I have gotten quite a few comments and emails from parents lately about bedtime being a struggle. I wonder if this is in part due to just the time of year it is now, being light later at night here in the Northern Hemisphere.
Here are just some random thoughts and questions to go through and see if any of these areas resonates with you as a way to make bedtime a better time:
- Are you starting the bedtime routine too late and therefore missing the window?
- Is the bedtime routine too long and too many steps?
- Was the meal before bedtime enough food with the ratio of carbohydrates, fat and protein that meets your particular child’s needs?
- Is your child getting enough water during the day?
- Is your child getting enough of those vitamins and minerals that help support sleep?
- Are there food allergies or sensitivities at play?
- Do you have help at bedtime? If you are solo parenting at night, all the more reason to keep things very simple.
- Has your child outgrown one way of going to sleep and needs a new form to the bedtime routine?
- Is the room too bright or too dark?
- If you do have help at night, would your child do better with someone else other than you putting them to sleep?
- Are there sensory things that are bothering your child –seams, fabrics of pajamas or bedding?
- Is your child too hot or too cold?
- Is your child getting enough physical activity outside each day?
- Is your child participating in household work during the day and seeing you do real, physical work?
- Is the rhythm of your day balanced between rest times and sleep times?
- Are you telling your child one story or reading one story only (ie, not the endless parade of stories that has no end with the child begging for more, more, more! LOL)
- Do you put your house to sleep?
- Does the child’s room have too much stuff in it? Is it visually stimulating as opposed to relaxing?
- Does your child need their own space in which to sleep, do they need to co-sleep with you, or do they need to sleep on a separate surface in their own room?
- Can you lay down with your older child, turn your back to them, feign sleep and just be? Does that work?
- If your child is old enough and rubbing their back or some other method of soft physical touch doesn’t work toward calming the child, can you just sit in the room and knit or fold laundry by candle or nightlight and tell a very quiet , not exciting story whilst they remain in bed?
- Or do they do better if you leave the room and come back and “check” on them?
- If your child gets really ramped up at bedtime, ie running around the halls, bouncing off the walls, hitting, etc —Can you be really firm and not get pulled into this but keep taking them by the hand and calmly reign them in and go from one simple step to another? Use the bathroom, wash hands, brush teeth, put on pajamas, whatever, with you there every step of the way leading them without words. If there are younger siblings whilst all this is going on can you get someone to help you at night? If you only have a younger baby or toddler in addition to this child and no help, can the smaller child ride safely on your back whilst you literally take your older child by the hand and walk through a very simple nighttime routine? Again, it may be only wash, brush teeth, get into pajamas and crawl into bed, have one story. Keep it simple.
- If your child is running around crazy and small enough, can you literally gently carry them, gently hold them, and gently physically corral them, even if they are upset for a moment? Some children just seem to need to push into a last physical release and then they fall asleep very fast.
- If they are a bit older but still small (ie, four,five years of age), could they sit at your feet and quietly play in a very dim room whilst you do something repetitive and boring? I used to have a basket of small wooden figures and a silk when my middle child was this age and she would sit at my feet and play until she was just about laying down on the floor and then she was ready for bed.
- If your child is older (ie, six/seven change) and running around crazy, and too large to physically corral, then you may need to disengage yourself and fold something, wash dishes or do something else very repetitive if it is quickly turning into a battle unless you can use humor or some other tool to really turn things around. Can you give this child a moment without you (or if they follow you whilst you work, then there they are and that is okay, but no engaging with them!) and then just enter back into the bedtime routine in a moment with no words. Take the child by the hand, help lead them toward what needs to be done, hum softly and don’t engage. Help them into bed. If they ramp up again, go back to your repetitive activity but do not get into words or any sort of engagement with it. Keep dropping your end of the rope. After several nights of this, hopefully the child will see that you are so calm at night, the household routine is going on, and it is just time for bed. You may be able to adapt a version of this for your house; this takes an air of authority to really work.
- Some of these techniques may take time to work, so you may be dealing with bedtimes that are longer than or later than what you wish at first, but if you can drop your end of the rope and disengage so the pattern that “bedtime is a battle” can be broken, it should eventually shorten up. Start early enough!
- This may not work for all children either but it may work for you: I do know mothers who essentially stretched themselves over their child to help them go to sleep because once the child had some weight on them, the child would literally be asleep within sixty seconds. That may or may not work for you. I don’t know as this would work in my family, but it might work in yours! Perhaps a weighted blanket or something like that would also be helpful.
- Do not use what you “won’t do” the next day as a result of the child not going to sleep in the heat of the moment; ie, “IF you don’t go to sleep right now, then tomorrow we can’t do X”. It may be logical –sounding, but for most small children, this is not an immediate enough of a consequence and it will either only serve to make the child cry and scream more, or the child just plain will not care in the moment. However, do prepare yourself that tomorrow may need to be a low-key day, especially in the afternoon with an early dinner and such.
- Typically by 8 years of age, from what I am hearing from most parents, most children are ready to just read or draw and then turn out their own light.
- Can you support your child homeopathically through a qualified practitioner? Sometimes homeopathic medicines or flower essences can make a huge difference in sleeping.
Just food for thought and what has worked for other families, including my own. Please sift through these, take what resonates with you. And add any suggestions you may have to help other parents in the comment box.
There are other posts regarding sleep on this blog; if you put sleep into the search engine these will come up. Here are a few out of the many:
Babies and Sleep: Here: https://theparentingpassageway.com/2010/03/04/the-peaceful-baby-in-march-sleep-part-two/ and here: https://theparentingpassageway.com/2010/03/03/the-peaceful-baby-in-march-sleep-part-one/
Waldorf and Sleep: Here: https://theparentingpassageway.com/2009/07/13/a-waldorf-inspired-view-of-sleep/ and here: https://theparentingpassageway.com/2009/07/14/part-two-of-a-waldorf-inspired-view-of-sleep/
And, working on an early bedtime for you: https://theparentingpassageway.com/2009/12/12/cultivating-the-early-bedtime-for-yourself-the-inner-work-of-advent/
Hope anything in these words is helpful to you or helps you think through solutions for your own family.