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.
They key here is finding flexibility within the boundaries that you have set. It is NOT getting taken advantage of by your toddler or preschooler because you are trying to be flexible.
Offering flexibility does not mean letting your child into bed with you because they want to sleep with you if that is not something that you want. Or reading 10 books because you are trying to be flexible, but it takes an hour to finish reading books and causes your kiddo to go to bed late.
If you need help setting boundaries check out my free Guide for Getting Bedtime Routine Back on Track. With it, you will get an email with lots of examples on how to set boundaries at bedtime.
For kiddos having a hard time falling asleep on their own at bedtime or overnight, go slow. Small gradual changes allows you to continue to help your child as he or she begins to learn new strategies and do big things!
Let's say your child currently requires you to sit in his room while he falls asleep and again when he wakes overnight. And you want him to fall asleep on his own, sleep through the night, and wake at an appropriate time in the morning. Sounds dreamy, right?
If your end goal (your child falling asleep independently, putting self back to sleep overnight) is your goal on day 1, your child is going to feel extremely overwhelmed, like that goal is impossible, and won't even be able to give it a try. Instead, teach your child strategies for accepting less help than he currently wants. Make small challenges each week. When your child achieves these small challenges, he will begin to feel really great about himself, feel like he can do challenging things, and will be able to ride off the momentum. Continue to make small challenges over a few weeks to gradually move your child from where he is to where you want him to be.
If this is something you need help with, call me! I would love to hear what challenges your kiddo is having and talk through how we can get your entire family sleeping better.
Katie Ramirez, RN, BSN, CLC
Born Happy, Owner and Coach
Katie Ramirez is a Registered Nurse, Certified Lactation Counselor, and Coach for parents of babies, toddlers, and preschoolers. She has spent more than a decade serving patients at major university hospitals such as Vanderbilt University and Penn State University Medical Centers. Katie now spends her time supporting and empowering parents of babies, toddlers, and preschoolers as founder and coach for Born Happy.
Katie is the proud mother of two beautiful children, Roberto (age 7), and Veronica (age 5). She has a passion for health, wellness, and happy children, and believes that, with the necessary knowledge and support, all parents can live happy.
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