Is it 7:00 yet?
This is the question I asked my other half as we sat at the dinner table the other night with our two children. We love them dearly, but honestly, we don’t always love their company.
Each was refusing to eat in their own way – the one-year-old wanting to bang the spoon and fling food with his new-found motor skills, his older sister unnervingly exhibiting behaviour that friends have described to me as the “threenager”.
It was all run-of-the-mill parenting stuff, with a few things we could probably work on (okay, we’re actually failing miserably at French parenting à la “Bringing Up Bébé”).
But I look forward to bedtime; it’s the easiest part of my day. Since we embarked on sleep training our first child (we hired a Sleep Sense consultant three years ago), bedtime has been pretty much a cakewalk. I’m not bragging here – we did way more than our share of late-night laps around the neighbourhood. Also see previous paragraphs.
A phrase I often hear with respect to children’s sleep is “bedtime battles.” I shudder at what that might look like for some families, especially with multiple children. But I don’t believe there are inherently good or bad kids; just well-rested ones and overtired ones. Battles ensue when overtired kids get wound up and just can’t co-operate. Often there’s just a subtle lack of routine or boundaries. And even the most energetic parents can hit the wall and not be at their best at 6 p.m.
Was sleep training hard? Yes. Were there moments of doubt while I sat beside my baby whispering to her as she learned to fall asleep on her own? Yes. Do I have any regrets? Hell no! I barely remember the one week it took to change all our lives. By all accounts, neither does she. There has been so much LESS crying ever since we sleep trained.
Before sleep training, our baby’s overtiredness from not having independent sleep skills – being breastfed to sleep, carrier-walked to sleep, car-driven to sleep – created ear-piercing wail-a-thons on a regular basis. That all pretty much ended after three nights on the job.
My second baby gradually learned how to sleep independently from the beginning with just a few simple ideas (we weren’t going down that exhausting road twice). He’s not been perfect, but putting him down for nap or nighttime is simple, gentle and easy.
So when 7 p.m. comes, I know that all will be calm and quiet, and my husband and I will get some time to relax, read, talk, work and – oh yeah – sleep.
So perhaps you’re thinking what I thought: “Fine for you but that would never work for my child!”
That’s what we've all thought ("we" being those on the other side of sleeplessness). Mine had a strong will, a set of lungs that would bring the house down and an apparent congenital disdain for shut-eye.
But all healthy babies have it in them to sleep well. Even those with physical or mental challenges can learn when given the opportunity and the right guidance. As well-meaning parents, we often get in their way; then the well-meaning strategy becomes habit.
And then it stops working.
The number one mistake we as parents make is thinking our high-energy child isn't tired enough at 6:30 or 7 p.m. and so we keep them up later to "tire them out". When kids get overtired, they get wired (likely just the first of many ways they will yank our chains over the course of 18 years).
The second biggest mistake is varying the routine, or not having one, often because we're losing steam at the end of a long day. But cultivating your inner drill sergeant and keeping the list of to-dos ticking along before bedtime will do wonders if you keep it up.
And definitely no screen time at least 90 minutes before bed.
If after using these tactics you still have a nightly ritual of bedtime battles, whether they involve driving a baby around the block 45 times or wrestling a toddler into pyjamas, there is a way out. And everyone wins.
Call me and we’ll chat about it. 15-minute consults are free. 604-789-0850.