Many non-parents may wonder, how hard can putting a child to bed be? Surely it consists of a story, a kiss goodnight and then walking out the door? Our first child fell into that camp but not our second. Our second is a seasoned anti-bedtime campaigner. She’s a gold-medal contender for the most evasive bed dweller of all times. A champion evader.
Over the years we have gone through all manner of routines and tricks in a bid to get her to sleep.
We’ve closed the door. We’ve kept the door open. We’ve been chastised for not keeping the door ajar at the precise angle she likes. Which changes often.
We’ve tried a nightlight, no nightlight, three nightlights. She soon began turning the big light on herself, assisted by the initiative of moving her little chair over to the wall so she could reach the switch.
We’ve tried one book, we’ve tried ten. Long stories, short stories.
We’ve tried songs, dances, patting…. Honestly there’s not a bedtime stone we have left unturned.
For a period of time we inevitably have a winning streak – a few weeks of stress free bedtimes, but invariably she moves the goal posts and we’re back at stage one.
Even when we get the ‘putting to bed’ bit right, we are confronted with the next component of the challenge: her staying in bed and actually going to sleep.
Me need drink.
Where my green sticker/ blue sheep/any random object the smaller the better. Usually an object that in daylight hours is so inconsequential none of us have laid eyes on it for weeks.
Mummy what you doing?
Daddy, I tell you a secret? Me NEED TOO!!!
Me have a sticker??
Me do a puzzle?
You pat me Mummy?
What day is it?
When you going to sleep?
What you doing?
Me have porridge when I wake up?
MUMMY, you hear me??? (Like there’s a chance we can’t).
Honestly the list of post-“goodnight” demands never ends. Her creativity is astounding. In other circumstances it would make me laugh. Ignoring these demands is one of those things that is brilliant in theory, and some nights it works.
But when her sister is in the same room desperately trying to get to sleep and she’s particularly keen for a post-goodnight debrief ignoring it doesn’t work.
So what to do?
For us surrendering the entire evening to the bedtime battle doesn’t work. She inevitably gets overtired, we get tired and impatient and it makes for a rather unpleasant cycle. A LOUD and unpleasant cycle.
But failing to surrender requires diligence and discipline. Complacency isn’t an option with the fastidious sleep time evaders. Instead we need a firm plan.
We are currently experiencing an ok patch whereby we have the routine down-pat, boundaries are strictly enforced and though the post-goodnight demands still pop up, we are largely succeeding. (I am aware, however, that by virtue of me putting that into writing, I am jinxing the status quo.)
So what works in our house?
Being clear from the outset about what happens at bedtime.
In our house it means talking regularly about the bedtime pattern ad nauseum. And not just before bed, but throughout the day. We repeat the message that after bed is not the time to demand toys and make requests.
Having a regular night-time routine.
Ours goes like this… After dinner, there is time for a short play. They might want to do a puzzle, play ‘go fish’ or snap or watch a cartoon. After that we brush teeth and then each child can pick their own story. Once both stories are read, the girls are kissed goodnight, given a cuddle and we close the door as we depart the room.
The nightlight goes on and our youngest enjoys 15 minutes of lullaby music from her Fisher-Price Soothe & Glow Owl.
It is only a recent addition to our bedtime arsenal and I wish we’d had it two years ago. It’s been developed by Fisher-Price to comfort infants as they go to sleep with it’s soft and cuddly knit material. For younger babies (6 months +), who will chew anything with in reach, the feet are teeth-able. It is “her” toy which she loves and the familiarity of the music and the timing is a soothing reminder that each night, at almost exactly the same time, she will be tucked into her bed to sleep.
Rewarding fuss-free nights.
A sticker on the fridge and lots of praise dished out the morning after a great bedtime routine works wonders. Little people lap up praise and when you see even a glimpse of the behaviour you want from them lavish them with positive feedback.
The upside to a decent bedtime routine is endless. A well-slept toddler is the best kind. They are every bit as wondrous and cheeky and adorable and maddening and energetic but with the added bonus of them not being completely exhausted.
And parents who are not completely strung out and battle-weary from night-time negotiations? So much more fun.
What are your tips and tricks for getting your baby or toddler to sleep?