Updated: Apr 26, 2021
To build a secure relationship with your child, you must have 4 things... playfulness, interaction, flexibility, and sensitivity.
Those 4 things come pretty instinctually to many parents. Although we may not be great at all 4 of those things at all times, out of all the parents I talk to, despite any number of seemingly endless parenting challenges they may face, their relationship with their child and the bond they have spent so much time and effort building is #1 on their hearts.
So when I speak with parents about sleep challenges, one of the biggest concerns I hear goes something like this... "I am desperate for more sleep, and for my child to sleep better, and to not have to spend my entire night getting my child to sleep... but crying and punishments and making my child feel sad just don't sit well with me. I don't want to make my child feel unloved."
Parents are desperate for sleep, but not at the expense of their child's feelings.
The good news is, it is possible to teach your child to sleep well, to set boundaries, and include all 4 of the necessary components of building a secure relationship all at the same time.
Here are a few examples.
So, if you have the kiddo who gets a second wind just before bedtime, you may have serious concerns about being too playful as you are trying to get your kiddo to wind down. Obviously we don't want to be super playful while our child is trying to fall asleep. However, there are many ways to be playful within the parameters of a relatively calm bedtime routine.
A few ideas...
Be silly when brushing teeth - Lots of kiddos resist getting their teeth brushed during bedtime routine, so this is a great way to introduce some playfulness. As you are brushing your kiddos teeth you can call out all the different foods they have eaten throughout the day. Kids love this. "Oh, there is your banana for breakfast. I see the PBJ from lunch! Got to get that noodle from dinner."
Make voices when reading books - Attempt an English accent when reading Peppa Pig, make animal sounds, or give each character a different voice
Play Simon Says - If you have a kid who is an energizer bunny at bedtime, play Simon Says... "Simon says pick out your pajamas, Simon says have a dance party, Simon says freeze, Simon says go to the bathroom and go potty", etc...
Many parents include a quiet activity as part of bedtime routine, like reading books, singing songs, saying prays, having a few minutes of talk time. This is great to introduce to newborns, is a great way to help wind down for toddlers and preschoolers, and will become treasured time for older school aged children.
If your kids are at school or daycare all day, this is also a great time to connect, give your undivided attention, and get some good quality 1:1 time every day, no matter how busy your day may be.
Let your kiddos make as many bedtime choices as possible. They should choose the PJs they wear, the book you are going to read, even let them get their bedtime responsibilities done in the order they want.
Many parents are used to making these small choices for kiddos when they are young. As soon as your toddler is old enough, however, hand over some of the decision making to him or her.
Even small bits of control will help bedtime be a bit more palatable for your little one. Then, when you need to hold other boundaries firm, your little one has already had some control during bedtime, and is less likely to resist every request you make.