In this case, it is something that has worked for me. This topic is on sleep habits; specifically, getting a baby/toddler to go to sleep. Today, I broke one of my own rules, mainly because I saw a selfish opportunity to hold onto a baby moment while I still can. And, after 18 months, I feel comfortable that this one day will not ruin all my work leading up to this moment.
While none of my three kids really slept through the night until they were one (meaning, 10-12 hours straight), I have always had tremendous luck in getting them to go to sleep. I attribute that to two practices. One, I do my best to maintain a consistent schedule every single day, which includes a nap time and bed time that will get my child into his bed before he is too tired (this is a real thing!). And, two, the routine leading up to sleep time is the same every day.
Nap time is always the same and bed time is always the same every day. Over time, you learn how much sleep your baby requires in a 24-hour period. You also learn at what time they really get sleepy. Once you learn this, make sleep time about 30 minutes before that. Putting your baby in his crib before he is asleep or before he gets too tired is a great habit to start at an early age.
This leads me to my rule breaking today. We had an active morning with music class, followed by Kid Zone play at the gym while I exercised. Baby was tired, so by the time I got to singing and rocking him, his eyelashes all of a sudden seemed to weigh 10 pounds. I just sat there and kept humming until he was asleep. (Sigh. My heart melts.) All parents love this moment, but IMHO, it’s a tough habit to break, making it that much harder for your child to ever fall asleep on his own or in the care of someone else. And, the earlier you start teaching your child to fall asleep on his own, the easier it is on everyone.
After baby is used to this, naptime and bedtime will result in very little fussing or crying—this assuming your baby is healthy and that infants with colic have grown out of that. You will hear this from many different people, and I believe in it 100 percent … “Kids not only need a routine, they want a routine.” This applies to rules, too. This reminds me, I’ll have to share our rules in a future blog.
Of course there are days when the baby might be forced to sleep in a stroller or in the car, or we may get home late from being at a friend or relatives house. He has two older siblings, making it impossible to be home for nap time every single day. But, because he is well-rested from consistencies on most other days, I find it is easier to get him to sleep if he isn’t in his own bed. Then, if it is a short nap, it’s just one day, so it doesn’t disrupt his life too much.
Also, having a few things you do leading up to naptime will make it easier if you are in a situation where your little one can’t sleep in his own bed. Even if you are able to do one or two of those things, it can send the message that it’s time to go to bed. It doesn’t have to be much. At naptime, I give him milk, change his diaper, and sing him a song while I rock him for a couple minutes. Then, I lay him down with his pacifier and lovie bear. At night, he gets a bath, milk, teeth brushing, massage with lotion, clean jammies, a song, a pacifier, and his lovie bear. If I can carry out a few of these before bed in a strange place, he recognizes it’s part of bed time.
Another trick that has worked is teaching sign language for “sleep.” You can have the strictest schedule, but some days, your little one might feel tired prior to his scheduled nap time. If I know my little guy is well-fed, well-hydrated, and getting the attention he wants, but still acts fussy, I will ask him if he wants to go night-night and do the sign for sleep. If that’s it, he will do the sign back and run to the steps waiting for me to take him up. He won’t always sleep, but sometimes I think he just needs a little alone time. I know how he feels! His siblings are a lot to take at times. (BTW, I started teaching sign language to my children right away, but their use of signs to communicate with me didn’t start until about 9 months to a year. My point is, don’t worry if you’ve been signing with your baby for 6 months and nothing is happening. One day it will just click and be so rewarding for both of you.)
One more bit of advice in getting your child to sleep, especially when they know what bugs are. Do NOT use the phrase, “Good night, sleep tight, don’t let the bed bugs bit.” I repeat, do NOT use that phrase, unless you want to change sheets, vacuum the floor around his bed, and sleep with him that night. See, now you can learn from one of my mistakes! Sweet dreams!
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