I realize this is a big one. Stay with me. I am not going to claim to solve all your sleep problems. I won't even address every concern in this tidy little post. I will address some big ones, and I will tell you how we have been successful in accomplishing the sleep needs we have in our home.
First, don't fix what isn't broken. If co-sleeping with your four-year-old is working for you, don't stop. If sitting with your five-year-old until he goes to sleep is working, don't change it. I am not here to tell you what you have arranged in your home is bad or wrong. I am here to help you adjust routines if there is a problem YOU want to adjust.
First, examine your routine. What happens before bed? Calm activities like reading or cuddling? Screen use? Raucous wrestling matches? The first step to successful sleep is the pre-bed routine. It should be relatively stress free and calm.
Screens should be eliminated for at least an hour prior to bedtime. The blue light that all our kids are getting far too much of these pandemic days negatively affects the brain's ability to recognize night time. Dim, yellow light is calming to the brain and body.
If you're like us, the sillies sometimes creep out of overly tired littles after dinner. And, like us, you probably indulge them a bit too much. A short giggle fest can be completely fine. But try to calm the giggles and shift to reading so their little bodies and brains can relax.
Pre-bed bath time can be helpful to some kids. Mine play in the bath so it isn't calming. We didn't use bath to prepare for bed, but it is successful for many. A gentle massage with lotion after bath helps some kids relax their growing muscles too.
We brush teeth and pray together before sending kids to their beds. Once in their beds, we go room by room tucking in and saying a special goodnight. Each kid has their own phrases specific to them. They feel loved and special at the end of whatever kind of day they had.
Now that you know some ways to help kids settle for bed, let's talk about the struggles that may negate everything prior to this!
One mom I spoke with has two kids who both need her help and presence to sleep. The kids don't accept Dad's help. The older child also screams when Mom leaves to put the younger brother to bed. Mom was at a loss as to how to help her daughter accept bedtime needs. The daughter was screaming about everything leading up to bedtime in anticipation of separation from Mom. I suggested removing the bedtime association with Dad and shifting the paradigm. If the daughter can be excited about special time with Dad where she gets to do fun things she doesn't otherwise enjoy, maybe she can have a better evening experience all together. Mom can peacefully help little brother off to sleep then address big sister. Sometimes, flipping the script really helps kids adjust their very real, powerful feelings about big changes in their day.
Another mom I speak with regularly was shocked to learn that my kids had a rather early bedtime so that my husband and I had time together in the evenings. We set this up early on in our parenting thanks to our premarital counselor who reminded us that we cannot effectively parent if we do not put our relationship first. I explained that we moved bedtime gradually earlier and did a routine to initiate sleep. We still helped our kids off to sleep with rocking or nursing or our simple presence, but we began the process by 7PM so we would have much needed respite after the cherubs drifted off. She began the process of pushing her girls' bedtimes earlier and has seen success with their more peaceful sleep. Overtired kids sleep poorly too, so earlier bedtimes benefit them as well.
We also traversed the journey of separating from co-sleeping. We moved our children to their own spaces, but continued to lie with them until they slept. When they cried in the night or came to our bed, one of us would go to the child's bed and help them back to sleep. Gradually, we stayed with them shorter periods of time. We also began sitting in their beds, then on the floor, then at the door so we could still be a secure presence, but help them less. All of our children put themselves to sleep without issue now. We have had regression as a result of the pandemic changes, and we answered them gently. One of us had to sit outside Kae's room again until she slept for a few months. We again, gradually sat less time until we didn't need to at all. Now, she will ask whether one of us will be upstairs and makes sure we will check on her regularly.
There are bigger challenges than the ones I have outlined above. Some kids require compression sheets or weighted blankets. Some kids struggle with insomnia. There are answers to these difficulties as well, but some may require a physician's assistance. Melatonin and tart cherry juice are gentle, over the counter options for kids who have minor struggles with sleep. If these don't help, professional help and prescription medication may be necessary. Even with these other helps, a solid routine and safe feeling kids will always sleep more soundly and truly get the rest they need.
Comments and questions are always welcome! If you need specific sleep help, ask away.