With all my heart, I love my children. I really do. Except when they’re loud, obnoxious brats. Or when they don’t eat. Or when they don’t put their toys away. Or when they don’t sleep. Well, I’m not in that bad a state with that last one. My kids are pretty good when it comes to sleep time but I have a friend who would drive out to a 24-hour hyper-market at 10pm because his kid won’t sleep and that’s the only thing to do. Ah, the joys of parenthood.
So how did I end up with kids who sleep well? It comes down to planning, scheduling and habit-forming. From an early age, we made sure to give them an early dinner, which, to me, is the cornerstone of a good night’s sleep. Today, we have the routine of getting showered by 6pm, dinner by 6.30pm and then up in the room by 7pm. If dinner drags a bit, that’s fine. They don’t go to sleep just yet, of course.
Between 7-8pm, we do some activities with them. As they’ve grown, the activities have become more complex, so now, I’ve introduced some simple board games and card games to play. Some times they don’t want to play, so we set them up with some colouring or simple crafts to do. At times, they don’t want to do any of these things and just want to play with their toys. That’s fine too.
Just before getting into bed, it’s time to brush their teeth and go to the toilet. If they want to that night, they can pick out a book as well. By 8pm, the rule is that they have to be in bed, again, not asleep, but in bed. The last 5-10 minutes before that is clean up time. They have to put their stuff away and clean up any mess they’ve made. After that, either my wife or I would snuggle up in bed with them (we usually alternate, but it depends on our schedule as well). We then say our little prayers, and end it with saying a few things that we’re grateful for today.
Finally, their favourite part, story-time. If they’ve picked out a book, that’s what is read that night. Otherwise, well, since my eldest was about 3 years old, I started telling her a story about these 5 heroes I made up and it’s gone on now for 4 years. I borrow heavily from all sorts of sources, from Tolkein, to Star Wars and everything in between. I even let both of them add to the story, whether it’s characters or actions taken, so it’s something we’ve co-created. After that, it’s finally time to sleep, usually by 8.30.
Of course, they don’t immediately fall asleep. There’s always some tossing and turning, wanting a drink, wanting to go to the toilet, whatever it is, there’s always something. My wife is a bit stricter than I am, so I’ll usually let the first 1 or 2 things that come up happen, but after that, barring some real emergency, there’s no leaving the bed. No way, no how. Usually, within 10-15 minutes, they’ll both be asleep. Mission Accomplished!
There is something I do want to mention here, the use of mobile devices or other types of screens. It has become a rule that after 7pm, there’s no more screen time. I’ve read a few studies saying that usage of these sorts of devices, at night especially, prevents sleep. Personally, the few times I’ve allowed it (note the use of I, instead of we…) I’ve not really noticed anything, but I also believe it’s because they’re already set in their sleep habits. I believe it’s prolonged and consistent usage which will cause problems.
Another point that I want to bring up is holiday sleep times. Usually, during holidays, we let the kids sleep a bit later and wake up later too, though this doesn’t always happen (my eldest daughter will wake up between 6.30-6.45 like clockwork and wake me up). During these times, we’d also allow some screen/device time as well. Depending on how long the holiday is we’ll start getting back into their normal sleep routine about 3-4 days before school starts.
With both kids, we started them on this sort of schedule when they were around 2 years old. It’s important to start on it early, but never fear, it’s something that can be started on later as well. The most critical thing in all of this discipline, not from the kids, but from the parents. We must try as hard as possible to stick to this schedule. We may not always be able to, but at the end of the day, kids work very well with consistency. If we keep to this schedule, eventually, it’ll become ingrained in their body clock and they’ll naturally get tired by this time.
At the end of the day, the details of your own sleep routine are yours to make with your kids. It’s not really the content, per se that’s important. One important factor is to start the routine with dinner and give them a few hours to start digesting their food before getting into bed. The real important thing is to have your own set of guidelines/rules and you HAVE TO STICK TO IT.
Kids need ample time to sleep, as that’s when most of the brain and other development happens. Science has shown that a lack of sleep in children hinders cognitive as well as physical growth. More importantly for us parents, it gives us some quiet time to be with each other and do other parent-type things, whatever that may be…
One last little thing, the above is really applicable for kids aged above 2. For kids below that, especially babies who are breast-feeding, my wife knows better than me. To me, those babies have their own schedules and I don’t believe any amount of planning can change their little minds. But apparently, you can get routines set up with them as well, you may have to ask my wife to set up her own blog about that, not that we have any babies right now though…