Your kids may go to sleep holding these books because they are too hard to put down!Do you find yourself dreading your child's bedtime and the endless struggle it has become to get them ready, in bed, and asleep before you fall over from exhaustion? I know very few parents who haven't had some sort of struggle to get at least one of their children off to bed. Here are a few of my time tested methods to making bedtime sanier for you (CALM) and more predictable for your children (CONSISTENT).
#1: Make a routine and stick to it
As with all things involving children, consistency is essential. The more your children can predict what will happen, the more secure they feel, and the less they see an opportunity to buck the system (aka "the parents."
I am blessed with three children, all with different sleep schedules and bedtimes. The two year old and eleven year olds are quite easy. The two year old get a bath around 7:30pm in which she gets to play, then washes herself with a wash cloth, and attempts to wash her hair, all with supervision from me. After bath, we put on her pajamas, brush her hair, brush her teeth, and go to the bathroom, without ever leaving the bathroom. I've learned the faster we do everything, and the less places we have to go, the less resistence I get. Then its off to her bedroom to read two books of her choice, turn off the light, she picks her dreamlight color, and then goodnight. She's usually asleep within 10 minues with no fussing. The eleven year old is self-sufficient, woo hoo!
My 4 year old has always struggled with sleeping. Here's her routine, she gets in the same bath as the 2 year old, same hair, teeth and bathroom schedule, except she then gets to go downstairs and watch some TV before she goes upstairs to bed. We turn off the dreamlight and put on a lamp, since she likes more light. Then we read two books of her choice. Most nights she comes out of her room at least once or twice. She seems to require less sleep then her sisters and I find if I let her stay up a little later I get more success with her staying in bed. You've got to do what works for you and your family, and remember all kids are different. Your bedtime routine should be worked around the needs and timeframe of the parents with slight variations for the kids' particular needs (e.g. dreamlight vs. lamp).
#2 Use TV sparingly
My eleven year old has a TV in her room, though that is not my preference. Neither the two year old nor the four year old has a TV in their room, nor are they are allowed at my house to watch TV while they sleep or to sleep on the sofa and stay up late watching movies. TV seems to recharge their brains and can actually keep some children awake longer (e.g. my four year old). I don't think its a problem to let them watch a show before bed as long as your children know its one show and then off to bed. Also,watching too much TV during the day prevents children from getting the necessary physical and mental activity necessary to be good and tired at bedtime.
#3: Limit bedtime snacks and drinks
My two year old is in the middle of potty training, so I really try to limit her fluid intake after dinner, and definately after she takes her bath. When my children were little and in diapers I would let them take a sippy cup of water to bed with them, now that they are all older, we have moved away from that so as to prevent night accidents. Similarily, I discourage snacks in bedtime. Eating in bed, besides the obvious mess factor, can distract from the main event - sleep. After bathtime my kitchen is closed and the kids are allowed to have something simple, toast, string cheese, fruit snacks, or goldfish. Most nights they don't ask for anything at all, when they ask - and its usually the four year old, I take a while to get it upstairs to them (they have to wait in their beds, they are not allowed to come downstairs with me), and I often find they have fallen asleep in the meantime.
#4: Mommy's bed is for Mommy...
When my children were little, their crib was in my bedroom, made for easy middle of the night feedings. Then when they got a few months old, I noticed that we were starting to keep each other awake at nights, and thereafter their crib moved into what would later be their room. Now, my eleven year old has her own room, as do I, and my two year old and my four year old share a room, with each having their own twin bed. From the beginning, Mommy's bed was for sick kids, and times when my children had a nightmare or were awoken by a thunderstorm, not for regular co-sleeping. Even under those circumstances, I try to lay down with them in their beds for a few minutes, before I let them into mine.
I cannot begin to tell you how many parents I know personally who ended up with a seven or eight year old in their bed, and how hard it was to remove them. Toddlers are cute but in my experience they turn into little kicking monsters once they are in your bed, and then there is the teeth grinding, sleeping sideways, a whole host of things which keep me up at night. I enjoy my sleep and don't want it disturbed by someone's dragon toes slicing me in the calf or mouth breathing.
When they get out of bed, walk them back calmly, and please try to be on the same page with your spouse or partner. When one parent is dilligent about having a calm routine bedtime and keeping the kids in their own beds, and the other parent likes to let them hide under the clothes and giggle while you stand there annoyed at 11pm, well let's just say that doesn't make for a great rest of the evening. Remember that CONSISTENCY from the beginning, its key to everything you do as a parent, individually and jointly.
#5: Have a plan in place BEFORE problems happen
Whether you have started all of your child's sleeping training from birth, or whether you are trying to fix problems you already have with an older child, its important to remember that some days will be better than others. Relax. Problems will happen and they will be an opportunity for you to shine. Remember the CALM from the beginning, this where that comes into play.
Yelling at your child, or spanking them, likely will have no positive effect on your bedtime routine. Instead, keeping in mind the age of your child, decide beforehand what consequences you will impose for problem behavior. For example, when my now four year was a 18 months old, she would come out of her room alot at night. I would take her by the hand, without explanation, and put her back in bed. It was a frustrating time but slowly she got the message that bedtime was bedtime, no amount of coming out of her room would get her back downstairs or in my bed. Now, she is allowed out one time per night, for non emergencies, such as a drink of water. Potty trips are always allowed but have never been utilized. After the first time I remind her that if she gets out of her bedroom again for something non-emergency, she will lose her TV priviliges after dinner the following day. I have only had to impose this consequence twice. Usually she stays in her room, when I have had to impose the TV rule, there is no negotiation, and the consequence is applied whether she is "good" the rest of the night or the next day.
With children under two years old, I would say redirection by walking them back to bed with little or no fanfare is usually enough to let them know you mean business. This means no more extra stories, or fifteen cups of water (do you want a mess anyway?), or toys in bed, whatever you decide as the parent. With older toddlers, I like imposing concrete consequences (e.g. the TV rule), or instituting a ticket system whereby they can come out of their room a certain number of times a night or a week and as long as they stay within that guideline, there is no outside consequence.
I hope none of you have trouble with your school age chidren getting off to bed.
If you have questions or want specific guidance on your situation, or are experiencing sleep issues with an older child, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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