Bedtime Problems

imagesDuring the last thirty years, I’ve seen a change in how families deal with bedtime rituals.  As most parents work outside the home, time spent together has become limited. It therefore makes sense that many parents choose to share their bed with their children. The sleeping hours are used as a way to connect.However, this only works if all family members are okay with the arrangement and everyone get the sleep they need.

If you started out sharing a bed with your child or staying in bed with your child until she falls asleep, and you want to make a change, I’m here to give your permission to do so. Don’t feel guilty. If you feel sleep deprived, imagine how your child feels. Each time she wakes you up at night, her sleep gets interrupted as well.

How to Tell If Your Child Gets Enough Sleep

How can you tell if your child gets enough sleep? If she wakes up on her own without any prompting (by you, alarm clocks or outside noise) she usually had enough rest. If not, it’s your job as a parent to make sure she gets the rest that she needs at night  in order to fully function, learn and enjoy the next day .

Does It Take a Long Time For Your Child to Fall Asleep?

Is it difficult for your child to fall asleep? If so, you might have to make some adjustments to her daily schedule.

1. Every child needs outdoor physical activity each day. If your child gets less than one hour of vigorous outdoor activity per day, chances are that she isn’t physically tired. We often underestimate this important part of a child’s life.

2. Also, refrain from serving any sort of junk food at least three hours before bedtime.

3. If it takes your child more than twenty minutes to go to sleep at night, it might be a good idea to eliminate the naptime and instead let the child go to bed a few minutes earlier to get the sleep she needs.

4. Create a calm bedtime ritual. Start with a bath—keep things low key if possible. Read a story in a place where you can dim the lights and play some soothing music (preferably the same music each night). By following this ritual, your child’s brain will begin to automatically prepare for sleep when she hears the music. My oldest child was so accustomed to the ritual that all I had to do was to hum her night time music and she would fall asleep. (This was great for long plane rides!)

Does Your Child Have Problems Falling Asleep On Her Own?

What might have started as a nice way to bond has now become a dreaded night time procedure, and you’re ready to make a change. Here are a few suggestions for when you’re ready to take this step:

1. If your child is old enough to reason with, explain to her a few days ahead of time that you will start a new bedtime ritual. Explain without excuses or any sense of guilt that children need more sleep than adults, and that she’s old enough to fall asleep on her own. Don’t over sell it. You don’t pour perfume on manure and expect her to agree that it smells great. Respect her opinion (that this is an unnecessary, stupid idea).  It is what it is. If your child is old enough to know the days of the week, you might modify the all or nothing approach by picking one day a week as a sleep over day. This only works for children with a concept of time. A younger child would only become confused and insecure if you were to allow her in bed sometimes and not others.

2. If you want your child to learn how to sleep in her own bed, I suggest a gradual method. Lay on the floor next to the bed. Each night, move a bit further away, until you are outside the room. This usually doesn’t take more than three nights.

3. You can also place her own bed or mattress next to yours and gradually get her used to the idea of sleeping on her own.

4. If you want your child to learn how to fall asleep on her own, shorten the time you spend in bed by a few minutes each night so that she will gradually get used to falling asleep on her own.

5. When your child gets up or tries to engage you in conversation, just repeat the same phrase: “It’s your bedtime and it’s time to sleep” as you walk her or carry her back to bed. The first night, this might happen twenty times (or more if your child is particularly persistent). With each night, it will become easier.

6. When she sleeps through the night in her own bed, celebrate. Just like potty training or the first day of pre-school, this is a big step for a child—and a huge step for you.

What If You Cannot Go Through With It?

During this process, your child most likely will cry and call out for you. At this moment you’ll feel like a terrible parent. You’ll curse yourself for wanting to make this change. You’ll curse your spouse for wanting a change before you’re ready. You’ll curse me for writing this blog and yourself for reading it.

As much as your current sleeping arrangement bothers you, you probably feel as though you’re not ready to give it up at that very moment. It feels nice to be needed and to know that you have the ability to sooth your child just by laying next to her. Your child is trying to restore things to her normal. She only knows what she is used to. She can’t read your road map. This is one of many times that your child will have to put her faith in you as her parent. This is one of many times you’ll have to have faith in your child’s ability to handle change.

A child doesn’t want to be a burden. So if you do give up and decide to try again when she is older, don’t blame the child’s inability to sleep on her own. Instead take responsibility for the fact that making this change was just too much for you to handle at the moment. But don’t beat yourself up. It’s not the end of the world.

Of course it’s better for your child if you follow through at all times. But parents are human. If you realize that sharing a bed with your child is easier than going through this three day process, that’s okay. Now you know what the process is like. You know what to expect next time. You can try and not succeed one time but you can’t try a second time. The second time you have to follow through or it becomes a useless exercise and a  power struggle that the child knows she can win.