Like most parents, we often feel like we don’t know what we’re doing. Like we’re just barely surviving and clinging to the hope that things will get easier at some point.
But there is one thing that I’ve always felt Shane and I do well. We have always implemented an early bedtime.
Maybe it seems natural to me because I remember having an 8 pm bedtime when I was in 1st and 2nd grade. I remember complaining to my mom one night that I should be able to stay up late like my brother (who is 4.5 years older than me). I don’t remember exactly what she said to me, but it must have been something like “Your body grows when you’re resting. Don’t you want to get bigger?” or maybe “When you’re as old as your brother, you can stay up late too.” or maybe even “I said get your butt to bed!”.
Whatever it was she said, it instilled in me the importance of a good night’s sleep.
Here are a few tips for encouraging an early bedtime:
1. Start them young. From the age of 3 months, we incorporated a 7:30 pm bedtime. We start the bedtime process at 7 am and then lights out by 7:30 pm.
2. If you have a partner, work as a team. Come up with a strategy that will work for both of you. Keeping kids on a schedule is hard work and a lackadaisical attitude from you or your partner will sabotage any good plan. We’ve adjusted our routine when one of us feels like we’re doing more than our fair share. This will happen when we add a kid to the family, or work schedules change, or kids transition to tub baths or showers.
3. Make bedtime enjoyable not exciting. Most dads I know like to play and wrestle right before bedtime. I personally struggle with this one because I absolutely love seeing Shane being an awesomely fun dad. But then the kids are bouncing off the walls and don’t want to lay in bed. I got to the point where I said “You did that. You fix it.” In a nice way of course. Now we make sure the TV is off at 7:00 pm and repeat words like “calm”, “relax” and “quiet”. We read one short book per kid and sing three songs. I’ve always sung ABCs, Do Re Mi (from The Sound of Music) and a shortened version of Baby Mine (see video below). I always end with Baby Mine and sing it as slowly and calmly as I possibly can. We do the story and song from about the age of two. Before that age I’ve had a hard time getting them to stay still. Drop them in the crib and run! …just kidding.
4. Be flexible. I understand how easy it is to latch on to an idea about the “right” way to do things. But the most important thing that I’ve learned from having four kids is that every person is an individual with their own preferences. Whether it be co-sleeping or the “cry it out” method, if it doesn’t feel right, move on.
Ana (kid #2) was not taking naps well in her crib and she would not sleep in the forward/back swing. I had been slightly traumatized by our cry-it-out sleep training with Caleb (kid #1) and couldn’t bear to do it again. We got a side-to-side swing. She loved it and spent all of her naps in it. It literally saved me from going crazy. Charlotte (kid #3) actually slept in it exclusively for about a month. We kept the swing in our room and she slept in it all night. We turned it on when we laid her down at 7:30pm and then turned it off after she fell asleep. It worked for her and so it worked for us.
5. Find your motivation. And don’t feel guilty about it. When people tell me that they wish they could get their kids to bed as early as we do, I jokingly tell them it’s because we’re selfish and we want “me time”. But it really is the truth. We need time to relax and recharge and that is a huge motivation for us to get them in bed early.
6. Be consistent. Implement the same bedtime every night. I don’t have personal experience with having a certain bedtime for the weekdays and another bedtime for the weekend. But I think it might cause confusion with some children.
7. Let them have as many blankets as they want. Even if it’s summer time, they sleep in flannel pjs and they want five blankets. You probably think they’re nuts. They’re not. I believe that most of what kids do has an instinctual reason, not necessarily a practical one. Maybe the weight helps them feel safe or their bodies run cold at night (not true but I’m grasping at straws here). Whatever the reason, my three older kids have 5-6 blankets plus flannel sheets. All year long.
8. If they get out of bed, put them back. Let them know that you can cuddle all they like during the day when the sun is up. This might be a hard one for a lot of you. We fell into this trap. I thought about my instinctual theory and thought my daughter wanted and needed affection. How can I deny her of that? Well after a few weeks of getting kicked in the stomach and smacked in the face, I realized that it wasn’t such a good idea and if she really needed extra love, I’d give it to her during the day. Because really, how much love and affection is a sleepless and grouchy mom capable of?
9. Monitor naps. I have found that this is very specific to each child. Some kids will need naps and it won’t affect their ability to sleep 12 hours at night (like my Caleb). Other kids will refuse to nap because no one else is napping, but if they fall asleep in the car, they will still sleep well at night (like my Ana). With some kids, you should avoid naps because if they nap for even two minutes they will want to party and jump all over you until 10 pm (like my Charlotte).
Read more articles on Kids and Sleeping from my Sister Bloggers:
Tips for Troubled Sleepers
Tips for Moms with Kids that Have Trouble Sleeping by Nicollete from Powerful Mothering