Bedtime Battles: How To Establish An Early, Healthy And Independent Sleeping Routine
Trying ‘Independent Sleep Training’ for your children?
A mom shares her learnings on how she bid adieu to tantrums, and transitioned from co-sleeping to independent sleeping for her children.
#1 Regularity and predictability of routine
It’s important to know that sleeping ‘independently’, or expecting your child to fall asleep by him/her self is not an ‘unhealthy’ or ‘selfish’ idea, nor does it delineate a lack of your love and concern for them.
Sleep Training stems from an acknowledgement of a fundamental need, and right, of every human being¾ a child or an adult, to healthy, sustainable and invigorating sleep practices. It encourages independent sleep behavior in a child, and helps them understand and recognize their bodies’ ‘rest cycles’ for themselves. The National Sleep Foundation of America discusses the necessity, benefits and amount of Sleep required for all ages of children on https://sleepfoundation.org/sleep-topics/children-and-sleep
For the parents, sleep training can literally save your time, energies, sanity and grant you precious moments with yourself or your partner every, single, day.
Once you decide to sleep train your child, chalk out some routine and stick to it. For us, when our son was between 6 months – 1 year old, we started the training in his cot attached to our bedside. Many others start it in their child’s room itself. Between 2 – 2.5 years of age, we began transitioning our son to sleep in his own room. If you have 2 or more children, you may encourage them to sleep separately in one room, say one in a cot and one in a bed, which is what we do. For those with children above the age of 4, please tell me you have already achieved this!
Else, read on.
#2 Differentiate between ‘yours’ and your ‘child’s’ room
From the very start, explain to your children the difference between yours and their room. Invest in quality linen that has their favorite colors, patterns and cartoon characters. Make their room cheerful, comfortable and inviting in a way different from your room.
Start the sleep training in their room, where they are able to identify with the surroundings. In the initial days, lie down or sit beside them in their space. Once they are in their beds, gradually start ‘making trips’ out of their room (tell them, I’ll have water and just be back, or something), as they wait to fall asleep. You may have to do a lot of back and forth, in and out, but in some days, weeks or months, they will happily yell a ‘good night, ma!’ and even ‘ask’ you to please turn off the light and leave!!
Sleep clinicians, Terry Cralle, RN and Dr. W. David Brown in their groundbreaking collaboration “Snoozby and the Great Big Bedtime Battle” illustrate the benefits of sleep directly to young children.
Dr. Brown has been reported to state that as a pediatric sleep clinician he is
“amazed at how many children know so little about sleep, have no set bedtime, no bedtime routine, and no media curfew. We know that sufficient sleep is important for all age groups, but it is particularly important for our children.”
While Dr. Brown refers to how it is imperative to make 4-10 year olds understand the importance of sleep, I started talking to our older son about it when he was only 2.5 years old. I spoke of how it replenishes us; how it helps us in becoming bigger, stronger and sharper. On days when he refused to sleep and was cranky I would point that out to him, and over a period he started recognizing and acknowledging that his body was tired and he wanted to ‘rest’. And, of course, speaking to him like an adult always worked.
I would tell him the difference between dark and light, night and day, point out how the characters on TV were sleeping too, how our eyes ‘turn red’ and our ‘body aches’ if we don’t sleep at ‘bedtime’, so on and so forth. Initially he didn’t understand it as such, now he literally completes my sentences! So, keep stating the facts about importance of sleep, and gradually, it will become a part of their system.
#4 Prepare them well in advance of bedtime
Often, while at dinner time itself, I would point to the clock and say, see the hands are going to soon reach X number and it will then be your rest/bed time. Giving him notice always worked better. If I saw a tantrum coming, I would often distract them from the topic and break into an animated story, and then gradually again end it with some reference to bedtime.
#5 Say NO screen time before bedtime
Saying No to screen-time generally, and especially around bedtime is a must, given all the literature available on “how blue light is bad for sleep” and how it “affects the body’s internal ‘clock’”.
On most days, I turn off the T.V. at least 45 minutes to an hour earlier than my children’s bedtime, and I would encourage everyone else to do the same.
#6 Dole out some interesting incentives, even praises for your child
One thing that usually works all the time is ‘incentivizing’, even if achieved with a with very minimal promise such as, “We have to go to the park once you wake up. And, to wake up you have to sleep first.” Believe me, even a big, wondrous ‘smile’ or a ‘bear hug’ from mamma, can be incentive enough in situations.
#7 Use your creativity at their Bedtime
Often, when our son was at play, and his nap or bed time approached, I would tell him to choose a toy from those he was playing with to take with him to bed. This allowed some continuity, and he always loved this idea. I even allowed him books, sleep-inducing objects such as a soft musical toy and other least distracting toys. Also, the choices would always be, do you want to take ‘Teddy’ or ‘The Dolphin’ today? So, always, always ask the right questions. I never gave him an option or asked him something like if he wanted to go to bed yet, or not. I mean the answer to that would have been pretty obvious, wouldn’t it have?
#8 Once tucked into bed, build a Rule to not come out of the room
Many times, during this training period my son fussed, and yet, I would distract him by some means, or ignore his tantrums, and simply continue with the routine-often breaking into a very ‘exciting story’, without it mattering how inane the storyline was, as long as I used interesting intonations, vivid expressions and voice modulations. Many times, he would fuss about wanting to go out of the room. At such times, I would again resort to #3, #5 and #6. But getting out of the room, after having been ‘tucked in’ was non-negotiable. Each time he did that, he would be taken back inside, and on most occasions firmly yet gently and sensitively.
Many times, our younger one too fussed, being in the cot. As he would cry initially, I would go inside the room and seat myself next to his cot, holding his hand. For him too, getting out of the cot was non-negotiable, but whenever he cried, either my husband or I would go in the room for a few minutes to pacify him, offer a few hugs, back rubs, and gradually settle him into his sleeping mode. Now, he too, at just 22 months, closes his eyes promptly and doesn’t cry when I leave the room. But, I have to admit that he finds a lot of comfort in seeing his brother near him.
#9 Be prepared to fail many times
Failure in the initial days of training is frustrating, but a given. The key is in sticking to the routine and to your individual determination. Have confidence that this is for the better, and in the interests of the entire family. And, don’t give up unless you have tried every single day for 21 days! After which you may take a break for a bit, and retry later.
#10 Be realistic, pragmatic and flexible in times of sickness, when you have guests or on holidays
Sleep training does not work in sicknesses. That is a no brainer. Your baby is sick and needs your added attention and care. Forget the training. It doesn’t work well either if you have guests or are out on holidays.
Also, even when trained, and not sick, small children habitually wake up in the nights, so be prepared to be woken up in the night, having to go over and sooth the baby in their room. At 3:00 a.m., this is mighty annoying.
#11 Short, crisp goodnights worked well
For those who have to tuck in only one child, or two children of the same age, it would be ideal to do the ‘reading routine’ at bedtime. In my situation, the boys had different paces of handling their books, and would invariably lead to a struggle over whichever book or books we chose to read. Phew! So, for myself, I have had to put off the ‘reading routine’ for the time being, and plan to introduce it in the months to come.
Once in bed, I would swiftly put on both their nappies, utter a shloka and some soft “shhh … shhhs”, and I would then turn their light off and exit the room, leaving the door slightly ajar for comfort and reassurance.
I also made sure that as the kids lie in their room, and the door is slightly ajar, my husband and I speak only in soft tones, not whispers, just softly, without the din of the TV.
At all times, do remember that a quiet ‘bedtime’ is very sacrosanct to a child’s development. It must always be distinctly peaceful, and must exude an atmosphere for relaxing the mind, body and soul. Happy sleep training!