Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Battling Bedtime?

I don't ever want this blog to be a place for fakery or inauthenticity, and thus, I don't ever want it to seem like I'm one who "has it all together". That's far from the truth. Yesterday, I almost blogged about what a mess our apartment was and what a wreck I was (a dissheveled, unshowered mess as my husband left for work)... but I didn't even have the time to blog about it... that's how "not together" I was. :) The truth is, we all have weak spots and weak moments. But we all have strengths, too. And so, in a spirit of wanting to help other young moms, I want to share something I think we've done well.

So I'll just come out and say it: our kids are all excellent sleepers. And it hasn't been by "luck" as many people implied when we "just" had one or two children (I know all you moms of one or two out there are thinking, "JUST?!?!"). We have worked at it intentionally and made it a priority, for several reasons:

  • Health/disposition of the baby
  • Time together as a couple in the evenings, from about 7:30/8pm on
  • Sanity of mom! :)
I have heard other moms gripe about this aspect of child rearing (moms who are still waking up with a 2, 3, or 4 year old, or parents whose children get out of bed for that proverbial "glass of water" about 6 times a night), and so I want to openly share what has worked for us. While these things aren't some kind of magic "formula", I do believe that they have each contributed to having three (working on four) "good sleepers" in our young family.

(1) Our kids have all started out on a Babywise routine, and have slept through the night by 5 & 1/2, 8, and 10 weeks respectively (we'll see how Silas does... he'll be 4 weeks old tomorrow and he's doing two 4-hour stretches). We try to help our children have good sleep habits from the beginning. With four very different children (different personalities, body types, weights, and one with reflux), this simple method (eat/wake/sleep cycle at roughly 2-3 hours between day feedings) of helping get an infant into a basic routine has been such a blessing for our family.

If you're a pregnant mom, check it out. If you're an exhausted mom, check it out. If you're just curious, check it out. I've loved it and have found it to be a wonderful tool for our family's rest, health, and sanity. You can check it out here.

(2) Consistent bedtime, with no ins and outs. Occasional legitimate bathroom needs or sickness are acceptable, but anything else will teach their little minds to come up with "excuses" to be out of bed! From about 6-8 months on, our kids are in bed by 8pm and sleep until about 7am. A consistent, predictable bedtime helps their active & growing bodies get the rest they need. And it gives mommy and daddy a built-in together time. Even if we never left the house for an official "date" (which we occasionally do), we have built in that needed time together in the evenings to maintain and strengthen our relationship as husband and wife.

(3) "But what about crying it out?" We have never used the "cry it out" method with an infant. That said, once a child is consistently sleeping through the night and starts waking up, we check for any unmet needs or problems:
  • "is she teething?--if so, offer an icee and perhaps some tylenol
  • "does he have gas?"-- if so, use gas drops. liberally.
  • "is an arm stuck through the crib slats?"--if so, gently remove it and console baby. ;-)
  • "did something scare him?"-- if so, snuggle and help him calm down.
  • "does she need her diaper changed?"
  • "is she sick?"
  • etc.
Once we've gone through the list of possible needs/problems, and feel confident that all needs have been met (even if it's just that they were scared and woke up needing a quick snuggle), we put them back to bed and expect them to sleep.

Both older boys went through a period of waking up randomly with no needs or problems. In that circumstance, once they have exhibited a consistent ability to fall and stay asleep for the entire night, and their needs have been met, we expect them to sleep at night. It's that simple. So both boys had about three nights of "crying it out" to get back into that normal nighttime rhythm. The first night, they cried for the longest. The second night was less, and the third night was virtually none. After that, they (neither one) have had any night wakings aside from the very infrequent sickness or nightmare.

Some moms balk at "crying it out", but really, three nights of fairly short crying (the sum of which might amount to 2-3 hours total, if that) is a small "price" to pay for the entire family getting the rest they need. Particularly as compared to months or even years of time without a full night's rest for mom or baby.

(4) Two or more children in the same room? Instead of hassling with separate bedtimes, or worrying that they'll talk themselves into oblivion, play Bible stories and God-honoring music on tapes or CDs to fill that time while they're falling asleep! Not only does it help them to fall asleep, but it also occupies their minds with wholesome things. My sons have learned worship songs, memorized scripture, and had the stories of the Bible planted in their minds and hearts during this time between bedtime and falling asleep. A mom of eight recommended this to me, and since we began implementing it, we've never stopped. Our sons love it (they have something neat to look forward to as they get ready for bed), we love it, and I believe God is using that time to teach our sons and draw them to Himself, as they learn to worship and love His stories in those 20-30 minutes as they're falling asleep.


So those are my basic tips for avoiding the "bedtime battle", with little ones at least. Perhaps you disagree philosophically with one of my points. That's fine; I'm just sharing what has worked for us. I'm not attempting to say that it would work for everyone.

We've worked hard to help our children get the consistent rest they need, and because they've always gone to bed at a reasonable time, they happily go to bed now-- it's not work, it's not a fight, and it never has been. And as a bonus, Doug & I have built-in time together in our evenings. It's a blessing for everyone!


Hopefully something from our experiences can bless you, too. Sleep well! :)

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