Do you struggle at bedtime? Find it hard to get young children to sleep? Gain clarity by getting to know your child’s pre-bedtime needs.
Children need four conditions to be met in order to sleep:
1. They Need to Be Tired. I know this sounds straightforward but it’s not so simple. The body produces melatonin to induce sleep. There is a small time frame where the body is producing the right amount of melatonin to help the body transition to sleep daily. Put the child in too early, when the melatonin levels aren’t high enough and the child will become antsy from just lying and waiting to be tired. Put them to sleep too late, and their melatonin levels start dropping again, which we call “overtired.” Once they’re in that space, it can take a few hours for the melatonin levels to rise again.
Find your child’s tiredness sweet spot.
2. They Need to Feel Safe. Children are often afraid at night. It’s dark and they can have scary thoughts. It’s developmentally appropriate (within reason). What makes them feel safe is being physically close to a parent. That doesn’t mean we necessarily have to lie down with them to sleep or they have to sleep in our rooms (but don’t be afraid to do that if it works for you and the entire family), we just have to be creative in providing ways in which we are close, instead of denying them this very real need for safety and physical proximity. Examples of this may be checking on our child every 15 minutes, staying close by, giving them an item that reminds them of their parent, smells like their parent, and provides that sense of safety etc.
Be creative! Creativity is crucial in effective parenting. Instead of getting stuck in false dilemmas (ex: either you stay yourself in your room and be scared or you come in my bed and I can’t sleep) we can problem solve and come up with many ways to work things out that benefit everyone. (You can sleep on the floor in my room so I can sleep and you feel safe).
3. They Need to Feel Connected. Children always need connection (Fun fact: This is the most crucial component in effective parenting.) This is true throughout the day, but especially before they go to sleep, because they know they’ll be disconnected from us for many, many hours. Also, if we haven’t filled their emotional cups all day, the emptiness will gnaw at them at bedtime and they’ll beg for it in all kinds of creative ways. (We can learn a thing or two about creativity from them!). Here are 6 connecting questions you can do with your child (you can answer them as well!) to help get connected before or during bedtime! Remember, the object is connection so only do it if your child wants to and there are no right or wrong answers.
- What was your favorite part of the day?
- What was your least favorite part of the day?
- What are you thankful to Hashem for?
- What are you looking forward to?
- What’s a mistake you made today? What did you learn from it?
- What mitzvah or good middah did you do/display today?
4. They Need to Feel Relaxed. Children’s bodies need to be in a state of relaxation to allow for sleep to take over. Some children try to release pent up energy before bedtime by being wild and jumping off the walls. Instead of resisting it, lean into it and create space for it in a safe way. You can even roughhouse with them, which is connecting as well! That will help them then relax.
Some children, though, have a hard time coming down from that kind of “high” so for those you can do a nightly guided meditation ritual, soft music, cuddles or something else to help relax the body.