We all know it happens. Our children become romantic, dehydrated, ravenous philosophers as soon as we mention the phrase, “bedtime.” My daughter acts like she hasn’t eaten all day. Two nights ago, she told me she was hungry right before she closed her eyes. The reality is that she had just eaten an entire small cheese pizza from Papa John’s, minus the crust. I called BS (and referred her to her bedtime chart, where it clearly shows she had a snack during story time). Sleep soon came.
All children have rituals they desire before they settle their little bodies and minds into dreamland. We have them too. So, below are 3 tips to end the excuses and help your child relax into sleep within a reasonable amount of time instead of dreaded extended bedtime:
- Observe. Simply witness. Take a few days to notice the various excuses and fantastic problem-solving skills your little ones have at bedtime. Children know exactly what they want and need in order to fall asleep. And, they will show you.
- Set limits. Now that you have observed their needs, you can set limits around them. Your child still gets the experiences he/she needs before sleep happens, but now it is predictable and within normal limits, meaning you will have time to watch the latest episode of, “Outlander” or have a glass of wine.
- Create a bedtime chart. Once you have observed and set limits around their extended list of desperate needs, make a bedtime chart with your child. The chart will have the experiences necessary for your child to find sleep. But, it will visually set the limits. Instead of returning to their room 15 times for one last hug, you can give 3 hugs before you leave their bedroom, because that is what the chart shows is part of bedtime. Basically, the things that they need are provided in their room instead of you having to return to their room a gazillion times before they are ready to settle into sleep.
Check out these examples: Bedtime Charts
A few more details on how and why the above tips work.
We all have an innate need to feel seen and heard. Children appreciate when we take the time to listen and see what needs they are communicating to us. Our job is to take this information and create safe boundaries. We know that jumping on the bed is not conducive to settling the body, so we have to set the limit on what is appropriate for pre-bedtime routine. Nonetheless, most of your child’s requests can be placed neatly into a bedtime routine/chart. This becomes the ritual, and rituals relieve anxiety for children and frustration for parents. Instead of your child having to ask over and over again for something, they can see that it is part of the routine as is shown on their chart. They trust that you have heard their requests and can settle more quickly. What you have created is a balance for healthy control. We all know that toddlers and preschoolers want a certain amount of power over any given situation. However, they also need to feel confident that, “we’ve got their back,” through the boundaries that we have set. Otherwise, children can experience anxiety because they feel like they have to have complete control. That’s too much responsibility for a little child.
When parents ask me about the difference between setting a strict routine versus letting an infant lead (the extremes as stated in many infant sleep books). I say, “let them lead; set routine.” The same is true with toddlers and preschoolers. First, we witness and respond. Then, we set safe boundaries around their requests as a way to help life feel predictable-something that helps infants and young children thrive. We all know parenting is never one-sided. We grow and learn together with our children. Parenting around sleep is the same, just more delicate.