Getting your child to follow a consistent sleep schedule is arguably one of the hardest parts of parenting. Kids grow and change, and their sleep habits follow suit. Your newborn could sleep wonderfully, but then hit a growth spurt and develop the worst case of FOMO you've ever seen at 2 a.m. To help your child get into a good sleep routine and foster better rest, you may need to pull a few rabbits out of your hat, so to speak, because kids can be tricky. One such trick is to employ positive parenting techniques for sleep.
"Positive parenting techniques not only at bedtime, but all throughout the day, can help reduce the stalling, meltdowns, testing limits and crying at bedtime," Elisa Costanza and Pam Larouche, early childhood educators and baby and child sleep consultants at Restful Parenting tell Romper. "Having strategies to stay calm when our children show their feelings about that limit that you have just set can help parents set limits and boundaries with confidence. Our children will feel more secure and confident with the boundaries we are setting, if we are confident ourselves."
Regardless of whether or not your kid wants to do it, sleep is crucial for your child. According to reports by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), kids who don't get enough sleep are at higher risk for developing certain health problems including "obesity, diabetes, poor mental health, and injuries." The CDC also reports that poor sleep can lead to behavior problems and lack of concentration in school-aged children. Trying to keep these positive parenting techniques front and center when it comes time for bedtime can help ensure that your kids get the rest they truly need.
1. Kids Can Help Choose Bedtime Routines
You may have a sleep routine for your kids, but if it isn't working, Tonja Bizor, a certified Sleep Sense consultant and owner of Toja B's Sleep Consulting, tells Romper that allowing kids to participate in choosing their bedtime routine can help the entire process go more smoothly.
"Kids thrive on routines, and setting clear instructions on how bedtime occurs each and every night will help your child get the rest that they need. To take it a step further, in a positive parenting technique, allow your child to choose what goes into the routine and how to implement it," she says. "A bedtime routine is a great way to spend quality time with your child. The parent and child can choose the bedtime activities together, which can increase the positive attention the child receives and increase the likelihood that the child complies."
2. Create A Bedtime Chart
We live and die by sticker charts in my house. They're low-cost, empowering for kids, and reinforce positive behaviors like sticking to a bedtime routine consistently. "A chart is helpful because it leaves no room for stalling behaviors such as 'one more glass of water' or 'one more trip downstairs to get another stuffed animal,'" says Jamie Engelman, MS and Pediatric Sleep Consultant with Oh Baby Sleep consulting. "If you have a major staller on your hands, you may consider using stickers or check marks to mark the end of each step of the bedtime routine. You can even set a time limit and if your little one brushes their teeth or gets their pajamas on before time runs out, they can mark that step complete with a sticker. Keeping expectations clear and the routine peaceful goes a long way in helping children fall asleep more easily."
3. Knowledge Is Power
"Parents need to ensure that they understand how much sleep their child needs based on their age. A sleep deprived child can be cranky and have several temper tantrums," says Bizor.
Arming yourself with information about how much sleep your child needs can help you reinforce the need for your child to go to sleep at a certain time and explain this to your child in a positive way. The CDC has different recommendations based on age for how much sleep a child needs, so it is best to check their sleep chart to see how much sleep your child should be getting, or speak to your pediatrician.
4. Give Kids A Choice
"I also recommend parents giving their kiddos some autonomy during the bedtime process," says Engelman. "There is a lot about bedtime that is non-negotiable: the time it happens, the fact that they can't stall for hours, that they need to lay in their beds and fall asleep, etc. Giving your child some control over which pajamas he wears or which two books you're going to read can help reduce any pushback you might get from willful toddlers and children."
I can personally say that having my kids pick out their pajamas and the books we read has totally changed bedtime — the meltdowns are fewer and farther between for sure.
5. Reassurance Is Vital
Heidi Holvoet, PhD, sleep consultant and founder of BabySleepAdvice.com, tells Romper that reassurance and trust-building are key strategies to employ when utilizing positive parenting techniques at bedtime. "Rather than having to cry for ages to get mom or dad to come, it's incredibly empowering for an anxious child to learn that she's OK to stay in bed alone for a few moments, without crying for mom or dad, knowing they'll come and check on her. That builds trust and confidence that quickly helps with staying alone for longer and so establishing strong positive sleep habits that last a lifetime," she says.
6. Quality Time Together During The Day
Bedtime struggles often start long before nightfall even approaches. Dr. Holvoet recommends ensuring that kids receive plenty of attention during the day so that they don't feel such a need to demand it at bedtime.
"Stalling is a wonderful technique many children use to win that little bit of extra time with their parents before bed, or just to delay having to go to sleep. You can pre-empt that big-time first of all by ensuring plenty of quality time during the day — playing together, reading books and solving puzzles, lots of cuddling, one-on-one time per child if there are siblings, etc. Sometimes even spending just 10 extra minutes of true quality time a day can make all the difference," she says.
7. Make Bedtime A Chance For Them To Unload Their Feelings
"When children are given the time to decompress from their day, it can lead to a better night’s rest. Some easy ways to incorporate that are reading, guided meditation, yoga, relaxing music. Talk time is another great time for your little ones to connect with you, to decompress and offload their emotions from the day," Costanza and Larouche tell Romper. "Allowing them the time to offload their big feelings is a great first step. Children cannot overcome those big feelings towards frustrations and stresses that have happened in their day without having a safe space to be allowed to let them out. Otherwise, the feelings get pent up and it sits with them all day/night and if held in, they will explode at some point."
8. Consistency Is Key
Sticking with positive parenting techniques for sleep can be tricky as kids begin to develop new habits or just grow older, but Costanza and Larouche tell Romper that staying the course is best. "As children get older, the bedtime routine starts to shift a little. Being consistent is still really important though — not just with the bedtime routine but also with what time they are going to bed at from night to night," they say. "The more consistent you can be, the easier the bedtimes will be."