Here we are, it’s 2:00 am and suddenly you feel the tap of a tiny finger on your shoulder, “mom, can I come in?” Out of sheer exhaustion and for a lack of knowing what else to do, you now have a tiny toddler that has invaded your sleep sanctuary.
It’s causing a strain on your marriage
They are not sleeping well and ninja kicked you in the face 4 times last night alone
You clocked a solid 5 hours total of sleep, if you were lucky
Everyone is on edge
Naps are a mess the next day and overtired is in overdrive
And let’s face it, the last time you were intimate was.… a long time ago.
Does this sound about right?
I can’t tell you how many parents I meet at my son’s school who tell me their kids sleep in their beds with them. For some of them, it works! For many, they just don’t know how to stop it so some sleep is better than 37 trips walking them back to their room every night because they are scared of a bug, they heard a noise or they wanted to ensure they let you know they just peed and flushed.
How Do I Get My Child to Sleep Through the Night?
I am going to cover that first and then, we are going to create an amazing sleep sanctuary that will have you and your partner begging to hit those sheets.
First Things First - Reclaim Your Bed
Children are creatures of habit. They are testing boundaries in this big new world and if there are no consequences for their actions, do they really know it’s wrong? They want to snuggle, your bed is soft and cozy and you are letting them in there, so why not ask, right?
My husband, for 10 years has rubbed my head to fall asleep. He started when we were dating and still at night I ask him too. He does it happily but if I miss the window and he’s already turned over, all I need to do is a solid 12 seconds of whining, he begrudgingly complies and I pass out. (I am like a toddler in this regard I suppose.) This example is to highlight that I know, if I push the boundary, he will do it. When I travel across the country to work with families around sleep, I don’t even think about a head rub...ever.
You have to set a boundary and stick to it. Tell your child that as of today, they are no longer welcome in your bed and stick to it the whole night. When they wake, they go back to their room, explain it’s time to sleep and if they escalate, you consequence the behavior. Just like anything, wrong choices have consequences, right choices have rewards. Many people have used reward charts in the past and I even do with some children I support. I have also found that “dollars” work wonders too. They start the night with a certain amount, then any time they make the wrong choice and try to come in, you consequence by taking a dollar. At the end of the week, they get to trade in those dollars for something they want. I had a recent client tell her son that the dollars would help pay for the bunk bed he wanted. Stick to the boundary you set and in 3-5 days, kids realize that boundary isn’t moving.
Also, ensure they are setup for success - meaning that if they typically want a drink, need a tissue or are cold, you have everything already there, so that those excuses are no longer options. In toddlers and school-aged children, these actions provide attention. Good and bad attention is just that, attention. Even the head rub at 4 am is something, and they will take you up on it. You have to make the results something they no longer crave, so that when they wake, they know the results won’t be worth the effort and they go straight back to sleep.
Ok, so now that you have a game plan to get them out of your room, some terrific support content and a start date, what are you going to do to ensure your space gets that re-kindling it deserves?
Reignite the Spark
Start with the air, I love a diffuser of lavender, I often set it about an hour before bed, so that when we walk in, it’s calming to the senses straight away.
Make a new rule, no devices in the bedroom. Keep your phones downstairs, tablets in the desk and grab a good old fashion paper book…..GASP, I know. Blue light from these devices is a stimulant to our brains, and frankly, a time sink of endless scrolling next to our partner, instead of being actively engaged with them or what has happened in their day. We have lost communication with our partners to devices.
Get some new sheets, especially this winter, I love flannel sheets and I secretly hide a heating pad under my sheet, so when I get in it is nice and warm. Spend the money on good sheets, you sleep in them every night.
Just chat, ask them what they found to be the best part of their day. Ask them something silly, or for a stupid fact, like if you could eat one thing for the rest of your life, what would it be? (For me, it’s watermelon, in case you were curious.) Just communicating and laughing is a great way to reconnect with your partner, laughter really is the best medicine.
Grab some massage oil, light a few candles and enjoy each other's company. Offer up a nice relaxing massage, enjoying the silence of the moment and the connection you have with them. Who knows, with that toddler no longer in your bed, you may just find the time to make another sweet little human to build your life with - crazy things happen for the better when you sleep.
Parenting is hard, we all do our best each day to have kind children, a happy family and a balanced work - life. It’s not that easy being pulled in 100 directions every day, but it is important that you pause and remember where it all started and how you can savor those sweet moments together for a long time to come.
Courtney Zentz is a multi-award winning entrepreneur, pediatric sleep specialist, and parenting expert for the next generation around the world today. She is on a mission to change the way the world views sleep and provide accessible resources for all families to build healthy sleep habits in their home. As a Pediatric Sleep Specialist, Lactation Counselor, Postpartum Doula, and founder of Tiny Transitions, Courtney partners with companies, families, and postpartum organizations from around the world to teach healthy, sleep habits to infants, children, and adults. Through the use of her unique Slumber Made Simple™ approach, she builds healthy sleepers for life and empowers her clients to be the best they can be every day. Named by Tuck as a Top 200 Sleep Professional in the United States, Courtney is a 4x "Best of Philadelphia" Sleep Consultant and frequent contributor to Fatherly, Yahoo, Thrive Global, Romper, Parentology, The Sleep Sense Show, and Bustle among others. Courtney hosts The Kids Sleep Show, launching this month on iTunes and is a frequent guest with companies like SlumberPod® and The Magic Sleep Suit® Company. Courtney resides in West Chester, PA, with her husband Adam and two children, Max and Sovella, and has always felt passionate about making sleep & healthy living a priority in her family's life. Follow along with Courtney on Instagram or in her private Facebook Group, Slumber MadeSimple, where she hosts weekly Q&A’s, training’s and shares great advice on sleep.