Getting ready for some precious alone time with your partner on Valentine's Day? You're going to want baby to sleep well then! This week we've got an amazing guest post you won't want to miss- from Lucy Shrimpton, AKA the Sleep Nanny! Lucy is an author, speaker, trainer and mother of two who knows first hand what it's like to feel extreme sleep deprivation and face challenges with infant sleep. She believes that every family can have a healthier and happier life with improved sleep- and here are her top tips!
Whatever your bedtime routine, there is one very important rule to follow, something that I repeat over and over again to parents: always be consistent and use the same steps every day. If you do this, your child will know what’s coming next and there are no surprises – it’s all very rhythmic. Use the same steps in the same order right from the beginning (as early as 2-3 weeks), because even young babies start to learn and understand those patterns straightaway. The routine can evolve, of course, as your little one gets older, but then you must be consistent with those new steps.
End of the day, gentle play
A lot of parents feel that their child’s bedtime routine begins some hours before they go to bed, but that shouldn’t be the case. There needs to be a clear distinction between the quieter, ‘winding down’ activities that are still part of their day, and the actual bedtime routine.
If there is too much fuss and excitement just before bedtime, that’s not conducive to settling down to sleep. Things that excite them – such as parents arriving home from work and stimulating TV shows – will create extra adrenaline, so you need to have a process that calms them.
Also, devices with screens emit blue light that signals the brain to release hormones that wake up the body, making it much harder for children to settle down. It’s fine to have that time with the TV or the iPad, but I would say take the screens away at least half an hour before you begin the bedtime routine. CBeebies do a wonderfully calm bedtime hour, but that runs from 6pm to 7pm, which is when many little ones should be going to bed. How about recording it and watching it the next day at an earlier time?
Once the screens are off, you can enjoy quiet time together reading books, solving puzzles or playing memory games, which are proven to aid learning to read. It’s a nice way for children to unwind and for you to bond with them.
Sleep’s ahead, ready for bed
After you’ve spent an hour or so winding down at the end of the day, now it’s time to start the bedtime routine. Once you go upstairs, or through to the bedroom, and start getting ready for bed, you need to stay upstairs (or out of the living area if you’re on one floor). From that point on, things should be very calm and consistent. Lots of little ones will get a bit hyper in the bath and have a great time, but it’s still part of that winding down process and that kind of excitement is totally fine.
After the bath it’s the perfect time for calming and soothing your little one and a lovely time to bond. Some people put in a massage and a snuggly cuddle wrapped up in their towels is something I still do with my children at six and eight years!
One of the key things to remember is that you must finish off the bedtime routine in the room where the child will go to sleep. If you take them back downstairs and watch TV for a while or do other things, then expect them to go straight to sleep, that’s not going to work.
The average bedtime routine should take no more than 30 to 45 minutes and making sure everything is quiet, relaxed and consistent will help to achieve this.
Joys or doubts, let’s talk it out
If your child has any anxieties about going to bed, the bedtime routine provides a good opportunity for them to release anything that’s going on in their mind. If a child complains about the “scaries”, it seems very silly to adults but if we just dismiss it as nonsense, that’s not very helpful. If you let them express what’s on their mind, you can acknowledge it and say, “Nothing can get into our house, you’re perfectly safe”, or reassure them that monsters aren’t real.
I work with a lot of children who wake up in the night to complain of bad dreams or troubling thoughts, so asking them, “What has made you happy or sad today? What have you learned?” will allow them to let out their thoughts. They may not even have anxiety; they might just be feeling restless or excited, but letting their feelings out will help them get ready to settle.
Off to deep and dreamy sleep
When children go to bed, they love to be tucked in, so saying to them, “I’ll tuck you in once, but if you get out, you’ll have to tuck yourself back in,” can work really well for keeping children under the covers all night.
If you’ve followed the steps above and helped your child to wind down before bed, there is a very good chance that they’ll enjoy a restful night’s sleep. If, however, your child wakes up in the night and calls out for you, there is no ‘one size fits all’ solution. The situation can be so different from one child to the next, even if they’re of similar age and circumstances. Some little ones are very stimulated by any presence in the room, so they need a lot of space in order to sleep. Others have big fears about being left alone, so they have to be gently weaned off having a parent with them.
There are so many scenarios and different ways of handling them, so whatever happens after lights out is down to the individual. If you need it, get expert advice to work out the bespoke solution that is best for your child. But the one universal rule that works is consistency – however you decide to deal with it, consistency is the key. The child needs to get the same response every time, regardless of which parent tends to them.