Creating a successful bedtime and a child who sleeps through the night
In another article I shared my belief that babies and children sometimes need to cry. I mentioned my own experience that saw my little baby boy sleep through the night for the first time.
It may seem that life was perfect every after. I now had a wonderfully contented baby who slept through the night and life went on until he left home.
Well we can dream! He was a wonderful baby though!
Realistically there comes a time when our little ones move into a big boy/girl bed and it unsettles their routine despite, or perhaps because of, the excitement it has caused. They can get out of bed themselves at bedtime and before breakfast time and, unfortunately, anywhere in between.
These are a few suggestions on how you can smooth the transition into the new bed routine. Not only that, but also how to ensure that your little one sleeps soundly through the night in their own bed so that you can do the same.
It's relatively easy and requires only a good routine, persistence and willingness to follow through.
A New, Safe, Exciting Place to Sleep
Sometimes the cot or crib becomes too small and other times it's needed for the new baby. Either way there comes a time when children need to move into a 'real' bed. It's helpful if your child can stay in the same room and the cot is moved rather than the child.
My opinion is that a child should have long moved out of their parents bedroom. Two's company and three's... not romantic.
I understand parents wanting to make their child's bedroom (and bed) special. There are some awesome beds available. Before spending too much though, unless you have the money to spend and it doesnt matter, consider that your child will grow quickly. A single or larger bed is a good idea.
We put our little boy on a mattress on the floor. He didn't have far to fall and a wall on one side to keep him in. Falling out of bed is a sure fire way to wake a child, not surprisingly! Alternatively a guard or fence can be installed to act like a cot side in stopping your child from rolling out.
When we did buy a bed we got one with a timber frame and simply slipped a piece of timber along the bed frame. It wasn't high. Just an edge above the mattress to prompt the unconscious mind that there was a boundary to his mattress.
And to prove there are always exceptions to what I've said, here's a picture of my daughter having fallen out of bed, over the board, and still asleep! Kids are amazing and WILL sleep anywhere and through anything if you teach them to!
Beds, Bed Rails and Mattress Protectors - Setting up a child's 'big kid' bedroom!
A Friend in the Dark
My children had a sleeping buddy.
Go shopping with your child and allow him or her to choose a sleeping buddy. My little boy chose a Winnie The Pooh bear. It was separate from his special bear he took other places.
The purpose of this bear was to watch over him in the night and for him to cuddle if he woke and needed some extra reassurance. Winnie The Pooh stayed in his bed day and night and eventually wasn't needed any more.
My daughter had a bear she was already inseparable from and also her "gucky". I don't know where she got that name but her guckies were the muslin blankets I swaddled her in as a baby. She's 8 now and still has her gucky in the bed for comfort at bedtime... and about 30 favourite stuffed toys.
Many babies have a night light already. I got another one for the hallway and our ensuite in the event my little children came looking for us. I didn't want them upset, scared or crying as then I'd have to settle them again.
Not everyone wants a light in their ensuite as it can be too bright in the adult bedroom and I found one that was a subdued glowing dot. Our eyes have adjusted to the dark if we're up in the night and it's warm glow is very adequate.
More on the reasons behind this later.
Soft Toys To Cuddle - Who does your child love?
My son chose a Winnie The Pooh bear for his bed. Most children will have some friendly character they relate to and feel safe around.
Even if your child isn't overly attached to the teddy bear as such they are sometimes more likely to comply when you say "Let's go and see Pooh Bear" than if you say "Let's go back to bed".
Winnie the Pooh was my son's choice for keeping him safe and contented in the night.
Teletubbies are popular for many children of this young age. Just the thing when you want to return them to their bed!
Who doesn't love Elmo. He is synonymous with fun and security.
Barney is also a child's best friend. You'll know who your child loves best!
Establish a Routine That Works For Your Situation
and stick to it every night.
There are obviously times that routines go out the window. Special events, visitors and holidays all can play havoc on routines. Wherever possible, however, children benefit from a routine.
If you ask a child if they are tired the probability is that they will say 'no'. It's up to the adult to know what is a reasonable bedtime for their child so that it can be a happy and enjoyable time of the day before over-tiredness and rebellion set in.
Children will become anchored to a routine very quickly. This means that they know what to expect and are virtually programmed (in a good way) to comply. It's like us putting our foot on the brake pedal when we see a red light or dropping what we're doing to answer a ringing phone. We've been conditioned to know that this is what we do in these situations and it's the obvious course of action without questioning why we are doing it or thinking about the fact that we are.
Our happy bedtime routine has remained the same for years. Your's may be different but this works for us and may provide you some ideas.
- Dinner or supper is over. We eat the same every night - "take it or leave it". I tell my kids I am not a cafe and there's nothing else until breakfast. They are allowed one dislike (eg peas, zucchini or potato) and can choose not to eat if they take offence to my cooking or have simply had enough. I don't give my kids toast, cereal or any other bedtime treats.
- If your household has a TV that's great but now is the time to turn it off. Ads, jingles, loud conversation, bad news and gun fire are not calming. It's easy for your children to become distracted by the TV or even unconsciously be stimulated by the noise.
- Now our children are older, they're responsible for putting their own plates in the dishwasher. Regardless of your child's age, this is the time to encourage them to put away any toys they've been using during the day. Even a toddler can do this and usually loves to do so. This sets the tone for helping in years to come and also signals that play time is done.
- Our kids always shower before or after dinner. it's hygienic and nice to go to bed clean and fresh. When they were toddlers they showered with us. It was just quicker, easier and a good way to supervise they were clean. While newborns love the comfort of a bath, I've been showering my babies since they were wee things in our arms.
- Teeth brushing is important. We always do it right before story time. Story time is the biggest incentive to get everything set for bed. Children LOVE to be read to. Another good reason for turning off the distracting TV!
- When my children were little all three of them chose their own bedtime picture book. We always read three snuggled together to share the pictures. I would borrow books from the library to keep it interesting for them and me. The truth is though, that children will read a favourite book again and again and again. Now we read two chapters of an age appropriate book. My children love Enid Blyton's Famous Five and Alfred Hichcock's Three Investigators.
- "Toilet and bed!" That's the instruction every night. The kids check their water bottle is fresh and full beside their bed. No excuse for getting up for a drink of water! They wait for a cuddle from both me and their dad. We have a special goodnight time for each individual child, talk about their day or anything else that comes up and sing a short goodnight song. We've been singing this song since it was played on a lullaby cassette when they were little. My twins are eight and still demand we sing to them. My son's 11 and he's past that now.
- Generally I won't see any of my kids (apart from checking in on them while they're sleeping) until I wander out for breakfast.
Lullaby Music is Good....
but, trust me, this is better!
When my children were very young I would play a lullaby cassette in the afternoon to calm them for their afternoon nap. It worked fairly well and we still sing the "Night Night" song at bedtime. I recommend something like this.
One thing you probably don't know about me is that I'm a Master Practitioner of Neuro Linguistic Programming (NLP), Time Line Therapy (TM), and Hypnotherapy. While I no longer see clients or run trainings in these things the very nature of these modalities mean they became a big part of who I am. This has affected all areas of my life and, of course, my parenting.
Recently I was looking for some quality NLP / hypnotherapy MP3's to download that were pleasant to listen to and quality in content. I found NLP World and was immediately impressed to see they not only sold downloads but they were an actual training company as well. Their trainings sound very like the ones I did here in Australia.
I chose, and downloaded, Deep Trance (it just feels so good) and, because they were so inexpensive, Calm And Deep Sleep as well. I was immediately impressed with the neutral accent of the presenter, the beautiful calming sounds and the language patterns that obviously had an NLP influence.
I played Calm and Deep Sleep as I drifted off to sleep the next couple of nights and had the most wonderful restful sleep that I have had for months.
Last night my 8yo grizzled out saying he couldn't sleep. He's often awake much later than the other children. He has a very active mind that doesn't easily shut down. I told him to grab a pillow and lay near me and I kept working on my laptop while the Sleep and Calm MP3 played it's 26 minute track.
He was out to it!
Tonight both the boys listened and I had the same result.
I wished I'd thought of this (although realistically I just didn't know about it) when my children were much younger. Not only is hypnotherapy soothing it is designed to balance the mind and induce a restful sleep. What a gift to a child.... and their parent.
Night Time Visits
All parents know what it is like to be woken by a child in the night. If you're lucky to be a sound sleeper yourself you might only wake when the child is actually in bed beside you. Don't set an expectation that crawling into your bed will be OK. It's easy to allow it thinking you'll get up "in a minute". Inevitably the child will crash there (sideways) and one or both parents will have restless sleep at best for the next hour or more.
Speak kindly keeping talk to a minimum. Something like "Hey honey, you woke mummy up! Come on lets go to your bed and cuddle". I then took the child by the hand and led them back to their bed for the cuddle while they settled. Usually my child would be asleep again in no time and I dozed at best before coming back to my own comfortable spot.
Depending on the child and the circumstance I would sometimes guide my child via the toilet, sitting them on without asking, and prompting them to see if they could wee. If you ask a child of this age if they need to wee they will nearly always say "no". I think we can all relate to falling asleep easier with an empty bladder and this may be what woke the child in the first place. Another good reason not to accept them unquestioningly into your bed.
One of my sons often got upset if I tried sitting him on the toilet in the night and I would usually ask him when we were right at the toilet and not force the issue if he said no.
Teach your child that you are there for them... but in their bed, not yours.
What you can do to help in the daylight hours.
Use the daylight hours for positive reinforcement and to enforce your boundaries. Let the child know that you were sound asleep and didn't like getting woken in the night.
Praise them if they've slept longer than they have before.
Offer an incentive. A sticker on a chart for every night they stay in their bed until daylight. A walk to the park tomorrow if mummy isn't woken in the night and we both get a good night's sleep.
Weaning The Night Time Visits
If waking in the night and coming to get you becomes a routine, interrupt the pattern. Any number of strategies can work.
"You go to the toilet and I'll take you back to bed". This fosters the start of independently going to the toilet and taking themselves back to bed. For a while my kids using our ensuite would wake me and I would lay quietly pretending I was asleep. Now they are 8 and 11 I never hear them if they do get up to use the washroom in the night.
Taking the child back to bed, making sure they have their teddy or other comfort and sitting on the bed briefly before leaving again. Simply tucking them in and returning to your bed works well for some children if waking isn't because of a genuine upset.
I got to the stage of saying firmly "No! Mummy is sleeping. Go back to bed!" By this time the child should know that this is the routine anyway. My husband never could do this though and to this day the kids will (occasionally) go to his side of the bed in the night. They rarely wake me up. When we tell friends about this he grumbles; "You've seen Shrek, haven't you?" I guess I've made my point that my sleep is not to be disturbed lightly.
To me, this is a healthy boundary I have put in place so that I can cope well. I make no apologies for it. If there is a real drama, like wetting the bed, the kids always end up at my side. I think they know the difference of what warrants disturbing our sleep and what doesn't.
Will You Ever Sleep In Again?
If you want to!
Young children need a safe environment and this means supervision when they are still very young. As they get older there is no reason for them to wake their parents at the crack of dawn.
We set an expectation that the children would stay inside, play quietly, return milk to the fridge if they were hungry and having breakfast before we got up, watch a DVD, take turns with computer time.
I mostly always sleep in on the weekends. It is one of the joys in my life. We can stay up late on Friday night (if we want to) and sleep in until 8 or 10 without disturbance.
My friends often act incredulous, laugh at me or deride me. I know they're just jealous. They don't ring me early anymore.
My children know that waking me when I'm sleeping is not a good option!
Do you have anything to add or helpful advice?