Kids of “Lawnmower Parents” May Not Be Great Sleepers

Do you have some lawnmower parenting tendencies?

You’ve heard of helicopter parenting, but there’s a new phrase making the rounds now: lawnmower parenting. Lawnmower parenting refers to a parenting style that strives to “mow down” all obstacles, challenges or difficulties in a child’s path.

Of course, no one really wants to be a lawnmower parent, but most of us do want our children to be great sleepers. It’s possible, though, to work too hard at turning a child’s bedroom into a perfect sleep environment. And doing so might actually make your child a worse sleeper.

Let’s start by talking about some things a parent might do to improve a child’s sleep environment.

A parent might…

  • Add sound machines that play ocean waves, rushing waterfalls, or white noise
  • Diffuse certain types of essential oils that are said to promote sleep
  • Install special “blue-free” light bulbs in the child’s room to eliminate exposure to the blue light part of the spectrum that is said to block production of the sleep hormone melatonin
  • Set up starlight projectors that make constellations dance on the bedroom ceiling
  • Play meditation tapes or soothing music
  • Start a video or turn on the television each night at the end of the bedtime routine
  • Block every sliver of light from entering their child’s bedroom by removing night lights, taping over any indicator lights coming from electronics in the room, or using blackout curtains

Parents might do all of these things, of course, because they hope this will help their child achieve wonderful sleep. (Because isn’t that one of the most basic parenting goals?)

Before we talk about why this may not actually lead to great sleep, let me be clear: some of these items can indeed be helpful.

  • Blackout curtains have helped many a child sleep in a bit later (and kept parents saner during those pesky daylight savings time transitions).
  • Sound machines often help infants sleep better or help block the noise from neighbors or nearby traffic.

image of child sleeping

So remember that there may not be an issue with adding one or two of these items to a child’s bedroom, but adding too many can possibly lead to sleep problems.

Why? Let’s break it down together.

First, remember that any one of these items can become a sleep onset association (sometimes called a “sleep crutch”). What does this mean? It means that a child can learn to require a particular item in order to fall asleep.

Why is that even a problem, you ask?

Four reasons a “sleep crutch” can be a problem:

  • The child may need to bring one or all of these things along if he or she wants to sleep well anywhere else. For example, if the child goes to her best friend’s home for a sleepover, that home will probably not have these things (and will certainly not have all of them). Neither will a summer sleep away camp cabin or Nana’s house. Hotels are not equipped with these items either, so parents may find themselves trying to pack up these items to bring along on family trips.
  • These things can break or get lost. What if you can’t find the video one night? What if the starlight projector gives up the ghost? If a child requires this item to fall asleep, and it is not available for some reason, sleep may not come easily that night and for a few nights to come.
  • Many of these items turn off later. When a child wakes during the night (as all kids do), these items are off and the room feels “different.” It no longer feels like the same room as the one the child fell asleep in. The video is over, the ocean waves have gone silent and the stars are no longer dancing. When this happens, most children call out or come to their parent’s room because they need a parent to turn these items again. But, by the time the parent comes, the child may be much too awake to get back to sleep quickly and easily.
  • Finally, there is one very important reason why these items can pose a problem: a child would ideally learn to fall asleep without any of these. The best sleepers are those who can fall asleep in a simple bedroom with only a book and a reading light! Here’s even better news: a book and a reading light can go “on the road” with the child easily, too, so that the child can be a great sleeper anywhere.

Think of it like this: it’s almost like building the perfect greenhouse for a special flower. The flower may flourish in that greenhouse, but may do poorly anywhere else (and any small change in the greenhouse may cause the flower to wilt!).

Lawnmower parents, like all parents, mean well. But it can be a good idea to take a step back and consider how much help is too much when it comes to a child’s bedroom. Most parents, once they consider these drawbacks and inconveniences, would agree that it’s best to help a child learn to sleep in a simple, basic bedroom.

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