We all have our bedtime routines. Pre-kids, mine included (comically to my roommates) strict procedures around Noxema, retainers, washing feet, earplugs, chapstick, and an alarm that was set NO LESS than 9 hours from the moment my head hit the pillow. One of the biggest fights I ever had with my husband (again, pre-kids) was because after asking him to turn off his alarm, twice, it “accidentally” went off at 6 am.
I. LOST. MY. MIND.
People warned me that I would spontaneously combust when I headed into the land of sleep deprivation. In some ways I did. My first two babies were not good sleepers. They could not fall asleep on their own and woke up often. It was more intense and shorter-lived with my oldest, but longer-lasting and more grueling with my second. At 9 months I remember thinking, “I JUST CAN’T TAKE ONE MORE NIGHT.” Then she broke; like a fever, or a blister, suddenly we were in a new land of sleep.
Whether it was 2 weeks, 4 months, 15 months, or 3 years, the only way we survived was through our crazy routine. We had to change it to keep up with their rapid stages of development, but ultimately, holding on to that structure created, wait for it... GOOD SLEEPERS. Yep, there IS a light at the end of the tunnel. It is never perfect (this morning I woke up to my 7-year-old in her sleeping bag next to my bed) but comparatively, it is CIVILIZED.
From day one, our children find
safety and predictability in routine.
When children know what to expect, they don’t need to work so hard as “scientists” trying different ways, because they have tested the theory enough to know they will get the same result again and again. There is the comfort that their parent follows through, with words and actions.
The beauty of the routine is that it is YOUR family’s and you can keep tweaking it and making it personal until it works for YOU. While the routines will evolve to keep up with their changing sleep needs (with infants up to every two weeks, then up to every month, every 3 months, etc.) there can still be an intentional direction and a PLAN.
When we were in the infant stage, our bedtime routine meant baby massage, getting in the bathtub together, swaddling, reading, nursing, and then bouncing them on the exercise ball to the sound of a hairdryer on iTunes. I held the pacifier in like it was solid gold. Soon, it felt just as normal as Noxema and feet washing. We were finally granted immunity with our third baby who was, wait for it, not broken! Thanks to the culture of our routines and a little help from The Happy Sleeper, extra props were not needed, she fell asleep on her own, and sanity was completely saved. The house may have been bustling and loud, but all five of us knew what to expect and what came next, so there was no extra guesswork or mental load.
As they got older into the waddler stage, it meant adding in other rituals like singing, favorite lovies, special night lights, and talking through all the things we did that day. No matter what, there was a fierce commitment to the time they went to bed, regardless of pressure from others (6:30? Yep, that’s how we rolled for awhile).
Then as toddlers when they transitioned from crib to bed we added talking through our day, sippy cups of water, bedtime snacks, flashlights, favorite books, and counting the blast off down from the door to make the goodnight kisses less clingy. We made routines visual, with pictures and a sense of ownership- each got their own and they were in charge of teaching babysitters and grandparents.
This is all encompassed by one of my favorite Positive Discipline tools: “Let Routines Be the Boss.” There is the firmness of the routine (which brings that safety and structure) and the opportunity for connection in each step: playfulness, songs, touching, food, smiles, and snuggles. When it isn’t working anymore? Change it up and start over.
Taking time for training, practicing, and making it visual
for toddlers and preschoolers are key.
Will I ever get that good luscious sleep again? Probably not. But I have found a bit of sanity again in letting our routine be the boss. Now I can channel what remaining energy I have into lightness and connection as we head to bed, earplugs, and all.
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Julietta Skoog is a Certified Positive Discipline Trainer with an Ed.S Degree in School Psychology and a Masters Degree in School Counseling from Seattle University. She is the co-founder of Sproutable, science-backed online parenting insights for pregnancy to preschool, helping multitasking and sleep-deprived parents everywhere. Her trauma-informed expertise includes early child development, autism, learning disabilities, anxiety, behavior disorders, Positive Discipline, Social Thinking, and mindfulness. Her popular keynote speeches, classes, and workshops in Seattle have been described as rejuvenating, motivating, and inspiring.