It is the middle of the night, your wife is holding a screaming baby as she walks around the house, shushing; trying to keep him quiet. You are dozing in and out, partially awake, but hoping to get some sleep. Then the inevitable, you wife comes to you and says “I can’t take it anymore,” so you get up, take the baby and try to get him to sleep. Sometimes you are successful, others times you tag your wife back to the ring. Sound familiar, dads or am I the only one? What to do to help a child sleep?
We know sleep is important. Sleep for children is crucial. During quality sleep, children develop mentally and physically. Without sleep, not only are children irritable, but they do not get sufficient time to grow. A recent Sleep Foundation poll shows many children are not getting enough sleep each night, by 1-2 hours.
In 1 Corinthians 6: 19-20, God tells us the importance of taking care of our bodies. One of the ways to take care of ourselves and the ones we love is to encourage sleep.
The steps required to help your child sleep better are a lot like steps to build a new house. Preparation and hard work go into both. Let’s get all the materials we need, put on a hard hat (there might be some flying objects) and get started.
Before building a house you need to survey the land. The same goes for bedtime. Tell your children that bedtime is soon, “We will be getting ready for bed in 5 minutes.” At our house, we give our kids a choice, “Do you want to go to bed now or in 2 minutes.” They always choose 2 minutes, imagine that.
Through trial and error, my wife and I found that after dinner it is best to let our kids engage in two different activities. The first, let them release some energy; dance, jump, play. The second, a calm activity; they read, they color, they do puzzles.
Once the situation is appraised, check the blueprint or bedtime routine. The bedtime routine is a plan you do each night. The routine needs to be well-thought out and have a consistent order. The blueprint should last anywhere from 15-30 minutes and start it 15-30 minutes before lights out. The routine can consist of any or all: brush teeth, bath, read a book, prayer, sing, massage, hugs. More bedtime routine details are available.
Our kids have the same routine, making it easy to remember. If we forgot a step, I am confident they would remind us. It is difficult with two kids, but more on that later. Our bedtime routine goes like this: brush teeth, put on pajamas, one song, two stories, prayer, hugs, and goodnight, lights out.
Now that we have a blueprint, we build the foundation. The foundation holds up the structure and, yes, having a bedtime routine is important but we need something to hold it together. Let’s try- consistency. Depending on the age, a child needs a certain amount of sleep. It is best to tuck them in at the same time each night and wake them (yes, wake them if you must) at the same time each morning. As they get older they will need less sleep, so they can stay up later, but make sure they still get their required sleep.
A plan is no good unless you follow it, every night. After a few consistent nights going to bed at the same time and with a bedtime routine your child’s internal clock will help them fall asleep. Being consistent is more difficult during the summer months, it is lighter outside longer and no school, but the blueprint cannot change. Once the foundation cracks, you have a big problem.
The support for the house comes from the frame. The support for a consistent bedtime routine comes with working as a team. Time to step up, dads! Support your wife, when she tells the kids it is time for bed. Support your wife and participate in doing the bedtime routine (critical when juggling multiple kids with overlapping bedtime routine). Support your wife and don’t let her get off schedule.
I come home with only about an hour of time to spend with my kids before they go to bed. Some of that time is eating dinner. How do I maximize time with my kids? I do half of the bedtime routine. Brushing teeth, putting on pajamas, songs, and reading one story falls under the (as my son says) “Daddy Do.” It is the best part of my workday.
With support in place, we start the exterior. Make sure your child’s room is set up with ideal sleeping conditions. The temperature for a child’s room should be between 65-70 degrees. Blackout curtains are helpful, especially during summer months. A white noise machine is optional but has benefits. Different ages require different amounts of sleep.
According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, a babies room needs only a good construction crib and firm fitting sheets. No bumpers or wedges. For safety, do not add a blanket until 12 months of age. Babies should not have stuffed animals or toys in their crib. Most experts say a child can have a stuffed animal at bedtime when they reach 1 year old.
Everything is finished. Now you can enjoy a quiet evening, or so you thought. The voice from the doorway fills the hall “Can I have a drink of water?” or one of 20,000 excuses. When they get up, without saying a word to them, take them back to their room. It may take awhile, but soon they will learn to stay in bed.
We use a ‘One Pass’ technique. Each evening our daughter receives a pass, really a paint chip. She uses that pass to get up, be it for a drink of water, another cuddle, etc. Once that pass is used, there are no more questions or leaving the room.
Once everything is complete don’t renovate the house, just do some rearranging, as needed. When a child gets older they need less sleep, but don’t go change everything for one extra hour of awake time. Keep everything the same and add more to the pre-bedtime activities.
Here is your one pass- the 80/20 rule. It is crazy to think that you will be able to get your child in for bed and naps every day at the exact same time; life happens, outings happen, vacations happen. That is why we follow the 80/20 rule. Meaning, 80% of the time we are strict about bedtime and 20% the kids get to bed late or skip a nap. For us, that works out to once every two weeks they are not in bed at the appointed time.
We have designed and constructed our bedtime plan. There is work involved with getting to sleep, but once the routine is in place bedtimes go easier, for everyone. It can be done. Then dust off your hands, sit back and enjoy what you have built.