Depending on the day, bedtime with your kids might be something you look forward to or completely dread. Sometimes it is full of snuggles and stories. Other times it is mad rush where it feels like you are wrangling cats. It’s pretty common knowledge among parents that babies and children thrive on routine. Research and parents alike can agree that when children have predictability at bedtime, it fosters greater parent-child attachment, produces melatonin, and helps our kiddos fall and STAY asleep. But many well-intentioned parents fall into traps when it comes to their night time routine and become confused and frustrated when the routine seems to actually cause more stress than peace. Below I share some of the most common traps that families (including my own for many months!) have fallen into.
Why is my baby or toddler's bedtime routine so stressful?
Either the parents or the children resent the bedtime routine
Have you ever been really frustrated, grumpy or anxious while putting your baby to sleep and found that the process takes THAT much longer? Babies and young children learn to self regulate their emotions by how we soothe them – and ourselves. They can pick up on our anxieties and sense if we are upset or not digging this new bedtime process. This fear can set them into fight or flight mode – and their biggest defense mechanism is crying. By staying calm yourself, you will be able to transfer that confidence and calm to them and be much more effective in soothing them to sleep. Pick activities for the bedtime routine that you both enjoy so that bedtime will be a time of bonding and not resentment.
Making the bedtime routine too complicated or long, which leads to an overtired child
I work with many families who resist setting up a bedtime routine because they think it’s going to create even more work in an already hectic evening. On the flip side, I have seen families whose routines take so much time that they miss their child's sleep cues causing their bodies to enter the wake maintenance zone (the body's cortisol/adrenaline response to not falling asleep when tired).
The bedtime routine only has to be a few steps long and can include activities that promote nutrition, hygiene, communication and physical contact. Sure, some nights you might decide to give your child a bubble bath, but something as simple as breastfeeding/bottle feeding your baby, changing them, turning on the white noise machine and rocking them can be as effective in calming them down and preparing their bodies for sleep.
Expecting kids to fall asleep without any wind down period
When everyone is rushing home from work, daycare, play groups, school, or other activities, there is bound to be a high energy level in the house. Evenings are a time of reconnecting for many families and survival for others. Save the high energy rough housing, dance parties, and stimulating toys for before dinner. After dinner, committing to a “wind down” period can help signal to our primitive brains that rest is coming. Turning off the TV and dimming the lights in the house an hour prior to bedtime will not only help ease everyone into sleep, but you will also be able to see if your child is exhibiting any sleep signals, and adjust the timing of their bedtime if necessary.
Not staying present
As much as you are looking forward to your adult time after the kids are in bed, try to stay present and connected. Put your phone away. Get into your comfy clothes and make sure you have eaten and gone to the bathroom beforehand. Our children can sense when we are disconnected and this makes them seek out our attention even more (and usually not in the most productive ways!)
I know it’s frustrating when these babies take a long time to fall asleep after a tiring day. We all have moments when we just want our kids to go the f#@* to sleep.But if we can remember that this period of nighttime parenting is actually really short when you look at the big picture, and that ultimately we are teaching our children that sleep is something to look forward to, we can be assured it’s all worth it.
Are you struggling with bedtime and wanting to bring some peace back to your evenings? Get in touch today for your free 15 minute consult and let's chat through some strategies that can help.