Children’s bedtime doesn’t have to be stressful. Here is a way of looking at sleep that trusts children and infants and encourages parents to adjust to their needs rather than fighting them.
By Wendy Priesnitz
How to get babies and young children to go to sleep is a subject that seems to consume the parenting advice world. Should you “sleep train,” let them “cry it out,” “self-soothe,” or use the “no-cry solution”? I don’t think any of the above are appropriate…or necessary.
Most of us want to get our children to sleep because we are tired, or we want or need some time alone to do work, be with our partner, or decompress from a hectic day. At the same time, it can seem like an eighteen-month-old child’s sole mission in life is to evade sleep. And so most families mandate a children’s bedtime.
But I’d like to suggest a big picture perspective in which you trust your infant and young child to sleep when they’re ready, and for how long they need to. Most children will eventually adopt a somewhat regular sleep rhythm – especially if you’re providing good nutrition, modeling a regular schedule, and helping them learn to relax.
So can you adjust to your infant or small child rather than expect them to adjust to your needs? After all, in too short a time, the problem will be to get the kid out of bed in time for school or hockey practice! So rather than seeing your child’s desire to stay awake as a problem, why not try to rearrange your time and attitude so you can enjoy the evening hours with them?
It also helps to remember that young children aren’t naturally independent sleepers. When mom, dad, and the kids (and a pet or two once the children are past the baby stage) snuggle together in a safe family bed (see below), the fear of being alone (or of missing out on what everyone else is doing), which often underlies sleep struggles, just doesn’t exist. No matter what you might be told, co-sleeping is safe; in fact, it’s normal in much of the world.
Once the fight to beat the clock has been removed, you can cherish the quiet time spent with your little one: reading, singing, or just chatting. Try to share off the time with your partner or an older sibling, so you do manage to get occasional evening time for yourself.
Accept that an extended children’s bedtime is just another aspect of parenting and make room in your life for it most nights. You will, of course, receive lots of hard-to-ignore advice from family and friends about maintaining a strict children’s bedtime, and what your child should be doing and when. But seek out conversation with those who are also dedicated to creating secure attachments as a way for children to be happy, healthy, and self-reliant.
Refuse to compare your child and your family to others. Trust in your child’s ability to eventually self-regulate. Work on your resentment (which can be followed by guilt). Remember that your baby is not trying to control or manipulate you – they’re only doing what comes naturally.
This time in your children’s life is fleeting. Relax and cherish it for the precious, short phase that it is.
A Safe Family Bed Makes for a Painless Children’s Bedtime
• Sleep on a large, flat, firm mattress or futon, preferably on the floor, with no cracks or space between it and the wall or other furniture, covered with a secure fitted sheet, in a child-proof room.
• Remove pillows and blankets during the early months and, instead, dress warmly for sleep. Avoid nightwear with strings or ribbons and tie up long hair when sleeping with an infant.
• If you sleep very deeply, find it hard to wake up, or have been drinking alcohol, or an infant will be sleeping beside dad or siblings, instead of between you and the wall, use a cradle or crib near your bedside or a “sidecar” arrangement.