Across the board, one of the most challenging issues of parenting is getting your child to sleep consistently through the night. Before I had children, I thought that this meant only through the newborn stage. Sadly, this is not true. In fact, last night my eight-year old busted into our bedroom unannounced in the wee hours of the morning. A house-rattling clap of thunder had jolted him awake. In his fear-driven state, he managed to wake up the entire household.
Every parent has a different approach to sleep and bedtime. Every child is different. What works beautifully for one, will end in disaster for another. Sometimes even what works is no longer practical as the child changes and grows. For me, it was a combination of advice from friends, family and books mixed in with my intuition and tweaking. Thankfully, a majority of the time, my boys are independent sleepers due to lots of patience and consistency (my dogs are a whole other story). I would say the toddler years were the most complicated, but after the first rough two years or so, we figured it out.
One of the most valuable things I learned was that a routine at night was imperative. This routine needn’t be lengthy or elaborate, but it should signal to your child that lights out is fast approaching. Recently, I’ve heard over and over, that this is the time when you should really give your full attention and energy to your child. Your evening shouldn’t be about racing to get them in bed so you can have your glass of wine (guilty as charged!), it should be about giving of yourself to get them securely in bed. I believe this holds some truth, but here is the flip-side. I am a stay-at-home parent. I am with my boys a lot. I give of myself all day long to them. Even when they aren’t with me, I am caring for their home, their clothes, their basic needs. Guess what? Maybe at night, I don’t want to give quite so much.
Bottom line, a successful bedtime actually starts the minute your kids wake up. The key is to give them time and attention all throughout the day. If you are a working parent, try to carve out some non-homework related time to spend with them (car rides to activities count) where you give them your full, undivided attention. The more you are able to do this, the quicker your nighttime will become more fully yours again.
Written by Diana DeVaul, MSW and Parent