“I can’t take it anymore!” a young mother’s desperate e-mail pleaded, “it takes anywhere from two to four hours to get my kids to bed at night and I am so tired. Sometimes I sit in their room and cry as I wait for them to fall asleep. What should I do?”
Sleep problems are a tremendous issue to parents. Nobody informs couples when they are expecting their first baby that “sleeping like a baby” means taking two hours to fall asleep and then waking up every hour and a half for the first year or two and not actually sleeping through the night until age five.
Many parents, even after having read all of the parenting books, are plagued with countless nights of difficult bedtimes, pop-ups (kids leaving their beds after lights out), and musical beds.
Is there a way to get kids to bed without the evening drama? How do parents end the day on a positive note with big yawns and kids happy to put their heads down?
The Bedtime Ritual
A set bedtime ritual is an effective method to get kids into bed and have them stay there and fall asleep on their own. The bedtime routine also makes the evenings mellow and cozy and sends the kids into dreamland on a happy note. Be warned, set means “set in stone” until the children’s body clocks are set and they really associate the stages of the routine with sleep.
The Perfect Bedtime
Figure out the perfect bedtime. For some kids it is really clear when they need to go to bed because they yawn and get glassy eyed and say they want to go to bed. Other children start to get cranky and tearful and still others get hyped up and wild. Parents should pay close attention to their kids for a couple of nights and hone in on the best time to put their kids into bed.
Count Back One Hour and Get in the Tub
One hour before bedtime shut off the television and dim the family room lights. Brush teeth and then put the child in the tub. Bath time is a wonderful way to settle children and get them to relax. Lower the lights in the bathroom and start to speak in lower tones. Use bath products that are designed for children so there are no stinging eyes and upsets that get the children agitated. Products that are scented with oatmeal and honey, lavender, almond and vanilla smell delicious and are said to relax and calm. The object of bath time, in addition to scrubbing off the playground dirt, is to start to wind down the child.
Soft Towels and Snuggly Pajamas
Dry off the child gently without being vigorous. Bring the child into his room and put on a bedtime CD. A little back massage with a gentle lotion will further mellow the child. Put on pajamas, one more visit to the potty and then straight into bed. One note about pajamas: find pajamas that the child loves and that are comfortable. Putting on pajamas should not be a fight or the wind down to this point has been a waste.
Being tucked in is very important to children. They love to feel safe, protected and at peace. One mother makes her children into a “pie” every night. She “crimps” the edges of the “pie” by tucking the sheets all around the child and then finishes with a big kissing dollop of whipped cream. The point of her practice is to make tucking in the children significant and important, and delicious.
Read a Book
Read for fifteen minutes every night. Reading to children is very important for their education and will help encourage a love of reading and learning. Choose nice stories that don’t evoke scary thoughts. Chapter books are a wonderful way for children to use their imaginations. One chapter is usually sufficient to get those yawns happening and the eyelids drooping. If kids want a picture book that is great; just don’t let one book become five. Otherwise, suddenly an hour has gone by, the kids have missed that perfect bedtime, and mom or dad are leaving the kid’s room at 9:30 pm.
Lights Out and Give Thanks
Turn off the lights and leave them off. Say prayers, or for those not religious it is meaningful to give thanks for the joy in their lives and all that they have. It is lovely to come up with the same words every night so that the children can recite with mom or dad. For example, a phrase from the paragraph that one family always says is, “Boys, please know that mommy and daddy love and adore you and that it is an honor and a privilege and a pleasure to be your parents…”
The Finale and One Ace up the Sleeve
At this point parents can say goodnight and leave the room. However, one mommy claims to have a secret weapon; The Three Bears. Every night since her oldest child was one, she has told the story of The Three Bears. She never changes the story, not even the inflection of her voice. They all associate sleep so much with this story that it has a “Pavlov’s Dog” affect on the entire family. She can barely get through The Three Bears herself without dosing off. This “ace up the sleeve” is a really great suggestion. If parents need to round out the bedtime ritual with one final story, tell the same exact story every night; this programs children that it is time to doze off.
Children love a set routine. Knowing exactly what happens next gives them a sense of safety and security and teaches them to self regulate. A child’s internal clock is set if a bedtime ritual is created and adhered to. Sleep will come more easily than if every evening the routine changes. If parents are consistent and do not vacillate with the routine they establish for their kids, they will have children happy to go to bed and stay there.