Whether embarking on helping your baby to sleep more independently or battling another round of anxiety in your older child, routines and rituals are keys to success – both theirs and yours. When the time comes to turn out the lights, separation anxiety, fears, and stalling can creep in, quickly turning your peaceful independent sleeper into a tearful, clingy “just one more” and “don’t goooo!” mess. Here are 3 tips to get you back on track and save your sanity.
1. Have a Clear and Consistent Routine Never underestimate the power of a routine for your baby, toddler, or older child. Knowing what happens next and when the routine will end prepares the body for sleep and creates a sense of security that can go a long way toward decreasing stalling tactics and anxiety. Elements of your routine should remain the same from night to night, and be carried out in the same order -- such as “We read one book, we sing two songs, then Mommy will turn out the light, and blow one last kiss.” Some experts recommend reading the same few books and singing the same songs, especially when first instituting a routine. Hearing the same lyrics each night sends signals to the body and the brain that, in time, will make your child begin to feel sleepy. As well, novelty can be too stimulating for some children. If reading the same books isn’t an option, consider creating a small group of bedtime books from which your child can choose. A clear understanding of what comes next (and what doesn’t) is helpful, not only for our little ones but for us as parents too!
2. Create a goodbye ritual Children have trouble letting go of the day. And while turning out the light can be difficult, a closing ritual comfortably signals that the routine is over and sleep is now the only option whether you are leaving the room or staying until your little one is asleep. My son is a Master Staller - always asking me to stay for “one more minute” or wanting to tell me “something very important”.
Combine his stalling expertise with a 3 year olds typical nighttime fears, and I soon realized we needed a routine to redirect all that anxious energy and get me out of that room peacefully! Enter rocketship kisses. Since my son loves all things outer space and anything that is silly and exaggerated, and since humor dispels anxiety, I suggested he throw me a “rocketship kiss”. I stood at the bedroom door and he threw me my kiss. I pretended that his kiss was so powerful it launched me down the hallway very dramatically, complete with knocking into walls and sound effects. He found it so funny that he forget to be anxious and began looking forward to the end of the nightly bedtime routine.
The tradition has grown and morphed into other silly types of kisses. Each night I let my son choose what kinds of kisses he will throw and whether he will throw one, two or three. Of course, he always chooses three, but providing the option gives him a measure of control -- which brings me to my final tip.
3. Provide Limited Choices Every ritual or routine must suit your baby’s age and abilities. The older your child, the more options you can provide, but always keep it simple and allow your child to think he or she is controlling the process. The trick? Use choices only when appropriate and determine what those choices are. For example, rather than “Which pajamas do you want to wear? ask “Do you want to wear your green pjs or the blue ones?” Rather than “How many books do you want to read?” ask “Shall we read three books or two?” Preschoolers often feel powerless so if cooperation is what you are after, allow your child to make choices.
Where can you add elements to prepare your child’s body for sleep and create a sense of security? With a little thought, you can create your own “rocketship kisses” and be well on your way to a more peaceful bedtime!