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Karen Brennan
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And to all a good night—creating a healthy bedtime for your child

Sunday, February 15, 2015

There are many ideas about how to help children transition into sleep.  For some children, falling asleep is easy, but for many it is difficult.  We can’t change who are children are, but we can strive to create a calm, nurturing environment that will help them let go of the day.  As with any ideas that come to you about how to care for your children, I suggest that you pick the ones that resonate with you.  If it sounds appealing, picture your family doing whatever it is.  Does it feel good?  Then give it a try.  Generally, it is good to make a commitment to try something for a week or two, because it may take a while for everyone to get used to doing something a new way.  Then, if it works, keep doing it until it doesn’t.  If it doesn’t work, try something else.  I spent many years thinking that there was a right way to do things, and I just needed to figure out which way that was.  Eventually I realized that there is not one right way.  We need to find ways to work with our children that works for them as the unique, amazing beings that they are as well as for the equally amazing and unique beings that we are.

That said, I will share a few thoughts about sleep.  Especially at bed time, rhythm is important.  Knowing what is coming, feeling relaxed and cared for, will help a young child fall asleep.  Kim Payne writes, “Rhythm calms and secures children, grounding them in the earth of family so they can branch out and grow.”  Children know they are cared for and that “there is order here, and safety.” The next piece of advice I will give is keep it simple!  Whatever you do, the main thing your child needs is to be with you, have you be fully present with him.  If you don’t already, try just leaving whatever is left to be done, whether it be dishes or work or whatever, and enjoy being with your child.  You can do this even if bedtime is a struggle, it just takes more practice and determination—I speak from personal experience. 

As we discussed two weeks ago, if there are challenges at bedtime, it is good to look at your “family star.”  Kim Payne talks about creating “pressure valves” during the day to help children fall asleep at night.  For the young child, this is often nap time.  But if your child isn’t napping, you can still create a quiet time during the day.  It can be a quiet time.  If you do this, Rahima writes about creating the parameters to make it work.  What time of day would be best?  What needs to be done in preparation?  Will the child be alone in her room?  Will the room be dark?  Will you tell a story?

It’s also helpful to have a plan for bedtime.  Bedtime really starts at dinner; Kim Payne says getting ready for bedtime starts when your child wakes up in the morning.  Storytelling is a wonderful tool, both written stories and stories from your childhood or from your day or a story that you make up.  My daughters used to like the game Candyland, so for a while I made up stories about two little girls who went to Candyland and had adventures with the characters from the game.  What works for you at your child’s bedtime?  What is challenging?  Talking to each other is great both for getting some new ideas and for knowing that you aren’t alone in your parenting.

After the break, we’ll start discussing Chapter 7, “Discipline and Other Parenting Issues.”