Sleep is one of the most important factors in your children’s well being. Their growth and social development depends on it. As a young mother of four, I can proudly say that each of my children started sleeping at least nine hours a night from ages 5 to 6 months; before that they woke to feed. I had each of them in my bed, so I could easily breastfeed them throughout the night, until I transferred them to the crib at 5 or 6 months. They had one or two nights of fussing, but soon realized their new routine. My 2 year old and 9 month old go willingly to bed at 7pm, sleeping ten-12 hours and my 7 and 4 year old get lights out at 8pm, sleeping 11 to 12 hours. Do I have your attention now?
My girlfriend complains to me that she can’t get her 9 month old to sleep more than three hours at a time. I say she can have her little one sleeping most of the night if she really wants to. It won’t happen overnight and each child’s needs are unique, but when you devise a plan and stick to it, eventually your little one will get some much needed ZZZZs, and so will you. Here are ten points to help you reach your goal:
1. Start Early.
When it comes to sleeping patterns, the earlier the better. Let your child know that during the day it’s okay to be awake, but nighttime is for sleeping. How do you do that?
Set up a routine for your little one, so he knows when it’s time to sleep. For me, my little ones know they get a snack, brush their teeth, have a story and then lights out. Give it some time and stick to it. If you start changing things around regularly, it won’t work!
For your older children, give them some warning that it’s time for bed. I generally let them know ten minutes before bed, that way they can finish up whatever they are doing. If they feel rushed, you may wind up in some avoidable reluctance.
4. Make It a Positive Thing.
Whether you have to make a fun game of chasing them to the bathroom to brush their teeth, or pretend you’re a monster as they scurry in bed, make sure to make it fun! If they’ve got a favorite doll or blanket they want to take to bed, let them get it. Try and make bedtime as positive as you can.
5. What If They Aren’t Really Tired?
So what? For my kids, bedtime is bedtime. Kids can NEVER have enough sleep, at least in the early years. Teenagers are a different story. Sometimes my 7 year old really isn’t tired, when his 8 o’clock bedtime rolls around. We still do the same routine, and if he really can’t get to sleep, he can read or play cars IN BED until he falls asleep. Nine times out of ten, he’s asleep within 15 minutes. He feels good because he’s being independent, and I feel good because he’s IN BED!
6. Give Them Controlled Choices.
From a very young age, children strive for independence. I see this a lot in my 2 year old. If you give them controlled choices, things will run much smoother. By controlled, I mean give them two options, and it doesn’t matter to you which one they choose. For example, when it is time to brush their teeth, have two toothbrushes and let them choose the one they’d like to use. Or let them decide which story you’re going to read. By doing this, you really help bedtime to be a happy time, not a time for fighting.
7. Create the Mood.
It’s important that you wind down your children as bedtime approaches. This is not the time to be playing tag, wrestling or running off to the park. Let them unwind by watching a movie or coloring— something that is low-key. They will soon learn to recognize this as a cue and know that bedtime is approaching.
8. Expect Expectations.
Now, of course there will be times when your little “routine” just won’t work. But allow that only when the conditions are out of your control, such as when your child is sick, has a mandatory late night engagement, a movie or barbecue. Make these events an exception to the rule, or they’ll soon become the rule.
9. Organize Your Schedule.
By this I mean as much as you can, and make sure that everybody is home for bedtime. Don’t be throwing the kids in the van and running off to the market just before bedtime, or trying to cram supper in when it’s time to read the kids their bedtime story. Again, I know there are times when things can’t be avoided, but make them few and far between.
10. Stick to It.
You need to stick to your routine and stay firm. Don’t let your child whine his/her way into one more Dora show, or “just a few more minutes!” Keep things short and sweet— it takes me 15 minutes from start to finish. My efforts have paid off, and bedtime is almost like an appointment.
Use these ten points to help your children develop great sleeping habits. Your children grow and learn at a tremendous rate, and sleep is really important in their development and their attitude. Just think how good you feel after a great night sleep.
One other note: make sure that you keep the same routine even when traveling. It won’t be the same, but at least try to keep the same time for lights out. Stick to it, and your kids will thank you for it.