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Better Bedtimes



Every parent is tired when evening comes and wants their children to settle easily, so that they might be able to do the same. Here are some ideas for getting your children to bed that I hope you find helpful!


Rule no 1 is: Establish a bedtime routine

I find that three of the most important things in parenting are the following:
· Routine
· Consistency
· Predictable

This is because, it makes children feel more secure, and they know what is going to happen. Many problems on the other hand are caused by tiredness and the lack of a bedtime routine, so decide your bedtime routine and it needs to happen every night.

How much sleep do they need?

Usually more than you think! Up to the age of six, children need about thirteen hours of sleep, so if you are getting them up at 0730 in the morning, they need to be settled by 730 the evening before. I understand with working parents, it leaves little time, however give the time from when you arrive home until you say goodnight and if you have met their need for attention from you, the bedtime will be easier! The other advantage is that you will have some time for yourself also. Single or separated parents need to use this time for themselves to support them in parenting solo.

Give older children a later bedtime

If you have more than one child, younger ones need to be settled first and the older child may enjoy some 1:1 time with you, which they need and they will cooperate better afterwards with your needs of them.


Gradual wind down

If Dad comes in tickling the child and engaging rough play, the TV is on, there is lots happening the child will be difficult to settle immediately after. Make it easy on yourself with some of the following:
  • No TV & absolutely no Televisions in bedrooms
  • No stimulants i.e. juice (sugar) or hot chocolate (caffeine)
  • Dim the lights
  • Create a calm & soothing environment conducive to promoting sleep
  • Blackout blinds are vital for summer as children associate light with being up
  • A warm relaxing bath helps a child who struggles to fall asleep
  • Spend time with the child (it helps them sleep easier)
  • Soothe, relax and reassure them

Routine

The routine for my children was ‘Teeth, wee’s, story time’ with a bath to soothe on occasion. Your child has missed you all day and needs time with you. This time relaxes the child, and when you have met their need for attention from you, they usually will settle without difficulty.

What do children need?

Children need calm parents who set the tone in the home and create a relaxed atmosphere. Therefore, if you meet with resistance from them, be Kind, Firm but not Cross with the child. Whether brushing teeth or helping them into PJ’s, children love it if you make it fun , so use a timer, tell them what they are doing well (not what they are not doing well) and they will do more of that! You may feel exhausted (we have all been there!) but hang on in there and offer the time and attention they need and bedtime will go more smoothly.

How to prevent child coming downstairs

When parents respond with irritation, impatience and crossness, the child may escalate the behaviour or become more anxious. Tell the child the behaviour you wish to see and come down to their eye level and speak calmly but firmly to them. Otherwise, if the parent has been cross and irritable, the child is upset and it is difficult to fall asleep when the child may feel ‘I don’t know if Mum loves me or not’. Often they are coming downstairs for what they needed and perhaps did not get during the day. Their response is to feel anxious and insecure, so your No 1 response needs to be: compassion and kindness Otherwise, a parent’s irritability simply makes their anxiety worse. Instead, offer reassurance, gentleness and kindness that you will pop in every few minutes until they are asleep.

How to wean them off your presence

A transitional object like a favourite teddy, a warm hot water bottle or a story to listen all help them make the transition to managing themselves without you.

Separation Anxiety

Separation anxiety means they are anxious when they are away from you and they find it hard to settle on their own. If they cry, they need to be responded to. Follow your gut in how you respond whether you stroke their head, or lie down with them (although this may mean they lose their ability to self soothe themselves back to sleep) or offer to come back every five minutes until they fall asleep.

Controlled crying

I am not in favour of a current trend for training a baby to sleep termed “controlled crying”. This is where your child is left to cry for increasingly long periods of time in the hope they will stop crying. This is very stressful for both parties. As I see it; the only thing the child will learn is that there is no point in crying as no one will respond anyway.

What do children need to fall asleep?

Our child’s greatest need is for us to help them feel secure as they are 100% dependant on us. Therefore, it makes sense that they need to be responded to with love in order to feel secure. This can be a stressful and demanding time for a mother with sleepless nights, and exhaustion to deal with.

Mum needs to ask for help & support

Parents need to give each other considerable support, share out the ‘having to get up’ to the baby and they also need seek support from friends and family. Infants cry because they need to be responded to. – not for no reason. Crying is their major way of communicating a need. Indeed babies exhibit several different kinds of crying and the parent needs to acquaint themselves the different purposes. Pain hunger, thirst, need for nurturance or attention are some of the reasons why babies cry.

Mothers need to ask for more help and support “I am tired and I need some rest”. From groups I work with, the mum who is better at taking care of herself will parent better.

When she neglects herself, she may be on edge, snappy and ‘loses it’. This in turn creates unnecessary conflict. When we ‘mind ourselves’, the whole family benefits! We cannot give to a crying child what we have not got, and if your battery is flat, it needs to be recharged. Then, we can respond to our child with the love we have shown ourselves and offer them the care, warmth and security they are crying out for.

The importance of touch

Research tells us that physical touch promotes serotonin – a lack of which leads to depression. Therefore, we need act on instinct and respond to our child’s physical needs (hug, cuddle, hold) to ensure they feel happy and secure. Touch actually produces a change in the chemistry in the body.

Studies tell us that children are more likely to feel secure when their ‘cry for help’ is responded to promptly, consistently and appropriately.

How can you help a child fall asleep easily?

This is what has worked for me! Blackout blinds are essential during these summer months. My daughter gets a hot water bottle every night. A good bedtime routine is crucial with a set bedtime. It is important you are relaxed when settling them with a bedtime story as their ability to settle depends on how secure they feel. Some children like a nightlight; some who have had nightmares find a ‘Dream catcher’ helps. Do not send them to their bedroom as punishment, as the bedroom should have only positive associations for the child.

Tips

  • Spend time with them to help them fall asleep
  • Your physical presence makes them feel secure
  • As security grows, gradually withdraw over time
  • Assure child you will make regular checks, and do!
  • Blackout blinds essential for long summer nights
  • A warm bath before bed relaxes the over active child
  • Separation anxiety makes bedtime a challenge
  • A bedtime routine reduces that anxiety
  • A child who feels secure will settle more easily so give Time



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This article was written by Sheila O Malley. Sheila owns Practical Parenting and offers courses, 1 to 1 support and School Talks as well as Company talks on Parenting and wellbeing. See www.practicalparenting.ie for details. Book a One Day Saturday course from 10-4pm with a friend or partner and get the tips to need to support you in the hardest job you ever do!