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The 80/20 Rule

Flexibility is the name of the game when it comes to parenting. While, yes, humans certainly crave routine and predictability, I caution against getting too rigid. Why? Because life is messy! And as parents, not only do WE need to be flexible and go with the flow at times but we need our kids to be so as well.

When I am working with families on their child’s sleep, I reinforce the idea that it is important for their child to practice their new or budding skills as much as possible and that routine and schedule is important generally and certainly when we are in the throws of the sleep training work. 

But, when is it ok to relax or take a step back from being hard core? Let’s go over this and I’ll introduce you to my 80/20 rule that I teach to my clients!

Routines are Important

Routines (both having them and being consistent with them) are super important for all humans not just around sleep but in all areas. Why? Because we crave predictability. We want…need!... to know what is coming next to feel safe and secure. Routines offer this security. 

As an adult, you have routines - take a second to think about your morning routine or your evening, perhaps your bedtime, routine. Whether intentional or not, you probably do things in the same order, in the same way, most if not every day. Because it’s your routine. (On the flip side, think of a space in your life that feels a bit chaotic and haphazard….is there an opportunity to create a routine to help with that?).

For babies and young children who are learning about the world around them, we want to give them security so they feel safe. 

Possible routines for you to have - you may have one of these, all of these, or more than these! 

Morning routine

Wake window routine

Nap time routine

Feeding routines

Before/after school routines

Bath routines

Bedtime routine

In my line of work, I focus on nap and bedtime routines. Having a solid, consistent, predictable routine is really important to prepare the brain for the big event - sleep!

Need a routine for your child? Here is a good one for children 4 months and older!

Dangers of Rigidity

While we are doing our best to create a predictable, secure, and safe routines for our children, it is important for them to understand that things may go arye. 

Three important reasons to have flexibility:

  1. Flexibility is a taught skill -  with our babies, you can model how to have a Plan B when things don’t go as expected or planned. This is a significantly necessary cognitive skill that is learned. As a former Kindergarten teacher, this was a BIG focus over ther course of the year because it really goes into every aspect of life and learning, but having a foundational understanding of this starts EARLY!! Students who are overly rigid have difficulty navigating challenging social situations and often struggle thinking outside the box. 

  1. Flexibility allows you to not be tied down and stressed (we are human, not everything is going to be perfectly ordered all the time!). I don’t want you to be chained to your child’s crib or your house! Having a good sleeper should offer you more freedom, not less. Get out of the house with your could and enjoy life and it’s experiences! Being overly rigid with can cause undue stress, worry, anxiety and kids who are never nap or sleep anywhere else other than their crib will struggle when you need them to be flexible. 

  1. Being overly rigid reduces insight with your baby. If you are so focused on schedules to the second, you are going to miss your child’s actual sleep (or eating or toileting, etc) cues and needs. Our children are not robots - regularity and routine is not the same as strict by the second clock watching. Being flexible will allow you to be a responsive parent and respond and learn your child’s needs faster and more effectively. 

How to be Flexible

Once your child is sleeping consistently well and you have done the ground work of laying down a great routine and schedule, I recommend giving it some time to marinade. Usually this means being 100% committed to the routine for about 1 solid month. 

If you are simply planning ahead and practicing flexibility (vs trial by fire!), you can start to bringing in elements of flexibility. To start, just pick one element to bend. 

For example: perhaps you don’t do a bath one night (offer a wipe down instead). Maybe you change up a book in book order. Or maybe you needed to adjust their nap time slightly to get that extra load of laundry in!

The 80/20 rule

Just like being an independent sleeper, being a flexible sleeper is a skill that needs practice. Whether intentional or not, think about your child’s day, week, perhaps month in terms of this rule: 

80% of the time you are committed 100% to your routine

20% of the time is your flex time and you can deviate from your routines/schedules. Notice I did not say abandon them!

Some Scenarios

Let’s go through some scenarios where this might come into play:

  1. You are simply tired of giving a bath every night - no worries, switch to every other night and offer a wipe down instead! You are still offering the experience of getting clean/wet and keeping it in it’s order in the routine.

  2. You will not be home for bedtime (maybe out at a late dinner party, etc.) - If you are heading back to your home and it is likely baby will fall asleep in the car on the way, do a shortened version of the routine before you get in the car (wipe down, diaper, Pjs, book, kisses, car). 

  3. Napping at grandmas - troubleshoot the environment and recreate the home sleeping environment as best as possible, but the space will be different none the less. Your child will be ok - teach grandma your response pattern to give your child predictability that way.

  4. Napping in the car - it IS going to happen, it is ok!! I actually have another % rule I follow for this, but generally just do the best you can, keep an eye on those wake windows. 

  5. Maybe your naps are a bit jumbly for a day or two but you commit to your bedtime routine (especially true for traveling!)


Flexibility is a win-win. It offers us as parents opportunities to practice self care and enjoy life where we can! It also offers us a chance to be a responsive parent, to address our child’s needs as necessary on a daily basis even if that changes slightly from day to day/week to week. For our children, flexibility around sleep offers a chance to practice their sleep skills, strengthen them, and grow cognitively! 

What flexibility challenges have you faced as a parent? How did it go? Tell us about it in the comments ;-)

Need help? Email me :-) (

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