“Don’t call me, I’ll call you” became my mom’s “goodnight” when I was a young child.
I called out in the night… often.
Many of those call-outs resulted in either my mom curling up in bed with me for the rest of the night or me curling up with her in her bed. I knew it wasn’t her favorite thing about our relationship (hence the goodnight wishes at bedtime... More like goodnight wishful thinking. Amiright?!), but I also knew she’d come.
Kids know what we’re not saying.
What my mom was saying without words was, “I will be here when you call, but I’m a little frustrated that this is our nightly thing. But, I don’t know what else to do… so even though we’re tired and we both need uninterrupted sleep, we’ll keep doing this until it eventually stops.” (My mom communicates a lot without words.)
If I could help my mom with me, these are the 3 things I’d share with her:
1. Build up her confidence.
When something becomes habitual it can feel impossible to live without it.
It also becomes a security blanket. Predictable.
When your child sees you every night then (what seems suddenly to them) you decide to not do that anymore, they can question if they can make it through the night without you. Then they’ll mull over the “what ifs” (especially for an anxious-prone child).
There’s a lack of confidence that they can sleep through the night without you.
So, let’s build up that confidence! We know they can sleep through the night without you, especially if they have before. Though, no amount of “convincing” will work (again, children hear what you’re not saying.), these are a few of my favorite ways to genuinely encourage your child to sleep through the night in their own bed.
Quality time. Whether you work out of the home, in the home, you’re a stay-at-home parent or a variation of the 3, there needs to be time for intentional connection every day. It doesn’t need to be extremely long, but it does need to be distraction-free (no phones, computers, television) and child-led. Enter into your child’s world. Let them teach you their favorite game (where the rules change as soon as you start to win), get down on their level, practice hearing more than their words, and just be with them. This time of connection will fill their emotional needs, help strengthen your relationship, and make it easier for them to separate from you for the longest stretch of time each day, through the night.
Role-playing expectations. Filling up that emotional bucket is a crucial part of this, but odds are it won’t magically make your child sleep all night in their room without a fuss. So, have a plan! Create “if/then” scenarios based on your expectations and act them out with your child during your quality time. For example, if you wake in the night and need me, then talk to me through the monitor and I’ll respond.
A routine and routine cards. Routines bring such confidence because once they’re learned, they can be done independently. With routine cards, your child can have independence even while they’re learning the routine because you won’t need to be guiding them through each step. I’ve created these coloring book-style routine cards for you for another opportunity for your child to make the routine theirs. Let your child color them (and then laminate if you’re feeling fancy) and display them in the order of the routine. (Using a string with small clothespins to hang the cards, velcro and a felt board, or a pocket chart are a few ideas.) Talk with your child about the routine as they’re coloring. Then, when it’s time for sleep, let them be in charge of moving to the next card.
Toddler clock. Toddlers and preschoolers love to flex their independence (except for, you know, in the middle of the night) and the toddler clock is so helpful with that while also helping move them through their routine. It also is a huge help in keeping them in bed until the desired wake-up time.
The toddler clock shows colors to tell the time instead of (or sometimes in addition to) the actual time. You program the clock to light up the color you choose and the sound you’d like (or no sound) during a certain timeframe. For instance, setting the clock to shine red while they’re in bed tells your toddler it’s time to be in bed (“Red for bed”) and will also be a good night light if you choose to use one (red is the only color I recommend having for a night light).
I prefer the Hatch toddler clock because it connects to your phone via Bluetooth and you’re able to control it and program it from there.
Here’s how I recommend using the toddler clock:
Have 4 set colors:
Green for getting ready for bed,
Yellow for the last few minutes before bed for snuggles and prayer and for your toddler to grab the last sip of water, potty break, extra snuggle, any “stalling” tactic they may have tried before, now is the time for that.
Red when it’s time for bed - into bed; goodnight.
The fourth color can be whatever color your child chooses - this is the color that will come on when it’s time for them to get up. I also like to have the birds chirping sound effect come on with the color, too. They’ll then know it’s time to get up! This really helps with early risings and will encourage them to stay in bed. They’ll know that if they wake and the light is still red or off, they can go back to sleep or lay there quietly.
2. Have a plan.
Let’s face it, making decisions in the middle of the night isn’t the best plan. So, make the decisions before nightfall. If a decision-making situation occurs in the night, it’s far easier to implement what you’ve already decided when your brain was more cooperative.
When it comes to encouraging your child to stay in their room, there are two types of approaches to take: proactive and responsive. One is not better than the other, they’re meant to work together.
A proactive approach is a measure taken before the middle-of-the-night wake-up or the leaving of their room. A few examples of proactive methods are:
The details above about building up your child’s confidence.
Securing your child in their room with either a baby gate or safety lock. (This is optional!)
The lock is 100% for safety reasons and clear boundary-setting ONLY - not a form of punishment. Nor should it ever be used as one. Think about it, if your child sleepwalks and/or is leaving their room in the middle of the night without your knowledge, the home is wide open to them. Some children are able to unlock the main doors to the house and that can cause another reason for concern. This can be a dangerous situation and having some form of lock on their door or a baby gate (if they can’t climb it or get it open) can keep them safe. I like the Door Monkey because it doesn’t require you to screw into your walls and also allows the door to open slightly.
If you choose to use a lock, talk to your child about it - let them know why you’re putting it on and that just because it’s latched does not mean you won’t respond to them. You’ll still hear them (I recommend having a monitor, even if it’s audio only) and you’re still there for them.
3. Talking positively about sleep, why we need it, and how it helps us.
Here are some ideas of things to share:
When we sleep our brains make connections and forms memories and our bodies get stronger.
Everyone in the whole world sleeps. Babies need lots of sleep and we need less as we get older. Share with them how much sleep they need. (Not sure how much sleep they need? Check out this resource!)
Sleeping is like breathing, our bodies just know how to do it!
Dreams are like movies our minds play for us while we sleep. Share some fun dreams you’ve had and see if they’ll share any of theirs.
Responsive approaches are taken during sleep times and/or if your child is getting out of bed. These are ways you thoughtfully respond to your child’s behavior. Some responsive approaches are:
Jingle bells on your bedroom door. This, in conjunction with approach number 2, is used if you choose not to use a lock on your child’s door. Many families I’ve worked with that struggled with a small, middle-of-the-night bed-intruder said that most of the time they didn’t even hear them come in. Insert the jingle bells. When your child opens your bedroom door the bells are meant to wake you so you can implement The Silent Return.
The Silent Return. The name really says it all. When your child comes out of their room, you make no remark and (try your best to) show no frustration or upset. You quietly and compassionately guide them back to their room. Sometimes that may look like carrying them. You can do this at bedtime and throughout the night. I will say, there are many kids who will need 50-100 returns. So, be prepared for the long haul. To reduce the likelihood of so many returns, you can use it in conjunction with another sleep training method.
A sleep training method. There’s a wide variety of sleep training methods out there from very involved to hands-off. Objectively, no one method is better than another, it comes down to what works best for your child, you, and your family.
When it comes to choosing a method, here are a few things to consider:
Your child’s temperament. Typically, children that are the easy, go-with-the-flow type do well with just about any method. Children that lean more towards the strong-willed, stubborn temperament often do better with the more hands-off methods.
Your temperament and threshold for handling big emotions. Essentially, know your boundaries and what you can stay consistent with. If your child is strong-willed and you know they’d do better with a more hands-off approach, but you also know that you cannot not be involved during the training time, instead of trying the full-on cry-it-out method and giving in, use a leave-and-check approach with longer waits between checks to allow space for your child to learn and allow you to be more involved.
Your family dynamics and other responsibilities. Also, take into consideration whether or not it’s plausible for you to do certain methods. If you have other children to tend to, a sit-in-the-room approach may not be the best option for your family.
3. Stay consistent.
Much like anything in regards to our health and well-being, consistency is key. We can’t eat a single salad or do a single workout and expect major changes. The same is true for our child’s sleep (and our own)!
Also true to most things we start in regards to our health (including sleep),
the beginning is hard.
it gets easier the longer we stick with it.
The best way to stay consistent is to make a plan that suits your family best.
But know that being consistent does not mean the plan you make is set in stone. Adjustments may need to be made. If you feel that’s the case, make them after giving the plan a few days and make the adjustments known to your child while emotions are calm and under control. Your child should be included in the planning process, not just during the implementation because
This plan is to be done with them, not to them.
Changing habits is hard work - especially when the habits that need changing are ones done when we’re the most tired - but, by building up your child’s confidence, creating a suitable plan for your family, and staying consistent will bring about the change you crave and need!
You got this!!