Bedtime in many homes can be far from the peaceful scene portrayed in Children’s Books and is often fraught with frustration, tears (from all parties) and a battle of wills that can result in exhausting marathons.
But what if a difference in approach could change all of this?
There is so much information out there about Bedtime routines that help lead your child down the sleepy path and most of them look and sound very similar- low stimulation, soothing baths, darkened lighting, quiet voices, calming books, cuddly toys, soothing music, kisses goodnight and then … sleep.
But many skip over two key elements to more peaceful bedtimes- Comfort and Connection.
It is not an exaggeration to say that many bedtime battles would cease to exist if a child’s need for comfort and connection was met as they fall asleep.
Falling asleep is a vulnerable experience. Yes, it is biologically driven and ‘should’ occur quite naturally as sleep pressure builds and the Circadian Clock in our body signal time for sleep, but these sleep regulators can only act effectively when other human needs have been met. Regardless of how much you have tried to create a ‘safe space’ for your child to sleep or worked to create ‘self soothing/ regulating’ behaviours in your child, it is natural that they will feel safest to be at their most vulnerable and relaxed when they know you are there as their comfort and when they feel connected to your presence (physically and mentally).
So the very first idea I would suggest you try, if you haven’t already, is
#1 Stay with your child as they fall asleep
Hold them, lay down with them, sit by their bed. Stroke their hair, breastfeed them (if they are nursing), rub their backs, hold their hand. Be there for them.
Do this consistently over a week or more to see if this makes a difference to the tone of bedtime and you may not need to look for any further ideas.
Sure, you may have chores to do, other children to attend to, want some adult time with your partner, a strong desire to have some alone time, but by meeting your child at their point of need as they find peaceful sleep can be ever so rewarding and affirming if only we can adjust our mindset to allow it to be of utmost importance, too. Surrendering to this need for comfort and connection ourselves, often translates into a calmer, less frustrated small person, also.
If you are already on board with #1 but you are still facing an uphill struggle at bedtime, the next thing to consider would be –
#2 The Timing of Bedtime
As a culture, we have some pretty fixed ideas of when an ‘appropriate’ bedtime is for our young children and often this centres around the holy grail of 7pm. But this is a societal expectation, not biological fact and as a result, the reason some of us are battling with bedtime is quite simply because our children are not yet tired enough for sleep.
You’d know yourself just how frustrating it is to try and get to sleep when you aren’t actually tired enough to sleep and this frustration is the same for our children. Sleep is not within our conscious control. You cannot make yourself sleep and your child cannot either.
The release of Melatonin, is key to the feeling of needing to fall asleep and a 2013 study out of the University of Colorado found that in a study of 14 toddlers, this release and subsequent peak varied from child to child but averaged out to about 7:40pm. Once Melatonin is released, it can take 30-60 minutes for the need to sleep to come on.
It’s worth considering whether or not your child’s bedtime resistance is less to do with behaviour and more to do with the lack of sleep inducing chemical at that time.
We’ve always found this very apparent as our little ones have transitioned their number of naps or if on one day they’ve had longer or later naps for whatever reason. Less sleep = earlier to bed, more or late sleep =later bedtime. By accepting and expecting this variation, we saved ourselves the time and frustration of trying to get children to sleep when they were not physically ready.
If you think you’ve got #1 and #2 sorted and you are still facing issues, then here are 3 more out of the box ideas to consider-
#3 Rough and Tumble Play Before Bed
This seems very contrary to all the calming, winding down and low stimulation that is usually recommended but for those facing bedtime struggles, this may an option worth trialling. It would be useful at this point to look at the level of physical activity available to your child each and every day. I know, as the mother of two extremely high energy children, it is always much harder for them to find rest unless they have been vigorously moving throughout their day. Riding bikes, running, climbing, bouncing, swimming, walking and adventuring … all make for a much less restless bedtime in our house, but sometimes, even after the rigours of day, my two still have some remnants of wriggles and niggles that they need to shake off before they can settle for the night and so, after bath time in our house, we have a crazy nudie run around time and rough and tumble play with Daddy before we swap to Pyjamas, a quiet story or two and soothing music and snuggles to sleep. This last little Razz Up seems to work wonders for my babes and though may have quite the opposite effect for some, it’s worth considering if you wish to try something different.
#4 An Evening Walk
On nights where there’s been some extraordinarily long, or later naps and we know our guys won’t be ready to settle, we go for an evening stroll as a family and we let the night air work it’s calming magic on all of us. When our babes were smaller, we did a combo of older babe in pram and little babe in carrier, then both in pram and as they have grown, quite often one or the both will stroll along with us until the weariness hits and then it’s the pram to home and straight off to bed.
My husband and I have found this option is fabulous for our relationship, too as lengthy night time settles in dark rooms have meant very little time for us to talk and reconnect at times. These walks allow us to catch up and relax into our worlds together while our babes are happy and calm.
The light exercise also worked wonders on our weary bodies as it wasn’t to strenuous but helped us work out our own restlessness before bed.
#5 Get Outside in the Dark
If you’ve not got the energy or inclination for option 4, there is still great calm to be found in simply getting out into the night with your unsettled little person. Cuddle or sit together and star gaze. Look for the moon and talk about it’s size and shape. Look for any night animals and listen for night sounds. Admire any lights you can see and any glimmer of sunset that is left. Feel the breeze on your cheeks and talk about the calmness of night. You may enjoy a song together and a cuddle until you feel a little more ready to try bedtime.
So with these ideas in mind I wish everyone more peaceful bedtimes starting from tonight x
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