Train to Sleep: Tips for parents and their little ones
Have you ever gone a whole night without sleeping? The effects are amazing. You can go from being tired to being full of energy as you catch your “second wind”, which is eventually followed by the “crash”, which brings about short temper, frustration, anxiety. Then, if you are lucky you fall asleep before you say something you shouldn’t. It seems the same cycle happens to a lesser degree if you are not getting enough sleep. The exhaustion compounds over days and eventually, you are no fun to be around. You control your hostile temper because you have manners and you are an adult with responsibilities. But what if you weren’t? What if these were skills that you had yet to learn? What if you are just a little guy and you don’t know how to even say please and thank you, much less control your temper? What then? Melt down!
As adults we recognize that we need sleep. We generally take every opportunity to recharge so that we are better able to handle what the world throws our way. Children, on the other hand, don’t have this level of awareness.
Parents often act surprised (and a little envious) when I tell them my 2 and 4 year olds’ sleep schedules. Naps from 1:00 to 4:00, bed time between 7:30 and 8:00 and wake at 7 am. So often I hear other moms say, “I wish my little one still took naps”, or “My daughter wakes up in the middle of the night regularly”, with an exhausted sigh. So I thought I’d summarize what we do just in case it may work for you as well. My disclaimer is I am NOT a sleep expert. I am just a curious mom who has read and implemented the tips from some good books and observed some very successful (and some not-so-successful) sleep routines. Here is what I have learned:
Don’t be selfish. Even though you want to spend more time with them (and they definitely don’t want to miss a minute with you) they NEED sleep. It is your responsibility to make sure they get it. This one helped me a lot during the “training” times: You are doing a disservice to your child if you don’t make them sleep. It is for their health. Without the appropriate amount of sleep they will become more easily frustrated, have shorter attention spans and diminished motor function during the day. Don’t set your child up for failure by being the “nice guy”. They DON’T know what they need. You DO!
Move bedtime and naptimes earlier than you think, especially in the summer months. This is a difficult one as well. (Let’s face it, it is all hard!). It seems so counter intuitive that an earlier bed time would work better, but it really, really does. Once your child is overly tired it is difficult for them to not melt down at the thought of being away from you. We have found these bed times worked the best for both of our children:
· 6 months-2 years 6:45 or 7 pm.
· 2-3.5 years 7:30
· 3.5-4years 8:00*
*Unless it is a day where you have done a long outing and missed your nap, and then it is right back to 6:45 or 7:00.
6 months-1 ½ 9:00 to 11:00 and 3:00 to 4:30
1 ½- 3 ½ 12:30 to 4:00
3 ½ -4 1:30-3:30
4+ 1:30 -3:30 may be sleep or quiet time in room (puzzles, books, mazes etc)
In the summer months when we are enjoying the outdoors most of the day, I actually move these times a half an hour earlier. With hot sun and the hard work in the pool, it is absolutely necessary to stay on top of the schedule. (OK. I said stay on top of the schedule in general but live a little! Don’t pass up every activity that comes along. Once in a while it is ok to vary your routine. It will likely cause a little disruption in the following days but it isn’t very practical to go to the water park for an hour and leave).
Be consistent. I know for many of us this is a killer. Sticking to this schedule means play dates can be cut short or you might not be able to sign up for that Gymboree class this time around but I promise you it will be worth it! Having a well rested child means you will have fewer tantrums and less whining. Trust me when I tell you it is worth it! Hey, maybe you can even get a nap too! I record the times of my children’s naps with the bizzyBee the baby data assistant so I know how to adjust their bedtimes. Now that they are older this is amazingly predictable but when they were younger and naps varied, the bizzyBee was essential to making sure I wasn’t asking more from them than they could give. I still find this particularly useful when I have a caregiver watching my kids for the day. By reviewing the sleep log on the bizzyBee I know whether they slept well or barely slept at all. This allows me to move that bed time up and avoid the meltdowns, all with the push of a button. If you would like more information on the bizzyBee go to http://www.chickswithkidz.com/.
“But I don’t want to go to sleep!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!” The heartbreaking sound of your child calling for you is unmatched. Anguish is the only word that describes it. It is brutal and it is best if you have someone there to support you. If you don’t have a partner who can be there with you during your training week call someone on the phone who can talk you through it. Many people will say this is cruel. I would say it is crueler to not train your child how to fall asleep. How you go about this is entirely up to you. I am a big believer in crying it out. I have watched friend after friend try other methods and eventually, after a year of frustration, they resort at some point to letting their child cry it out. If you establish self soothing from the beginning you won’t have to battle a two year old, whom I assure you kicks harder and yells louder. If you are consistent this anguish will not last more than 3-7 days. Don’t make it harder on yourself or your child by caving in. Be strong. (That said, obviously you know your child and if it sounds like they are hurting themselves in any way, go to them and seek expert advice!)
Relapse: I just finished telling you this would last a week or less. And it will. However, as your child progresses through various stages they will test you again to make sure the rules have not changed. After all, things must be different once I move to a big girl bed right? Wrong. You know the rules, you made them. Stick to them and you will be through this new test in no time.
Night Waking: This is one I struggled with the most. My immediate instinct is to bolt out of bed and run to them. It was only with the help of my husband who would grab my arm and say, “Wait,” that I was able to give the kids a chance to work it out themselves - which they did generally very quickly. That said, you know the difference between grumbling in the night and the sounds of nightmares. I believe, and this is just my opinion, that if your child is truly afraid (which any parent can tell by their voices) that you should go to them and comfort them so they know you will always be there should they REALLY need you.
In summary, different things work for different people. I don’t propose to know everything there is to know about sleep. This is simply advice that proved to be useful in getting my little ones to rest. I hope by passing it on, others out there might get a good night’s sleep too. Good luck!