During my practice as a sleep professional, I’ve gotten used to people asking me what the secret is to getting a baby to sleep through the night.
Of course, there is no ONE secret. Teaching a child healthy sleep habits is a combination of lots of different things.
But that doesn’t mean that there are not some shortcuts! Today I’d like to share with you 7 different shortcuts you can start trying over the next few nights to get your child sleeping better.
Here we go:
Sleep Shortcut #1: Watch the waking hours
One of the BIGGEST enemies of sleep is overtiredness. Many parents are surprised to learn just how soon their children get overtired. Here’s a quick guide to how long your child should be awake between naps during the day:
Newborn to 3 months: 45 minutes to 1 hour 15 minutes of awake time
3-5 months: 1.5-2 hours of awake time
6-8 months: 2-3 hours of awake time
9-12 months: 3-4 hours of awake time13 months to 2.5 years: 5-6 hours of awake time
If you make sure that your child is put down for naps BEFORE they get overtired, you will find that they fall asleep more easily at naptime AND that they are more relaxed at bedtime, too.
Sleep Shortcut #2: Don’t Be Afraid Of The Dark
We humans (babies and toddlers included) sleep better in the dark. Try making your child’s room as dark as possible. I recommend using blackout blinds, taping cardboard over the windows, or whatever it takes. In many cases, even the glow from a nightlight or a digital alarm clock can be enough to disrupt your child’s sleep cycle.
BONUS TIP: Try to keep your child’s room as dark as possible during daytime naps, too. This can often make a BIG difference in how long your child will nap during the day.
Sleep Shortcut #3: Be Predictable (And A Little Boring)
Babies and toddlers love predictable routines. And a predictable bedtime routine, lasting no longer than 45 minutes, is a great way to let your child know when the time for sleep is coming. Make sure that this routine is the same every single time. Remember, you want bedtime to be as predictable as possible for your child.
After your bedtime routine is complete, be boring. Lots of children will try to drag out bedtime by playing games, throwing toys out of the crib, standing up, etc. Don’t participate. If your child has thrown their blanket or favorite stuffed toy out of the crib, calmly return the item without saying a word.
Sleep Shortcut #4: Feed AFTER Naps, Not Before
The most common reason they infants and toddlers struggle to sleep has to do with a feeding-sleep association. They think that they need a bottle or nursing BEFORE they can fall asleep. By feeding right after nap-time instead of before you can help your child break this feeding-sleep association.
IMPORTANT NOTE: This strategy should only be used before naps, not before putting your child to bed for the night. A full tummy is needed to make sure your child does not wake up hungry during the night.
Sleep Shortcut #5: Same Place, Same Time
Remembering that our children love predictability, so it is a good idea to have your child sleep in the same place every day. For many parents, simply changing WHERE their child naps during the day causes a big improvement in the length and quality of nighttime sleep.
BONUS TIP: When you are putting your child to sleep for the night, it is a good idea to make sure that they fall asleep where you want them to stay asleep.
Sleep Shortcut #6: Try The 1, 2, 3 System
When your child wakes up during the night or during a nap and starts crying or fussing, try to wait a specific length of time before going in to check on them. The first day you try this, I recommend waiting exactly one minute before going in to check on your child. On the second day, wait two minutes. Three minutes on the third day, and so on. Why?
Why? Everyone, babies and toddlers included, will wake up briefly at the end of each 45-minute sleep cycle. Most adults wake so briefly that we do not even remember it in the morning. But children who have not learned to fall asleep independently need a little longer.
This 1, 2, 3 System gives your child the opportunity to get themselves back to sleep without your help.
Sleep Shortcut #7: Take Five
Before you put your child to bed, for naps or at nighttime, make sure the five-minute period before they are put to bed is very calm and relaxing.
The Next Step?
As I said, these are shortcuts and quick tricks that may help some parents get their children sleeping through the night. I do hope that you will be one of the lucky parents who are able to solve their children’s sleep problems using one of these tricks. If not I am also here for you if you need a little more guidance. Feel free to book a 15-minute free call to discuss your child’s sleep issues and how I can help.
I am a strong believer in that a Parenting Tool Box should be overflowing. The more tools (tips and tricks) you have up your sleeve as a parent, the more prepared you are to take on most situations. It would be nice to have an individual operation manual handed to you at the birth of your child. In lieu of the manual, build a humongous Parenting Toolbox. Fill the Toolbox with tips and tricks that fit your parenting style.
Before I became a parent myself, I had developed a pretty big toolbox (so I thought). This toolbox was filled with child development information, hands-on experience working with children, tips and tricks in dealing with lots a behaviour related issues and parenting ideas.
I got the information for my Parenting Toolbox through working with children and families, attending a number of work related seminars on child development, teaching parenting workshops and obtaining my 4-year Child Studies Degree from Mount Saint Vincent. Then I became a step-parent and biological parent.
Well, the information I had learned (and taught others) was helpful but it did not prepare me for the role as a parent. So I have been adding to my toolbox and helping others build/add to theirs.
I have been putting a great deal of thought into this blog post (my husband and children may think a little too much thought) in the hopes that the Parenting Tools I describe can help you add tools to your Parenting Toolbox.
In my opinion, the 4 R’s of Parenting are reflecting, reframing, rephrasing and redirecting.
Reflection is usually a good thing. It is the art of thinking back on something that happened. You can look back and see what was good and what can be changed for next time. A very important thing to remember is that you cannot change what you did; however, you can learn from it. Beating yourself up for it will not change it, it makes it worse.
Example: Reflecting back on our Christmas day 2013, our 2-year-old was pretty proud of everything he received including the dental floss wands in his stocking. Everyone in the family got an up close view of them as he shoved them in our face excitedly. We all showed our excitement for him. Even his teenage/adult brothers (14 and 18). It was very cute. Then the overload started to kick in. The look on our 2-year-old’s face started to change, so I dropped my presents and focused on him. He appeared to calm quickly, then got re-engaged in the fun. Opening a gift and running to play with it. Then he would get frustrated because someone had to put it together!
What did I learn by reflecting back? Overall, I was pretty darn pleased with the way things went. Next year we will assemble the toys before they get wrapped and I will make sure there are lots of floss wands around.
One of the things that my experience did teach me, is that you can find a positive in most situations. Sometimes you have to search for a positive; however, I believe things are easier to deal with when you can focus on the positive side of the situation.
Example: About ten years ago I facilitated a workshop for parents at the Junior High School I was working at. The focus of the workshop was to help parents deal with the changes in their child’s behaviour. One parent expressed her frustration with the fact that she seemed to constantly be at odds with her teenage son. She talked about the fact he was very “stubborn” and would get very angry if he did not get his way. We talked about how to look at the situation differently to reduce the anger and frustration she was feeling.
We discussed the fact that there will be times when her child would not agree with what was expected and that it was okay for her child to express his frustration. Here goes the reframe: I stated: “It sounds like you have a very persistent son.” She agreed, I then went on to describe a situation in our school where her persistent son used his skills in an amazing way. I explained that her boy spoke to many people in his class about treating another student in his class in a different manner.
Her son was very frustrated with another child in his class. He came to me to find out why the child acted the way he did. I could not say a great deal, but due to her son’s persistence, I explained that the boy in question had a difficult childhood that affected his ability to deal with other people. The day after our conversation her son made an effort to speak with the other student and told his friends to leave the other student alone. With tears in her eyes, the mom thanked me. The next day her son came into my office saying, “What did you say to my mom? Whatever you said stopped us from arguing and she thanked me for being persistent!” (I still tear up over this one.) He then thanked me and left my office.
Some of my favourite reframes are as follows:
stubborn – persistent
emotional – expressive
inattentive – multi-tasker
always thinks they are right – stands up for themselves
These reframes are all great qualities for our children to have!
This is an amazing tool in my humble opinion. I use this a great deal in my house, especially with our 2-year-old. He is such a concrete thinker that he will do literally what you ask or he will state “no” when given the opportunity. I recommend phrasing your questions or requests in such a way that your child follows through with the request without the opportunity to say no.
Example: We are in the midst of introducing “the potty” to our 2-year-old. Whenever he is asked, “Do you need to use the potty?” the automatic answer is “NO!” I was not born yesterday. When you cross your legs and jump up and down, you need to try the potty. So we state, “It’s time to use the potty” instead, which often gets the desired response of him running to the potty. Other times he refuses, so I ask, “Do you want to walk or hop to the potty?” Off he goes hopping to the bathroom. Now actually using the potty is a different story I will blog about later.
There are many times that a child just needs to get their mind refocused and directed on to something else. Infants and toddlers will benefit from this technique a great deal. This would be when you change an activity you are engaged in, change the scenery, or move on to a different topic of discussion.
Example: Our toddler will have a full on tantrum if he cannot help in the kitchen. There are times when he wants to do absolutely everything that we are doing. Well, I am not prepared to let my 2-year-old cook something on the stove. So I give him bread to spread butter on, I let him “wash” the dishes, and there are times when I have to take him into a different room and get him engaged in a different activity altogether to stop his meltdowns.
Continue building your Parenting Toolbox with tips and tricks that work for you and your family. Hopefully, some of these tips make their way into your Toolbox.
A child’s sleep is paramount. The more a child sleeps, the more content his/her entire family is. It’s amazing that one little body can have such a huge impact on everyone and everything around him/her. As a caregiver for a little bundle of joy, you learn quickly or start researching how you can help your little one sleep.
I worked with children for over twenty years before having my own son. I do believe my education and experience was a great asset but it did not prepare me for the role of mom. It assisted me with understanding developmental milestones and how to deal with a variety of behaviours not once was I taught the art of improving my child’s sleep. This was something I learned on the fly. I was able to find the magic that worked for us.
The one thing I had to really do was look at his whole day and not just his sleep schedule and pattern. I learned that my little guy needs to be out and about exploring his world.
I am constantly on the go and I must be out of the house by 10 am or I have a toddler melting down on the floor. The more we do, the better he sleeps, the better he sleeps, the saner I remain. My focus is often what can we do so the little man will sleep well.
Here are some of my tips that improved my child’s sleep:
Physical exercise The more energy he burns the longer he sleeps.
Fresh air When we play outside he sleeps well
Food My little guy will stay asleep longer if he has had a good lunch or snack (fruit, veggie, and proteins).
Structure and routine The naptime and bedtime routine are quite similar. The main difference is he gets one book at nap and three at bedtime.
Noise We keep noise to a minimum and use a fan for white noise.
Blackout blinds A dark room is a must.
Here’s hoping your child has mastered the art of sleeping or will soon.