Bedtime can be hard, especially when you have more than one child you are trying to negotiate with during the seven or eight o’clock hour. Sleep is important for so many reasons. It’s the time our brain has to integrate all that we’ve learned throughout the day. For young children, this means all the skills they are learning to be humans; how to sit in a chair, say please and thank you, flush AND wash your hands after using the toilet, don’t pick your nose. . . we could go on, but let’s not. Sleep helps young children retain and store this information for years to come. It helps them to form good healthy habits, not just sleep habits, but all the lessons YOU are teaching them throughout the day.
So it seems like an evil trick when they just won’t. go. to. sleep.
Here are some helpful tips to an easier bedtime routine:
1. Start Early! A good routine is important. You want your children in bed by 7:30pm? Then start at 7:00. It can help to start getting the whole house calmed down. Dim some lights, turn off the T.V. and turn on some relaxing music instead. Electronics such as computers and ipads should not be used before bed time (and for young children should be limited entirely). Brush teeth, get a drink of water, and use the toilet now. That way all excuses are out of the way. American Academy of Pediatrics suggests ages 4-12 months should be getting 12-16 hours of sleep (including naps), ages 1-2 years should be getting between 11-14 hours (including naps), ages 3-5 years should be getting 10-13 hours (including naps), and ages 6-12 years somewhere between 9-12 hours. Make sure that your child is getting their full amount of sleep.
2. Set clear expectations and talk about them before bedtime. If setting a new bedtime routine is something new in your house, make sure you talk about it before 6:45 tonight. Start preparing your children and talking about it a head of time.
Getting your children to sleep in their own bed.
Co-Sleep they said. It’s better for the baby and the Mama they said. It’s easier to breastfeed they said. Well, if you now have a seven and four-year-old who never want to leave your bed. . . you aren’t alone. They love to snuggle, and you know these days are numbered but you just all can’t fit in one bed. . . and at this point Mama wants her bed back! Everyone having their own space is important. If this is something that you are working on then keep these things in mind:
· Make sure you start your new routine when you can enforce it consistently. Don’t get everyone in their beds and then go off on vacation for a week, sleeping in hotels. Don’t get everyone used to the new sleeping arrangement and then have Grandma come mix everything up. Make sure that you can consistently enforce these new arrangements long enough for your child or children to be used to them.
· Make sure each child gets a bedtime routine and a goodnight send off. Bedtime is an important part of the day. Parents are often tired and worn out by this time but it’s important to make sure that you send off each of your children into dreamland with a special moment before bed.
3. Keep Calm. This is a hard one. Kids are persistent and they know just what cards to play to push your buttons. Remember that you are trying to keep the atmosphere calm and relaxing. This can’t happen if you’re screaming “GO TO BED!” Keep perspective. Remember that your child isn’t GIVING you a hard time, they are having a hard time calming down, feeling safe and relaxed enough to fall asleep. We’ve all been there as adults. . . so teach them the tools that will help them be successful.
· Deep Breathing: Teach them to take long deep breaths, in through their nose and out through their mouth. The Five Finger Breathing Method is an easy way to teach kids deep breathing. Take one hand in front of you and using your pointer finger of the opposite hand, slide the finger slowly up and down your five fingers, breathing in as you go up a finger and breath out as you go down. There are plenty of kid friendly videos online if you need more help figuring this out.
· For kids that want you to lay with them “just for five minutes” . . . let them know that you will CHECK on them in five minutes. AND DO IT. You may need to adjust the time to 1 or 2 minutes at first for younger children. This reassures them that they are safe and that you are there. It may take a few times, but eventually they will be asleep within that first five minutes.
· Know it is all temporary. Depending on their age about every 6 months you will see shifts in your child’s sleep patterns. We can easily forget that a child's rapid growth and development is a part of their sleep challenge. It’s not their fault, they aren't trying to be difficult, they are just growing.
· Remember they will mirror your mood and emotions especially during this routine. We are tired and so are they, and their amazing “feelers” go up searching for our emotions in the moment. If we are stressed, overwhelmed or maxed out, they will mirror this back to us- in the form of resistance! Make sure you can be calm in mind and body, and your child will follow suit!
4. If all else fails. . . enjoy the moment. A good bed time routine takes work. Most likely it isn’t going to happen overnight. Every night you will get a bit closer to your goal. Keep your routine, keep setting clear expectations, and stay calm. If it doesn’t work. . . relax.
Enjoy this moment because we all know that these little people won’t be little forever.
All that being said, If you notice an irregularity such as snoring, lapsed breathing, repeated nightmares or night terrors, or excessive fear around bedtime, make sure to seek professional help from your child’s pediatrician or mental health provider. Bed time can be a very difficult and scary time for some children, seeking professional help can help ease the process for both you as the parent as well as your child. Sleep is not the area we want to make traumatic or difficult to avoid long lasting effects.