Our child rarely falls asleep at her bedtime, in her own bed or stays in her bed all night. The easiest thing is to let her come into our bed – but then nobody gets any sleep. How can we help her to accept her bedtime and all it entails? This seems to be a problem mostly during and after weekends. Weʼre exhausted when the work week starts and we know our child must be, too.
– Sleepless at Santa Fe
Sleep – both quality and quantity – is crucial for you and your child. You seem to have a good lead as to the cause. The timing you mentioned suggests that the weekend schedule variation from the weekday bedtime routine is the key. For the next few weeks, track your childʼs nightly activities as you get her ready for bed. Does it happen when friends are over? When she doesn’t have a bath? When youʼre too rushed for a bedtime story? Are feelings from recent behavior issues still bothering you or your child? Is one or the other parent traveling or not home when the child goes to bed? Hopefully, you will see a pattern or a trigger. If not, you need to keep looking.
In the meantime, your child needs to be know that you sleep in your room and she sleeps in hers. You have a bedtime and she does, too. Choose a realistic daily bedtime then put a digital clock in her room where she can see it. Children as young as two are able to see the number “8” and know what happens next. Establish a pattern of bath, story, song, tuck in, light off, door closed, etc. This sequence should begin without fail at the same time every night. Once she makes the connection of the visual number “8” with what happens next, change is imminent. No, change wonʼt happen overnight. Yes, it is likely to be loud, emotionally draining, and perhaps as exhausting as what you are already experiencing. Perhaps it will involve several nights taking turns sleeping outside her door while she gets used to the fact that she will spend the entire night there.
So why bother? You said it yourself, the easiest thing is to let her stay up late and climb into bed with you. Here are the real issues: What is best for your child and your family in the long run? How long can you, your spouse and your child live happy and productive lives with sleep arrangements as they are now? When (not if) will you teach your child that bedtime is a regularly scheduled part of their day which is not within their control?
Choices are wonderful when appropriate while limits are a parentsʼ best tools to ensure their childʼs health and safety. Children need to learn that a tantrum has no power over their parentʼs decision making. Positive reinforcement for good behavior choices they make all day long shows the child where their real power lies. Children thrive when they accept parental limits, such as bedtime, that are clearly and consistently enforced by both parents on a daily basis under all conditions.