This topic is very near and dear to my heart.
4 years old was the age when my first born graduated to sleep in her own bedroom. From what I remember, it was quite smooth sailing only because she shared the room with her baby sister, who was 16 months old then.
I remember it took months for me. From staying in the room, lying down on the carpet on the floor waiting for them to fall asleep, to doing their bedtime routine, tuck them in bed, kiss goodnight and walk out. Months.
I had so much guilty thoughts then too. I must be doing this wrong.
How come other mums can do it so easily?
How do they manage to do it so quickly?
Books said that this would be over and done with in 3 weeks, and yet months later, I’m still lying on the floor waiting for them to go to sleep. Some nights it would take an hour (or more) and I’d be asleep while waiting! Sounds familiar?
What helped me to move on from that spot?
Here are three things that I used and you can most definitely try:
Make space for your own feelings and frustrations
After nights, weeks or even months of dealing with bedtime and night waking issues with an older child, it can get super frustrating and you will have big big feelings about the subject.
Offload these feelings first. Get them out of the way. Find a listener who won’t judge or give you advice.
Use this time to say what you REALLY want to say.
“It doesn’t reflect who you are as a person, it’s more about the feelings you have and the energy behind them,” Kristen says. “Those feelings are there when we are with our children, they are behind all the things we say to our children and how we show up, and so when we can work on all those feelings we can show up in a different space, and we can set limits in a different way, we can set limits with support rather than setting limits with anger.” – Kristen Volk, Hand in Hand Parenting Instructor
I love what Kristen said. It’s the energy behind the feelings we have about bedtime. It will show up in many parenting places. If we are conscious about this, we want to go deep to the root of the cause and heal from there. When this ‘bad’ energy is cleared after we have our rant and vent session with a listening partner, we can now tackle the bedtime issues with warmth and playfulness.
“When we show up with frustration and anger or tiredness, they come back with more of that challenging behavior. It’s more of a power struggle. When we show up in warmth they can butt up against it, but then they soften.”
An idea of play around sleep
This brings me to the next tip. Using play at bedtime. Yes, I know it’s counter-intuitive. I can hear you saying, “I want my kid to sleep, why are you asking me to play with her?”
Another resistance that might come up is, “Oh gosh I’m so exhausted, I don’t particularly feel playful.” or “My husband does all the fun and play.”
My counter to not feeling playful is go back to step one. Talk about your feelings, offload them. You will feel some space being created after a listening time, and you might feel playful too.
My next counter about your husband being the playful one – why not you? Why can’t we be a playful mother? Why does it have to be serious business all the time?
If you’re a working mom, you’ve been out all day at work. The kids are at school or with their caregivers. Then when all of you are home, you may have to do the cooking, the cleaning, the dog walking or any household activity that requires daily attention.
There’s not a whole lot of “connection” in all these activities even though they are all normal activities for many of us.
So an offtrack behaviour by our child at the dinner table, at bedtime, potty, or school drop-offs oftenmeans that the child doesn’t feel connected.
A super simple idea is to use roughhousing or gentle wrestling to connect before bedtime. There is a ‘way’ to play this game without making our child feel scared.
What you need to understand is that we use roughhousing or play as a tool for connection. With children, play is the easiest short cut way to connect.
The point of this game is to gently tackle your child but your child is winning. You don’t wanna make it too easy either. Put up a little resistance but they always manage to pin you down. From this game, you can start to see that your child is laughing. Laughter is good. Laughter is best to melt away the tension from the day. No tickling though. We want the laughter to be organic.
So you can end the game with “Arrhh no no no no you got me again and again! I can never win at this game!” and mock frustration and dramatise it.
10 minutes of this is all it takes. And then you can lead your child into the start of your bedtime routine.
Validate and support the fears
Sleep is a form of separation. Your child is going to separate from consciousness into sleep and for our little ones, that can be a very scary thing. Even though we are nearby or we are right there with them.
For some children, their fears would come up a lot right before bedtime. Fear of darkness, fear of ghosts, fear of monsters and it could be unrealistic fears like fear of the mirror, or the corner of the room for example.
If you have been scaring your kid into sleep like there’s a bug or spider or ghosts, then now is a good time to stop doing that. You are not doing anyone a favour even though this is the fastest way to get your child into bed.
Validate those fears and warmly say, “I hear how scared you are. I’m going to be right here with you.” And then you’re going to hold the limit persistently.
There is no need to say there are no monsters or ghosts. It’s not the point.
When you firmly but lovingly hold the limit of “You’re not sleeping in my bed tonight sweetie, you will sleep right here on your bed/room.” you are bringing your child closer and closer to the pain of separating from you, but at the same time they are getting the support from you during the process.
If your child is one who would stall bedtime by saying they’re hungry or thirsty or one more book or want to continue chatting, you could warmly say, “No sweetie, you’ve had your dinner/milk/water/books/chat already. It’s time to go to sleep.” and then keep holding the limit. Respond to your child when they say there really really NEED to have the ________ by saying the same phrase again. There is no need to engage or talk about why they need to sleep. It’s not relevant.
Tears and rage will most likely happen by now.
Which you would then want to stay and listen, for as long as your child needs to rage and offload their fears. The tears show that your child is working on the fear/pain of separating into sleep. Let them cry about the limit. The tears and tantrums are the tools that support the healing around their fears.
It would take days or maybe weeks for your child to overcome their fears at bedtime. As much as you’re able to focus on filling up their connection cup, use play and laughter to connect, and then hold the limits at bedtime, your child will soon be able to fall asleep quickly.
What happens when they wake at night and come to your bed?
There are two options:
- Bring them right back into their bad and hold the limit that they need to go back to sleep in their own bed. You will need to be patient and mentally prepared for this. Stay until your child falls asleep. This is tougher but it works best in the long run. You may think about finding a place to sleep there too to accompany your child for a few days/weeks. Once you see he’s sleeping through the night, you can go back to your bed.
- Prepare a separate sleeping place for your child in your bedroom. Tell them in advance that when they wake up, they can come to your room, but they will lie down on the mattress on the floor for example. They can come into the room as quietly as possible and not disturb mom and dad sleeping. Remind them again that they are no longer allowed to sleep in your bed, but to sleep on the mattress instead.
The first few times are going to be tough because there is still that fear lingering. Hold the limits as persistently as you possibly can, and use stay & listen to all the tears that come up during this process. Crying helps them offload those fears around sleep.
That’s quite a lengthy post! I hope that gives you a clearer idea how to go about it. If you need personalised help, you can consider either becoming a member in our online course Easy Peasy Sleepytime or signing up with a private consultation with me to guide you.