How to Win the Battle at Bedtime
I always chuckle when people ask me when my kids slept through the night. It’s definitely a loaded question, and the answer totally varies depending upon the child and the season of their life. The first time my daughter slept through the night, she was only a few months old; of course, when I woke up in the morning, I ran in to make sure she was still alive! Can you relate?
Son #2 didn’t sleep through the night until... wait for it... he was 13!!! He got his first girlfriend and decided that coming into mom’s bedroom five times a night wasn’t manly enough. ;o)
I think a lot of times, kids are going through some type of developmental change that makes them uncomfortable and causes them to wake up. Teething and growing pains are real. So are hormones and all the emotional issues that come with growing up. We may not remember these from our own past, but how often have you realized, after the fact, that the baby or toddler who was peacefully sleeping through the night and suddenly started waking up every hour on the hour has suddenly gotten four molars or has grown two inches? Or the teen who develops attitude and moodiness suddenly gets her period. Invariably, there are good reasons for their restlessness. It can take patience and a bit of detective work to make it through this season with grace, but rest assured, it will pass.
I know some parents who have taken a hardline stance on sleeping and leave their kids to cry it out or lock their toddlers in their room until morning. Although this may gain compliance, I can’t recommend either of these methods. I believe that restlessness always indicates some type of unmet need, developmental milestone, or illness and should be looked at as an opportunity to strengthen our bonds with our child and to show and teach them empathy, even if we’re doing so with toothpicks holding our eyes open.
Here are my thoughts, based on age:
Babies: Since I nursed all of my babies, I had them co-sleep with me. I think that’s what saved my sanity on more than one occasion. All I had to do was sit up and feed them and then go back to sleep. Even if you don’t nurse your baby, they and you can still benefit from this closeness. Now, I know that might not be palatable to everyone; I’m just sharing what worked for me. Babies are like puppies; they seek out your warmth and your scent, feel secure, and thus sleep longer.
Even the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends having your baby sleep in the same room with you (They made this recommendation in October 2016). If you’re not comfortable sharing your bed with a baby, there are many bassinet-type co-sleepers on the market that set them up either right next to your bed. You also may want to put an article of your clothing in their sleeping place so your baby recognizes your scent and feels secure.
Try to navigate teething, growth spurts, and illness gracefully. Remind yourself that it’s just a phase. Be kind to yourself. Pour an extra cup of coffee in the morning, and when you can, try to nap with your baby. This, too, will pass!
Toddlers: In addition to teething (two year old molars) and growth spurts, toddlers commonly go through phases of separation anxiety. Oftentimes, this manifests at night, when things are quiet, and they suddenly realize they’re alone. When they wise up just a bit, many toddlers will also prolong the bedtime process, and that pitter patter back to our room occurs for what seems like forever. Here’s what’s worked for me.
- Have a bedtime routine. Read a book; say a special prayer; tell a story from your childhood, cuddle. Just do it consistently, every night at bedtime.
- Offer them choices: would you like to have me read you a story or rub your back before you go to sleep.
- Check: Did they eat their dinner? Do they need a little snack? Hunger and thirst can wake up little ones just like it can wake us up.
- Make sure that your littles are peed and pooped before bedtime.
- If needed, lie with them in the bed until they fall asleep.
- In a pinch (you’re worried about being a zombie the next day and have a big meeting) bring them into your bed or into your room to sleep. This saved me from many a restless toddler. My kids are older, and they still fondly recall sleeping in my room or bed when they were little. I still remember sleeping on the floor outside of my grandmother’s bedroom door when I had sleepovers. Kids want to be close to those they love. ;o)
- Remember that this phase, too, shall pass.
Kids: All of the above steps, PLUS:
- Give them choices: would you like me to read with you, or do you want to read yourself for 10/15 minutes?
- At some point before bedtime, check in with them to make sure that things are going well for them at school and with their friends. Bedtime and sleepiness can sometimes bring with it a tenderness and willingness to open up more than what they would have during the day. But as parents, it’s essential that we know what is going on in their world and letting them know that we are always their to love them, empower them, and protect them. Toddlers are not the only ones who can feel insecure. With older kids, though, they might not be as open about it during the day. Bedtime can be used as an opportunity to get under the hood.
Teens: Oy Vey! In addition to growth spurts, teething (yep! 12 year old molars and wisdom teeth), teens are victims of hormones. Combine that with lots of homework and the temptation to stay connected to social media late at night, so be prepared for a roller coaster ride.
In addition to all of the above suggestions, you may need to take extra efforts to stay connected with your teen.
- Bedtime prayers and convos are most definitely beneficial.
- Connect, connect, connect. Kids might be embarrassed to tell you about bullying or other negative experiences at school or with their friends, so it’s really important to stay on top of this.
- Place limits on social media consumption, particularly at night (they will stay up until the middle of the night if you don’t)
- Make sure they have a light near their bed so they can read before bed if they desire.
Overall, my thought how to win bedtime battles is to change our perspective. Don’t view struggles at bedtime as battles. View them as opportunities to connect better with your child and to show them love and empathy. They grow up SO, SO fast, and the time we have with them is limited. Remember, changing our thoughts changes our emotions, and when we are enjoying motherhood more, we tend to parent naturally with more empathy, and our kids listen, behave, and (eventually) sleep better more of the time!
Hi, I'm Beth. I help busy moms ditch the overwhelm and gain confidence, so they can enjoy parenting more, yell less, and have peaceful kids and a happy family.