Kids Talk is an award winning column dealing with childhood development issues written by Maren Stark Schmidt. Click HERE for more columns and sign-up for engaging and insightful parenting workshops!
Seeing the big picture of what you want for the long term for your child and your family helps put the situation in perspective. This requires some thought about what you want or need your child to do. Families are different and sleep habits vary from having a family bed to every family member having their own bedroom. Do you want your child to sleep alone? Go to bed alone? Does bedtime bring up guilty feelings for you if you’ve had a busy day and haven’t spent time with your child? Your anxieties and uncertainties are nonverbally communicated to your child and can make bedtime more difficult. Be clear of what you think will best serve the needs of your family and your child will become more cooperative.
Once have defined your big picture, you have to devise a plan and put it into action. Routine is also an important feature for the child under the age of six. The routine becomes a calming agent that helps the family wind down for the night. If it important to you that your child sleeps in his or her own bed and be asleep by a certain time, consider the routine of how you make that happen. Let’s say, your bedtime plan is for 7:30 pm. Dinner needs to be finished by 6:30, followed by bath time, a story read in bed, a drink of water, a prayer, a kiss goodnight, lights out and a lullaby.
It probably doesn’t matter what your plan is, as you can always refine it. Once you have a plan in mind, visit with your child during the day, perhaps several times during the day, about how important it to sleep in your own bed so everyone can get a good night’s rest and not be grumpy the next day.
Now the hard part, putting the plan in action. Creating routine also creates an atmosphere that is conducive to relaxation and sleep. Slow down. Execute your routine slow and steady. Breathe and be mindful of your connection with your child. Many of our bedtime battles are about the child needing to reconnect with you. I’m thirsty. I need to go to the bathroom. I’m scared. All those excuses are really excuses for your child to connect with you.
As you form your plan, also think of the excuses your child gives you for not falling asleep and try to counter those excuses in your bedtime routine. For the child who says they’re not tired, perhaps they’re ready to give up an afternoon nap, or perhaps they need more physical activity to be ready for bed.
Patience is key to success. You’ll go slowly through your well-formed plan and, finally sit down after the lights have gone off, and pitter-patter, your tyke is up--again. Part of your plan needs to be what you are going to do when (not if) your child gets up. Be sure to tell him or her that plan in your daytime visits about bedtime. “If you get out of bed I’ll walk you back,” you’ll say in the daylight. At night, you can wordlessly take your child’s hand and lead them back to bed. All done in a kind and caring way, without threats, yelling, or blood pressure rising.
What to do if your child cries? Make sure that is in your plan. Do you go back and pat your child on the back, tuck them in again, give them one more hug? Your plan, and knowing how you will deal with inevitable situations beforehand will help your child and you create a successful sleep routine in a week or two.
Remember: Picture. Plan. Patience. Three P’s so you can get some Z’s.