Toddler Survival Tip #17
17. Toddlers and Sleeping
We are all told when we were pregnant, "Sleep now."
"Sleep when you can."
"Sleep when the baby sleeps."
"You'll be pretty tired at the beginning."
"Eventually they'll sleep through the night."
and other quotes I'm sure you know by heart...
BUT no one told us "YOU'LL NEVER SLEEP AGAIN!"
What happens when your perfect infant sleeper turns into a sleep defiant toddler?
Everyone is different, every family is different. Each family is unique and what works in one household may not work in another.
Some people allow their children to decide when it's bedtime.
Some families co-sleep.
Some families have children in separate rooms.
Some have siblings bunking together.
Some have strict bedtimes and routines.
Some have a more around about times.
Whatever your family design is, is fine, as long as it's still working for everyone. If bedtime or nap time are a problem, then we need to ajust our thinking and take a look at what our ultimate goal is?
That said, "YOU CAN'T MAKE CHILDREN SLEEP!"
Just like going in the potty or eating, it is a body function that only they control. You can invite and there are some tips that may help, but ultimately this is not a power struggle you want to engage it, as they have the winning power of not closing their eyes! You can bribe, coax, argue, threaten, plead, but it's their doing.
That said, Of course I have some tips for you.
Often child experts have found that these unnecessary battles, such as potty time, eating, or sleeping are based on lack of knowledge, lack of skills, lack of faith, lack of confidence in yourself and your little one.
There are ways to invite cooperation, using respectful and developmentally appropriate methods. All humans sleep and eat to survive. Toileting eventually happens through social conviction. They will do it -eventually! We need to learn as parents, cooperation instead of power struggles.
1. Sleep is your child's responsibility. You can explore the options of rocking them to sleep, whispering and tiptoeing around the house, night lights versus darkness, music versus silence, warm rooms vs open windows, still, SLEEPING IS THE BABY'S JOB! Don't you have enough to do? You will invite a battle if you begin to make his/her sleeping your responsibility.
2. Temperament matters. Some babies are born active, others colic or physical issues, some need more touch and comforting. Knowing your babies temperament will help when establishing good sleeping habits at a young age. Learn more on temperament here:
3. Time for a change? If you find yourself asleep in a toddler bed because they needed you to ly with them and really you fell alseep while they played, then maybe it's time for a change. When children fall asleep by themselves, they learn, "I am capable." If you have a child who cries every night before bed, when you try to implement a change in pattern (for the better of your family) they will resist, expect crying to continue for a couple nights before they realize this is the new routine. They will eventually settle. Decide if you are going to quit lying with them cold turkey or in stages. You can go in and reassure them you are there every 5,10, 15 minutes but NO LYING down, only checking on them. Wean them off you.
4. Keep bedtime soothing. Establish a bedtime routine. Consistency creates a feeling of safety and reassurance. Even with older children in the house who may not need that routine anymore, keep it up with the little ones for sure! Let the older ones help the younger ones with bathtime, teethbrushing, book reading. It may do more for your family than you first expected.
5. No screen time. 1 hour before bed turn off all TV, computer screens, DS or anything else. Even computer readers like Kindle can stimulate the mind and does a disservice for your toddlers sleeping pattern. Behaviour that activates the brain is not conductive with sleep.
“Sleep is nocturnal, because our circadian rhythm directs us to be sleepy in dark, low-light conditions,” says Philip Alapat, M.D., assistant professor of medicine and medical director of Baylor College of Medicine’s Sleep Center. “Bright screens disrupt our circadian rhythm which intrudes on our sleep, especially if we are prone to insomnia.”
6. Create a bedtime chart that they can follow along to. I personally have a bedtime routine chart laminate for my 3 year old, he can follow along as to 'what's next' on the list. He loves to show it off to babysitters as well. It gives them a feeling of being capable and knowing what is next. It reduces stress and fear. It triggers their body and mind to 'gear down' for sleeping. Encourage your child to take an active role in bedtime. You want your 2 and 3 year old to practice putting their own PJ's on. Make it a game, make it fun.
7. Practice bedtime at other parts of the day. Play "Let's Pretend." Pretend play isn't just fun! It helps develop language skills and life skills. Role-play going to bed crying and going to bed happy. Show her what each looks like and then have them do it. Pretend to put teddy or dolly to bed, ask if dolly is happy and what dolly needs before bed. Model cooperation and understanding. Maybe dolly was scared of the curtain or that they light was too dark, you may have a window into what your child is going through later on when he's trying to get to sleep. It may reduce stress and fear.
8. Avoid Power struggles. If you child says, "No bed!" Don't argue the point, you may say, " You'd like to stay up later" or "You don't want to go to bed yet." Validating feelings and thoughts are sometimes the only thing they needed in the first place. This tells her you heard her, you understand and you respect her feelings. AND she's still going to bed. Practice being kind and firm at the same time. (it's harder than you think.) Just continue with what's next on the chart honey? Do you know where your Dora toothbrush is? Let's brush teddy's teeth first. Trying to convince her that she's cranky or tired will only make it worse. Just continue and stay firm and kind.
9. Make decisions and then STICK TO THEM! Decide if they will have 1 or 2 books before bed. If each child has the same bedtime or different bedtimes, stick to it. Don't allow them to sucker you into one more book or 5 more minutes up. Have confidence that you made the right decision in the first place and stick to your word. They will respect, trust and love you for it as they grow. You are building TRUST, stay true to your word.
10. Make bedtime a sharing, loving time. This is the last thought before they sleep. You are the last face they see. You are the last voice they hear. Even with a hard, long day, suck it up and tell them "Today was hard, tomorrow will be better." "I love you, you're a good person." "I'm glad to know you." You can do my favourite game, "What's the saddest part of your day and what's the happiest part of your day." or just ask the happy one. Remember you want them to see your smiling, loving face and hear your soothing, sweet, I love you voice and feel your warm, embracing hug before they drift off. Try to love them BEHIND their difficult behaviours.
The more confident you are in routine, time and your kind, firm way, the more safe, secure and loved they feel. That's our true goal!