I’m sure I don’t need to tell you how magical sleep is! Whether you’re nurturing a newborn or tucking in a toddler, we all function better after catching a few zzzs. From improving our mood to boosting our ability to learn, a good night’s sleep has many benefits. So how can you get your little one off to dreamland without a fuss at bedtime?
For some it’s as simple as lying down and closing their eyes. For others, getting to sleep isn’t always that easy. Pent-up energy and anxieties both feed into our ability to drop off, as does our body’s natural rhythm. That’s where having a bedtime routine, as well as knowing how to deal with any tantrums or worries, helps everyone sleep better. And I mean everyone. After all, a sleeping tot is an invitation to sleep yourself!
routine, routine, routine
Whether you’re an early riser or a serial snoozer, you probably get up around the same time each day. Unless, like me, your cat often decides that 4am is a suitable hour to be awake! The same applies for bedtime where having a regular routine helps your little one sleep better. Knowing when they’ll get to curl up with their favourite book can help manage bedtime behaviour and encourage them to wind down. That can only make parenting easier!
No matter your little one’s age, having some quiet time before bed helps signal the shift from naps to night-time. Try switching off the screens and keeping noise to a minimum then spend 30 minutes winding down together. Relaxing with bathtime before curling up for cuddles and a book can be a wonderful way to bond too. By following a pattern that works for you and aiming for a regular bedtime, your little one should be more inclined to slumber.
dealing with bedtime tantrums
Bedtime battles are all-too-familiar for many families. Whether they can’t find their favourite toy (which they probably threw out the buggy a month ago) or suddenly have to decorate a drawing for daddy, our little ones can be pretty inventive about why they can’t possibly sleep yet. So when the pyjamas come out, so can the tantrums.
If you’re keeping to a regular routine but still need earplugs, you’re not alone! Many parents face the wrath of bedtime tantrums and it can be hard to cope, especially if you’re tired too. It’s important to keep your cool though and not rise to their rising voice. Instead, use distraction techniques to try and change their mood. Perhaps their bath needs some bubbles or their favourite teddy wants a bedtime story. With any luck, the tantrum won’t last long.
Here’s another tip for your tantrum toolbox – reward and reinforce good behaviour. Praise can be music to little ears and encourages good behaviour. When they get ready for bed without a fuss, give them a big cuddle and tell them how happy it makes you. And if they get an extra story out of it, hopefully they’ll do the same the next night too!
monsters under the bed and other anxieties
Hiding in the dust under every mattress lies a grizzly monster…or more likely a long-lost toy. But that doesn’t stop the imagination of little tots from running wild. When they could be gobbled up at any minute, it’s not surprising if they refuse to go to bed! And of course, imagined monsters tend to feed into a fear of the dark.
The simplest trick may be a night light or glow in the dark stars above their bed. Counting the stickers gives them something to focus on instead of lurking shadows. If they won’t be convinced that monsters aren’t real, why not help them make some monster spray (as simple as scented water in a bottle) or a dream catcher to keep in their room. After all, the BFG said it best that “Dreams are full of mystery and magic” so we could all do with more of those.
If their anxieties can’t be resolved with night lights, they might have other pent-up worries. Perhaps they’re upset over something they heard or nervous about a new situation. Try sitting down and talking through what’s bothering them. It may be that a few hugs and a little reassurance is all they need to get a good night’s sleep.
unwanted wake-up calls
It’s not uncommon for little ones to wake up during the night but being able to settle themselves back to sleep is an important skill. Unfortunately it’s got to be learned and, in the meantime, you may be their first pitstop when they wake. Fret not though! There are things you can try to protect your precious sleep (and your sanity).
First things first, get busy with their daytime activities. We all know that children have an abundance of energy so it needs to be used! Make sure they have plenty of time to play during the day so they’re ready to curl up at bedtime. When they do go down, make sure you don’t follow suit; at least not beside them. If you lie down with your little one to help them fall asleep, they can become dependent on you being there which is a hard habit to break.
If (or more realistically when) your little one wakes up in the night, lead them back to their room quietly. Keeping interaction to a minimum helps to ensure they don’t feel rewarded for waking up or have a reason to stay awake! Removing any distractions from their room before bed also makes it clear that night-time is for sleeping, not playing.
Most importantly, remember to be patient with your little one as well as yourself. Bedtime doesn’t come easy to everyone and sleep can be elusive when we need it most. But if you try to tackle the tantrums calmly and keep the monsters locked away, hopefully the whole family will be dreaming sweetly before you can count to ten.