Hello, everyone! We hope February is treating you well and that you will join us for Family Night on February 23rd.
This month, we’re talking about getting your kiddos to bed with less stress. Sound impossible? It’s not! It does take work and consistency, but it’s well worth if it means happier, better rested kids and adults. There’s a lot of info here, so feel free to scroll down to skip around a bit! One point to keep in mind is that consistency is key. People, children included, are happier with structure and routine.
Sleep Safety: Sudden Unexpected Infant Death Syndrome
While having an infant in the same room as their caregivers while sleeping has been shown to reduce the chances of Sudden Unexpected Infant Death Syndrome (SUIDS, formerly known as SIDS). An infant sharing a bed with adults has been shown to increase the risk for SUIDS, even if the adults in bed are not impaired (by alcohol or drugs) in any way. If your wee one is sharing a room with you, give him or her their own bed. Be sure that bed:
-has a properly fitting mattress
-a tight and proper fitting sheet
-has no other blankets, stuffed animals or bumpers
Your infant should also always be placed on their back when sleeping. If your baby likes to be swaddled, consider using a sleep sack to prevent bedding from covering their mouth and nose.
When it comes to sleep training, talk to your pediatrician about when is a developmentally appropriate time to begin with your infant (usually once they are 6 months or older). There are different schools of thought what’s the best way go about baby’s bed time. Check out a few different opinions and decide what’s best for you and your family. What ever your plan, be sure it is something you are willing to stick with for a while (it can take time!) and one that you and any other adults in the house are all on the same page about. You need a united front!
We are going to touch on one method here, the Ferber Method.
The Ferber method is sometimes referred to as “cry it out”, but that is not an accurate name for it–and it brings up scary visions of babies abandoned in their cribs for 12 hours by themselves, which is not the case. The goal of the Ferber method is to help teach babies to self-soothe and fall asleep on their own, a handy skill to learn that can also take some of the pressure off of parents. Essentially the Ferber Method suggests going through your nighttime routine with your baby, then putting them in their bed while they are groggy but still awake and leaving the room. If the baby begins to cry (which is likely if they are used to an adult being with them until they sleep), parents wait a pre-determined number of minutes, maybe 3 minutes to begin with, before going in the room. Parents briefly comfort the baby however they like (just their voice, patting baby, rubbing their head) but leave again while the baby is still awake. They continue this, going slightly longer and longer amounts of time before going in the room. By coming in at intervals, the baby learns that an adult is close by, but by not staying with them until they are asleep, the baby learns they are expected to do that themselves. Some babies take to this very quickly, some babies take a few weeks before adapting.
In studies, the Ferber method has shown to result in kids who (having completed “training”) go to sleep quickly, on their own, with less crying, wake less at night and are better rested during the day.
For more information about the Ferber method, check out Dr. Ferber’s book, Solve Your Child’s Sleep Problems.
There are many other approaches and specific sleep-related issues, way too many for one blog post. For other approaches and information, check out Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Child: A Step-by -Step Program for a Good Night’s Sleep. You can also Google “sleep training” and do a little digging into what has worked for other families to help you figure out what might be a good fit for yours, or talk to your pediatrician.
Toddlers and Preschoolers
Okay, so maybe, for any number of perfectly valid reasons, your baby never quite got to sleeping on their own and now you find yourself with a toddler or preschooler in your bed. Or maybe you’re sleeping in your child’s room. Or maybe you start with your child in their own room but at some point in the night, you end up with them in yours. Eventually, you’re probably going to want your child sleeping in their room and you sleeping in yours. It is important for adults and kids alike to get a good night’s sleep and that can be hard to do to with a little one flailing around in the night. It’s also important for adults to have a place and time to themselves (like a bed). It helps them rest and recharge. For couples, it’s important to have time and space as a couple (like at night in their bed) to reconnect. Just like with infants, getting your child to sleep on their own can be difficult and stressful, but with consistency, it is achievable. And if the result is a better rested family, it is worth the effort.
Be sure to talk about any bedtime changes with your child before implementing them so they are prepared. Explain to your child that it’s important for everyone, mommies and daddies included, to get a good night’s sleep.
Help your child wind down for evening by developing a routine. It should be pleasant and enjoyable so that your child looks forward to it. It can be a great opportunity for quality time with your kiddo each day that will provide wonderful memories down the road for you both. A simple routine to implement uses the 4 Bs: Bath, Brush, Book, Bed. You can make any routine you want (maybe you listen to some relaxing music or spend a few minutes in the rocking chair), but here are some things to keep in mind:
-It should take (from start to kiddo in bed) about an hour to run all the way through.
-It should start at the SAME TIME every night, even on vacations, if that can be arranged.
-You should wake your child at the same time every day as well
– Consistency, consistency, consistency! Eventually your child will naturally start to get sleepy as they associate this routine with going to sleep.
-Avoid screens (tablets, TV, phones). The blue light they give off can be stimulating (this is a good tip for adults, too!)
-Do some observations. If bedtime is absolutely horrible, consider adjusting your child’s bedtime. Maybe they just aren’t tired at 7:00, but at 8:00, they will conk right out. Maybe they need a shorter nap in the afternoon. Watch your child for indications that they are tired and adjust your schedule accordingly.
The Bed Abandoners
Even if your child falls asleep in their own room and bed, it is no guarantee that they will stay there if they wake up in the middle of the night, especially if you have recently made the transition from co-sleeping.
Start by making sure that your child’s bedroom is appealing. If possible, let your child chose a bed or bedding and have a special stuffed toy for bedtime. If your child has a creepy looking doll that freaks them out, get rid of it. Get a cool nightlight. Really hype up how cool it is that your child is so grown up and is going to sleep in their own bed.
If your child comes into your bedroom in the middle of the night, calmly return them to their own bed. Remind them that they need to stay in their bed and that you are going to stay in yours and then leave. Do not spend a lot of time in your child’s room, as they will likely try stalling tactics to keep you there. Return to your own room alone. Repeat as necessary.
This might take a many, many, repetitions and it could be exhausting and terrible, but it’s important to be consistent every time. If you return your child to her own bed seven times and on the eighth time you give up and let her get in your bed, your child knows that if she keeps coming back to your room eight times, you will reward her by giving her what she wants. If children know they can get what they want, they have no reason to change their behavior. This is where a united front with your partner is extremely important. You must both be on board or your child will figure out which one of you can be worn down and will act accordingly.
Consider a sticker chart that your child can put a sticker on for every night he stays in his own room all night. After collecting a certain amount of stickers, he gets a pre-determined prize, like a small toy or an ice cream date with Daddy. Start small (maybe three stickers) to make it easier for him to be successful and feel confident, then start increasing the amount of stickers needed as he does better and better.
The Early Risers
Maybe your child goes to bed just fine (or fine enough), but they are getting up REALLY early in the morning and disrupting the rest of the family’s sleep. One way to help teach your child when it is an acceptable time to get out bed is a clock! If your child can recognize numbers, get them their own digital clock that they can see from their bed (or an analog clock that you can mark the appropriate number) and explain to them, “When the clock says 7, you can get up!” For children who don’t understand the clock, there are products parents can program that have a light that changes color so children know that when their special light turns green, it’s all right for them to get out of bed. The OK to Wake clock is an example, but there are many others out there. Be sure to shower your child with praise when they stay in bed until it’s time to be up and about.
Tricks of the trade
Monsters/Scary things: If your child is afraid of monsters or something similar, don’t tease them or brush off their concerns. Assure them that they are safe. Provide a nightlight if needed. You can also fill a bottle with water (and maybe a little lavender oil to encourage sleepiness!) and label it “monster spray” to repel those monsters. A few sprays around the room each night might help ease your child’s mind.
Just one more book/drink/song!: If your child is attempting to extend bedtime by asking for yet another story (or whatever it may be), establish limits and STICK TO THEM. Remind your child, “You already had a drink.” or “You know that we only read two stories and we already read them both. Time for bed.” Children are pretty smart and if they know you can be pushed into another story/drink/song, they will keep pushing!
White Noise: If your child is a light sleeper, try adding a white noise machine or a small fan to help drown out other sounds.
Nightmares: Nightmares are a bummer at any age. If your child comes to you in the night having woken up from a nightmare, comfort them, let them talk about their nightmare and then return them to their bed. Help them to soothe themselves by teaching them some tricks to help deal with nightmares on their own. You could suggest that after having a nightmare, they get up and get a drink before going back to bed, or wash their face (this can help wake them up enough to shake off the nightmare, but is not so disruptive as to prevent them from getting back to bed).
Consider getting creative. Have your child describe their nightmare and together, talk about ways that it could have ended in a way that isn’t scary. Maybe your child got super powers and was able to fly instead of falling, or maybe it turns out the monster was just looking for something he lost and didn’t mean to scare anyone. This gives your child a sense of control and helps them to look at a problem creatively.
Another idea is to look for a cultural ritual. In some Hmong families, upon waking from a nightmare, children will yell at their pillow, hit it three times and then flip the pillow over. Look at your own culture for other examples or borrow some that your child might like or make up your own.
Hall Pass If your child keeps trying to stall by insisting they need a drink or to go potty or do whatever it is they say they need to do, consider issuing a “hall pass”, one per night, that allows your child to do that one thing they really, really need to do (this is after all immediate needs have been met, of course). After the hall pass is spent, that’s it and they cannot get out of bed again. By allowing your child to make a choice, they might feel more in control and that might help them be satisfied after they have “spent” their pass.
Soothing Smell Children are comforted by their parents’ scent. Give your child a shirt you have worn or a teddy bear sprayed with your perfume/cologne that they can take to bed and be relaxed by your smell.
Mommy’s Greatest Hits If you have the time and equipment (an old tape deck from the Goodwill might work!), record yourself reading some of your child’s favorite stories or singing lullabies. You can play it for your child at night to help them relax and feel close to you. If they are old enough, you can teach them how to play it themselves, so if they wake up at night, they can play it go back to sleep.
Find what works for your family Every child, family and situation is unique. It might take some time and trial-and-error to find out what works for your family, but an easy bed time and a good night’s sleep is worth making the effort! Everyone will be happier and better functioning when they are well rested.
Good luck and sweet dreams!