I, more than some people, know how hard it is to be a working mom. Being a single mom of 3 kiddos, ages 7, 3, and 3 months, is tough and exhausting. Between juggling homework, meal times, cleaning, baths, crazy amounts of laundry, bottles, and the occasional tantrum, it’s hard to get even a moment to rest during the day. Fortunately, I have been lucky enough to have all three of my kiddos sleep through the night from almost the very beginning. I thought I had this parenting thing down pat until last spring when I found out I was expecting my newest addition. That is when my now 3 year old son started to regress with his sleeping habits and I felt like a new mom all over again.
From very early on in my pregnancy, my 3 year old started to change. My happy, easy going child began to be more clingy, experienced separation anxiety, and this lead to his bedtime problems. He went from loving to sleep, sometimes sleeping up to 12 hours a night, to not wanting to go to sleep at night. He would come out of his room multiple times in a row and cry and scream for hours. I had never had to deal with his before and had no idea how to fix it. The more I progressed in my pregnancy, the more exhausted and sleep deprived I began. So I could get some peace and quiet at night, I began letting him watch TV in his room at bedtime. At first, this kept him in his room and put him to sleep. But eventually even this didn’t work. He would still come out of his room over and over and most of the time would not go to sleep until after 11pm, even if I laid down with him. But, if I turned off the TV he would immediately start screaming and crying. I was at a complete loss of what to do and felt like a failure. This continued even after I delivered my newest son.
A few weeks ago, I felt like I was going to break down. I hadn’t had more than 5 hours of sleep in a whole night in almost a year and I decided things needed to change. I started to research different ways to help my son sleep again. I came across a website called ahaparenting.com, ran by a clinical psychologist at Columbia University named Dr. Laura Markham. Her website includes parenting advice from pregnancy all the way up to the teenage years. She uses a positive discipline approach, which is the type of parenting that I use on a daily basis. That same day, I decided we were going to start using her sleep training techniques and much to my surprise, it worked! Instead of taking 3-4 hours to fall asleep he only took two. By night 5 of following the routine, he was asleep within 15-20 minutes. I was so happy I almost cried. For the first time in almost a year, I could enjoy my night again without feeling overwhelmed, defeated, and stressed. I know there are many moms and dads out there that are feeling how I used to feel and I would love to share the simple tips that have lead me back to enjoying bedtime again.
Tip #1: An hour before you start your bedtime routine, start “calm down time”. This allows your child’s body to wind down and get ready for rest. We do activities such as puzzles, reading books, and coloring. Basically anything that does not involve physical activity and loud noises will work.
Tip #2: Develop a bedtime routine and stick to it. This by far is the most important. My son now knows what to expect every night because we follow the same steps. Keep it simple. We have dinner, bath time, bedtime snack & bedtime stories, brush teeth, then go to sleep. Be consistent and stick to your decision, whether it be no sleeping with you or no watching TV. If you give in just one time, you will be back at the beginning all over again.
Tip #3: Adjust bedtime as necessary. Dr. Laura said that the reason most toddlers will not go to sleep is because they are already overtired by the time their parents start bedtime & when this happens their body releases endorphins that cause them to re energize. I had never thought of that before. I started to look for signs that he was tired, such as yawning, rubbing eyes, or being cuddly. Then I would start the bedtime routine as soon as possible after that. It took about a week to find a good time for him to go to sleep but now we have it down pat.
Tip #4: Get your child lots of fresh air and exercise during the day. Trust me, fresh air does wonders! Before calm down time, I’ve started taking him outside to run and be crazy. If it’s raining or too cold we play different games inside, such as follow the leader to get his energy out.
Tip #5: Give a bedtime snack before bed. This is another one I never thought about. It is easier for a child to go to sleep and sleep through the night with a full belly. Just try not to give sugary snacks. We usually stick to Goldfish or Cheez Its.
I am hoping that these tips will help at least one parent as much as they helped me. If you are exhausted and defeated, just know that you are not alone and I was there too not long ago. Remember to be consistent and calm and everything will work out in the end.