Bedtime Doesn’t Have to be Stressful
By Wendy Priesnitz
How to get babies and young
children to go to
sleep is a subject that seems to consume the parenting
advice world. Should you “sleep train,” let them “cry it out,”
“self-soothe,” or use the “no-cry solution”? I
don't think any of the above are appropriate...or necessary.
Most of us want to get our
children to sleep because we are tired, or we want or need some time
alone to do work, be with our partner, or decompress from a hectic day.
At the same time, it can seem like an eighteen-month-old child’s sole
mission in life is to evade sleep.
But I’d like to suggest a big
picture perspective in which you trust your infant and small child to
sleep when they’re ready, and for how long they need to. Most children will eventually
adopt a somewhat regular sleep rhythm – especially if you’re providing
good nutrition, modeling a regular schedule, and helping them learn to
So can you adjust
rather than expect your infant or small child to do so? After all, in
too short a time, the problem will be to get the kid out of bed in time
for school or hockey practice! So rather than seeing your child’s desire
to stay awake as a problem, why not try to rearrange your time and
attitude so you can enjoy the evening hours?
It also helps to remember that
young children aren’t naturally independent sleepers. When mom, dad, and
the kids (and a pet or two once the children are past the baby stage)
snuggle together in a safe
(see below), the fear of being alone (or of
missing out on what everyone else is doing), which often underlies sleep
struggles, just doesn’t exist. No matter what you might be told,
in fact, it's normal in much of the world.
Once the fight to beat the clock
has been removed, you can cherish the quiet time spent with your little
one: reading, singing, or just chatting. Try to share off the time with
your partner or an older sibling, so you do manage to get occasional
evening time for yourself.
Accept that extended bedtime is
just another aspect of parenting and make room in your life for it most
nights. You will, of course, receive lots of hard-to-ignore advice from
family and friends about bedtime and what your child should be doing and
when. But seek out conversation with those who are also dedicated to
creating secure attachments as a way for children to be happy, healthy,
Refuse to compare your child and
your family to others. Trust in your child’s ability to eventually
self-regulate. Work on your resentment (which can be followed by guilt);
remember that your baby is not trying to control or manipulate you –
they’re only doing what comes naturally.
This time in your children’s
life is fleeting. Relax and cherish it for the precious, short phase
that it is.
A Safe Family Bed
• Sleep on a large, flat, firm
mattress or futon, preferably on the floor, with no cracks or space
between it and the wall or other furniture, covered with a secure fitted
sheet, in a child-proof room.
• Remove pillows and blankets
during the early months and, instead, dress warmly for sleep. Avoid
nightwear with strings or ribbons and tie up long hair when sleeping
with an infant.
• If you sleep very deeply, find
it hard to wake up, or have been drinking alcohol, or an infant will be
sleeping beside dad or siblings, instead of between you and the wall,
use a cradle or crib near your bedside or a “sidecar” arrangement.
Wendy Priesnitz is Natural Child
Magazine’s founding editor, and author of thirteen
books. Her two adult
daughters grew up with neither bedtimes nor school.