I thought my worst sleep problems would live and die with the newborn years, but I was mistaken. I now have a five and eight-year-old and I am knee deep in sleep problems. Did I say knee deep? I meant neck deep. It’s bad, guys.
When the kids were babies, we sleep trained and it was really successful for us. We taught the kids to fall asleep on their own, how to stay asleep throughout the night (or at least put themselves back to sleep if they woke up, without waking up everyone else in the house) and even got them to a point where they were waking up at a reasonable hour and not before the sun came up.
With both kids, we experienced some issues when they switched to toddler beds, but were able to reenforce the rules and everything was okay for a few years. Now, it’s all gone to shit.
Here are a few of my issues:
1) Mazzy and Harlow procrastinate going to bed so much that by the time I actually get them to start the process of winding down, I am pissed and frustrated.
They beg me to play for five more minutes, they tell me they still have homework to do, they shut themselves in the bathroom and brush their teeth for a ridiculous amount of time, they suddenly feel the urge to poop, they can’t agree on a book, they don’t know what to wear tomorrow, etc. etc. until I’m like, “OH MY GOD JUST GET IN YOUR ROOM AND GO TO SLEEP!!!!!” Relaxing wind down routine officially over before it even started.
2) They don’t know how to settle down on their own.
Mazzy and Harlow often rile each other up at bedtime. They don’t stay in their beds, they chat and horse around, even after lights are out. When I finally convince them to settle, it’s often only because I lie down in bed with them. And, of course, they fight over who I lie with first. Harlow literally has trouble lying down. She will sit up in her bed and play with her stuffed animals, arrange her blankets and pillows in “houses” around her and tell me things like “I don’t know how to close my eyes.” Then she thrashes around with all her stuffies and blankets until she eventually passes out in a contorted heap. So often I find myself saying, “Just put your head down on the pillow and let me tuck you in like a normal person!” but that is the absolute last thing she wants to do. Usually, I will stay in bed with Harlow until she falls asleep and then switch to Mazzy’s bed, who seems to call out “MOMMMM!!!! IT’S MY TURN!!!!” at the exact moment Harlow finally shuts her eyes every night. Then Mazzy claims she needs “soft tickles” on her back to fall asleep.
3) I’ve always put my kids to bed at the same time and I’m not sure that is working for us anymore.
Originally, I was told to put my kids to bed at the same time because they share a room and I would not want to do bedtime routine twice. That made sense when Harlow was a baby and Mazzy was a toddler. But now that they are older, it’s not working for a variety of reasons. First of all, since they are in the same room, when they go to bed at the same time, they keep each other up. They basically play in the dark until I come in and yell at them to settle down. Then they lie down, start chatting, jump all over each other from one bed to the next and eventually start full on playing again. That is, unless I stay in the room, which is one of many reasons our night usually ends this way. But, even then, Harlow is so much more needy of me at bedtime, that I feel like Mazzy often gets the short end of the stick. It seems like a better way to get quality one on one time with each of them would be to put Harlow to sleep first and then spend an extra half hour with Mazzy, either reading a book with her (like Harry Potter) that Harlow is too young to understand, watching a show that is not really appropriate for Harlow’s age, or giving Mazzy extra time for homework. This all sounds ideal for Mazzy, but since Harlow is used to going to bed at the same time as her big sister and hates to be alone, I have a feeling she will not take well to this idea at all.
4) I usually stay in their room until they are both asleep.
I find that the fastest method of getting Mazzy and Harlow to fall asleep (and usually the one with the least yelling) is just to stay in the room with them. If I don’t lie down with them, they just take turns coming out of their room to beg me to lie down with them. If they aren’t coming to find me, it usually means they are up and playing in the dark. And so, most nights, I am finally able to sneak out only after both of them are fast asleep. If I’m being honest, once they settle, I don’t mind lying with them so much. It’s nice to cuddle and chat and I know they won’t want to do that forever. But I’m inconsistent, because sometimes I welcome the time and sometimes I need to get stuff done after they go to bed and I get annoyed. And even more often, I’ll end up falling asleep in Mazzy and Harlow’s bed myself and miss out entirely on some alone time with Mike.
So, as I said, bedtime routine is kind of a shitshow.
So where am I going with this? Do I have answers? Not yet. But when Hadley Seward, a New York City-based certified sleep consultant, reached out to see if she could contribute to my blog, I jumped at the chance. Even though her main clientele is new moms with babies, I asked her if she could help me and my readers navigate bedtime for toddlers and up. Can she fix us?
Come back Thursday to read my new blog series, Big Kid Bedtime Problems! Hadley’s going to contribute every other week to help us set boundaries, enforce the rules and most of all, figure out a routine that works for US. For instance, I really need bedtime strategies for siblings who share a room.
Please tell me what your big kid sleep issues are in the comments. We’ll be using your questions to help us pick topics going forward!
You can follow Hadley on Instagram at @_bonnenuitbaby.