Updated: Sep 7, 2019
All moms out there understand the frustration that occurs trying to get their child to sleep. As I'm writing this, I'm thinking about how last night was one of the hardest nights I've had in a long time doing this. It started out fine until my son said he wanted to go to bed on his own. I was surprisingly happy. Then I found him hiding under the dining room table 30 minutes later. "Okay, I need to put your brother to bed now, you need to go try to sleep on your own like you originally asked." Ten minutes in, he barged into the room waking up the baby. This is 10pm now and I'm starting to loose all my respectful parenting skills.
Trying to calmly set a limit with my mad 5 year old, no one noticed the 10 month old crawling playfully on top of him. To everyone's surprise, my baby got thrown off (not quit as terrible as it sounds). More parenting skills flew out the window. After more struggles, the night finished at 1030pm with my baby strapped to my back and my 5 year old falling asleep to his words, "I hate my brother. I don't want a baby anymore. How do we shove him back in?".
Now this might be a terrible story to start this blog post with if I'm trying to give advice on how to get your kid to bed. But the point is no matter what, you will have nights like this. Nights that will be out of your control to some extent.
What I CAN offer are a few ways that we have dramatically reduced a night like this from happening. In fact usually the night goes very smoothly with no battles or tactics. There are many blogs out there that give tips on kids and sleep but I wanted to touch base on a few of the not so mentioned tips.
The first thing I think helps a lot is the understanding that you can't make anyone go to sleep. Might sound pretty obvious but how many times do we use tactics or bribes to convince our kids to sleep? It would be amazing if they had a button that, if pushed, they would just be OUT. But even if our kid agreed to go to sleep, they can't will themselves to sleep if their body is not ready or their environment is not facilitating it. How many of us have seen our kids try to sleep? Mine clench their eyes so hard and say, "I'm trying! I can't!". So using words like, "you have to go to sleep now" seems a little unproductive right?
No matter what tactics you pull, you can't make your kid go to sleep. You can't make your own body go to sleep (unless you're poppin pharmaceuticals). The only thing you can do is help your body to relax by setting up the environment and mind to do so. When I really understood this, it gave me clarity on what my role is at bedtime. I remember getting a lot of anxiety trying to get my first baby to sleep per a schedule. I would come home after walking and bouncing the kid around for hours, crying that I couldn't get my kid to sleep. I was in a mindset of making my baby go to sleep.
So try approaching bedtime as the person that helps your child get their environment, mind and body ready. And when all else fails, sometimes it's best to just back off. Maybe they just need space to work out their own issues and you're over stimulating them or maybe they'll be ready in 15 minutes.
I also use this thinking A LOT when I'm interacting with my kid at bedtime.
When my kid yells, "I can't sleep!!!" (meaning: can I get out of bed to play or eat?) I don't jump into WHY we need sleep lectures anymore (although this is an important lesson to be had at a different time of the day). I respond with: "That's okay! You can't make your body sleep. Let's just help it relax by (insert a few different things here). Oh that didn't help? Yeah no problem, lets try this out...". Or, "you don't have to sleep right now but it IS time to rest."
I find my 5 year old is way more cooperative when I use this attitude and lingo during bedtime and take the pressure off him to go to sleep.
Remember the story at the beginning of this post? With a final blow, my son asked, "how do we shove him back in?" then rolled over and fell FAST asleep. I can tell you multiple occasions of something like this happening. A huge bedtime struggle with my son finally ending with a blurting out of his feelings and an immediate passing out. I became aware of the power of verbally letting out your feelings when studying how to give birth. There were countless stories of mothers being prompted by their midwife/doula to let out what was on their mind during times of stalled labor. When the emotions were dispersed, the women often dilated very quickly. If bottled up feelings can reverse labor, it certainly can prevent sleep.
Sometimes I am able to speed up the process a little by either asking questions, bringing up a possible trauma I think he might be processing, or setting up some art time (art can be great for some kids to get out their feelings). Setting calm limits (we use the RIE method) also helps facilitate any release. A child's release, no matter how terrible it might sound, is a good thing. So by allowing it to happen, free of judgment and acknowledging the child in the moment will most likely be that final step needed to help them fall asleep.
I had a realization lately since moving in with my parents (more on that one another time). I struggle really hard going to bed on time. Even on days where I have had hours to myself for a proper wind down, I somehow end up turning on an addictive TV show or fitting in a project. My late nights are having an affect on my health yet I still struggle to listen to my body. It wasn't until having a recent and common conversation with my mom, I understood why. She was sharing how she has a really hard time sleeping as well at night. My dad sometimes falls asleep in his chair watching TV and my mom needs a long time to unwind her body and mind to be able to fall asleep. But it's not just the action I inherited, it's to perspective on sleep. I think for most people sleep is this thing we have to do. I mean, how much more could we get done if we didn't have to sleep?! We will sacrifice it to go out and socialize or hit a work/school deadline. We don't respect it ourselves and we teach our kids the same thing when we say things like, "I know you don't want to sleep but we need to to have energy to play tomorrow (or whatever valid excuse we have)".
What would happen if everyone viewed sleep as this thing we are so lucky to get to do instead of something we HAVE to do? I have a personal goal to set up a scared bedtime ritual that finishes the night crawling into a magical feeling bed, a good book, my favorite nightlight and a feeling as gratitude as my eyes close and I feel incredibly relaxed. And I want that for my children, and sooner in life than their 30's!
So I started changing up the way I talk about bed. Even if my kid complains I talk about how lucky he is to sleep! How good it must feel to be in his sheets. How grateful I am to read him bedtime stories, etc. It's not an overnight game changer but there have been nights where I can see the positive impact this verbiage has made.
As briefly mentioned above, environment can play a huge behind-the-scenes factor in this. Here are some things to consider:
- WIFI Router nearby: Get that wifi router as far away from where people sleep. There are many proven reasons why wifi is bad for the health and stories of kids suddenly sleeping at night when their routers were moved away.
-Regulating body heat: This is a current one I recently discovered with out kid. He gets really sweaty when he falls asleep. The problem is his PJs are cotton and cotton sucks the heat from the body when wet. So he is SO cold by morning and often comes crawling into bed in the middle of the night (he just won't pull up his covers). I have ordered him some wool long johns that I hope will solve this. Wool regulates body temperature really well when wet.
-Nightlight: Our bodies should be sleeping in total darkness but if it is necessary I recommend red light. We love our salt lamps and they are the only lights allowed in the bedrooms.
-The body: Another environment could be their body. You could give them a salt bath or give them some Magnesium Glycinate (it taste pretty bad so I mix is into some homemade ginger lemonade (with stevia not sugar)). Natural Calm is a popular magnesium drink but Glycinate has more an affect on relaxing the body. I can't sleep well without it.
-Clutter: Is your child's room often littered with toys? With The Art of Tyding Up selling over 11 million copies, I think every can agree on the negative impact clutter has on our lives. Kids are no different. We started the process of getting rid of our stuff, selling things and organizing. It only took a few days before my kid asked what we are doing. It took about a month over that that he started throwing away his stuff that didn't bring him joy. If you kid struggles to relax at night, this might be an option to try.
For more info on sleep I really like this Ben Greenfield article.
Probably the biggest game changer has been our nightly meditation. When we crawl into bed, I let Huxley pick out what meditation he wants to do then turn the phone facedown so the light isn't showing. He LOVES it. Most of the time he is asleep within the first 10 minutes but some nights he goes through two different ones. Often I will lay down with him and do some deep breathing to prompt him but for other friends, they can turn it on and leave the room. There are some that start out really exciting and end relaxed (like the Veggie Patch) and some more like a mellow story the whole time (like Underwater World) and some more classically meditative. My son likes them all but you might have to experiment a little with your child.
I tried this once when he was more around 3 years. At that age, he kept trying to pick up the phone and look. I gave up after the first try. Now seeing the benefits, I wish a tried a few different ways to implement it. That being said, by the time he was 4 year old, he got into these meditations.
Hope some of this helps! I would also love to know what maybe worked for your kids? Please share in the comments below!