Resolving the stand-off at bedtime with your older child can push you to your very limit. As your child grows, their ability to dispute, refute, bargain, negotiate and stall at bedtime is unequalled.
It can result in bedtime taking hours and may include parents spending a long time lying beside their child, or returning their child to bed on multiple occasions, and filling all their requests for more drinks, food, TV, more stories for example.
If this sounds familiar, then perhaps we could explore some suggestions to reduce the struggle and reclaim bedtime as a relaxing, calm and connected time that results in sleep for your child and some down time for you.
If you find that bedtime is taking hours- it may indicate that you are stuck in an overtired cycle. This means that the time you start bedtime may be too late resulting in a later sleep onset that also encourages the stalling and delaying tactics that parents report. Out of desperation, knowing that bedtime will take a long time, parents start the process later and later, whereas, reversing this can be beneficial and also productive, allowing a natural bedtime to emerge. This can be achieved by ensuring firstly that you have a regular wake up, no later than 730am-to anchor the day, and to allow for enough awake time to produce an efficient bedtime. Do take note that any time after 730am, seems to have a negative impact on bedtimes, so until bedtime itself has been established this wake profile is strongly encouraged.
In an effort to “find” the natural bedtime, I suggest using my bedtime number line- this will allow a natural time to emerge and then you can move the start time later as appropriate.
Suggestions: 5pm Dinner
6.30pm Bedtime routine
6.50pm into bed
If you move these numbers even marginally at the start, it may have an undermining influence on your improvement effort, so it is best for at least the first 4-7 days to use this time suggestion and then as you underpin the time change with structural changes to bedtime and your responses then you can become more flexible when going asleep becomes less challenging.
Diet and Exercise
Of course you will be doing your best to allow for enough and age appropriate exercise and outdoor time- too little can impact sleep, as can too much. Having a balance between low and high impact activities throughout the day- encouraging your child to run, walk, play, scoot and explore as much as possible. To climb and negotiate tricky terrain, slides, climbing frames. An hour per day is suggested and that we also observe a healthy diet of nutritious foods, ideally avoid high sugar and processed food as much as possible.
Limit the screen
It is possible that our children have been more than ever exposed to screen and gadget time, as we have been working from home with limited day-care-hopefully that is now all settling down, but the tendency and habit to expose more than we would like to screens may remain, so do your best to moderate this as it can have an impact on their skill to switch off as well as impair the quality of their sleep too.
Don’t be fooled by what may appear to be the relaxing quality of TV- only to see your child reboot and gain a second wind. It is strongly suggested to avoid TV 1-2 hours before bedtime. You can still enjoy vigorous play, just encouraged to slow down in advance of bedtime as part of the bedtime routine outlined below.
The predictable nature of the bedtime routine helps to encourage sleep to come with greater ease. Bedtime routines are best carried out in the bedroom your child sleeps in and if you have more than one child, it may be better to split them up if you have a challenge with one of them. Easier said than done, but this will afford them and you an opportunity to engage and connect without added stimuli. The ideal length of the bedtime routine is about 20 minutes- this does not include a bath- the bath would be separate to this- and not necessarily relaxing for all, so you may decide to allocate bath time to a different time of the day.
Using a dimly lit environment and doing the routine on the floor rather than on the bed and having the bedtime activities agreed in advance are all helpful. Using a check-list and ensuring that there is a formal end to the routine with lights out and a shift in the tone can help create a setting for going asleep.
Reserving the bed itself just for sleep and nothing else suggests its true purpose and avoids blurring the lines of the end of preparation and the start of actual sleep.
A light on a timer or an alarm on your phone accompanied by an “I love you Ritual” before you escort them to bed.
Before the bedtime routine begins- finish all drinks downstairs and place in dishwasher. Give your child lots of choices, what books, pyjamas, songs they want.
Giving your child choices: what they want to do first: teeth brushing or hand washing: put on top or bottoms first- can help them feel a sense of control.
Limit the number of books, avoid the trap of one more something, set a boundary in place and consider this a loving message for you both to avoid mixed messages. Ensure that before they climb into bed they have the blanket or stuffed toy they want and avoid allowing them to change their minds once the lights go out.
Stay if necessary- leave only if you can
If you child won’t stay in their bed or is used to you lying in bed with them, then using my stay and support approach is way to help overcome these challenges. If you normally leave but return all the time, then also staying is also recommended to overcome this tendency. The only way leaving is workable is if you leave and they stay in bed and you do not have to keep returning. So any dynamic outside of this may mean that you stay beside the bed, not on the bed. Then you will work through the stages to sleep- gradually moving further away at bedtime so ultimately you can leave them and they are happy to fall asleep with you.
Use the physical and emotional reassurance required, but avoids dialogues and bargaining: develop a loving mantra that you can say in response to their signals and requests, so that you are present but not over-engaging and thereby delaying the sleep process.
Repeat as needed
Overnight, use the same approach, by returning them to bed or responding to their call out- stay and support until they return to sleep each time, acknowledging that you will report early improvements at bedtime but it taking much longer overnight to help them knit and promote their sleep ability to its highest level. Be patient, try not to give up as sometime really soon, your hard work and appropriate changes will begin to show you a; positive yield.
Lucy Wolfe is a sleep consultant, Author of The Baby Sleep Solution and All about The Baby Sleep Solution, creator of ‘Sleep Through’ a natural Body and Bed Sleep Spray and Relaxing Rub, and mum of four children. She runs a private sleep consulting practice where she provides knowledge, expertise and valuable support to families across the country. See www.sleepmatters.ie <https://www.sleepmatters.ie>, t: 087 2683584 or e: firstname.lastname@example.org