Updated: Dec 22, 2019
I remember like it was yesterday, "Just one more hug!" "I'm thirsty." "Lay with meeeeeee!" Oh, those long drawn out battles.
But what came before the war? Well, one night in particular, I remember running with my two-year-old from childcare, to grocery stop including a pizza slice for dinner, a quick stop at Menards, and we arrived home at 8:10p.m..... about ten minutes after her bedtime. "HURRY UP!" I rushed intensely, "We are late. You need to go to bed RIGHT NOW!"
Okay, which of YOU could sleep at that point? A day completely full to the brim, and a mother who has yet to connect, even for a minute? Thankfully, I would learn many things that would lead us to a more restful bedtime without the high number of battles previously in tow. What I did would make all the difference. It never became perfect. But, many more nights we were able to drift off to sleep with some resemblance of peace and connection.
This short video gives you a process for setting the stage for a successful bedtime or naptime. In it, you will find many of the ideas. Or, just give the article below a quick read!
Let's be real.
What are the odds these children are ready for sleep?
So what can we do to help?
Step #1 - Set up the Environment
Turn down the lights, speak quietly, reduce movement, and model a relaxed calm. Reinforce it is time to relax both with your words and actions: Take deep belly breaths, put on soothing music, and be ready to model and relish slow and quiet moments.
Step #2 - Help the Child Calm
In order to reduce bedtime battles, children learn to "notch down" in order to fall asleep. This process may even take up to 45 minutes. And, it is different for everyone. Some children are more sensitive to lights and sounds so will need quiet or a white noise device. For others, touch and closeness to someone else will help. For others, it may be a lovey or soft item to hold that does the trick. Watch for cues about what each child needs and help them get that.
Step #3 - CONNECT First!
Make sure to connect and give attention before the child is expected to separate. A child who feels lonely or disconnected will want to act in ways which engage you. Take care of the attention need, and it will be easier for the child to transition to time away from you.
Step #4 - Be routine.
Set up a series of events that you do every time before a child is expected to sleep. Download the routine chart from the Diffusing Nighttime Stress blog post. For children under 3, cut out 3-5 pictures showing the routine. As you go through the series, show the picture indicating what comes next. Make sure you include connection time and something the child likes. But, also, observe if the routine is helping the child get to a relaxed state. This is so individual! One child may get sleepy while listening to a book and cuddling in, another may get revved up! If you notice an energy spike, redo your routine and try something more soothing for the child.
Watch this 5 minutes Super Nanny video to see a routine truly turn around bedtime. Note what she DOES to get him on board (both the Nanny and the Mother.
Step #5 - Catch the child being good!
Once you have finished the calming routine, say goodnight and step away. Within about 30 seconds, give the child attention and praise for staying in bed. Slowly increase the amount of time (2 minutes, then 5...). You may have an experience like mine, where my daughter giggled, smiled, and STAYED IN BED! It was a true miracle. :) Not only did she stay in bed that night, but for the entire next week. I did not even need to continue praising the behavior. She just did it.
The reality is, it is very difficult for humans to calm down to sleep, and children are no different. Be kind, persistent, calm, and supporting, knowing that what you are doing will make a difference! What you do matters. And, remember, YOU HAVE GOT THIS! :)