on being unfair in a gentle, loving way? Share them below!
Please be sure to pick up your FREE copy of Toddler Sleep Secrets, our e-Book offering tips to help your toddler sleep better. For those persistent nighttime struggles, check out The 3-Step System to Help Your Baby Sleep (babies) or The 5-Step System to Better Toddler Sleep (toddlers). Using a unique approach and practical tools for success, our e-books help you and your baby sleep through the night and nap better. For those looking for a more customized solution for your unique situation with support along the way, please consider one-on-one baby and toddler sleep consultations, where you will receive a Personalized Sleep Plan™ you can feel good about! Sometimes it’s not that you can’t make a plan. Sometimes you’re just too tired to.