Welcome to my new series— Big Kid Bedtime Problems! Certified sleep consultant Hadley Seward is helping us sort through our bedtime issues. So far she’s introduced some general bedtime guidelines as well as specific tricks for parents of big kids (toddlers and up) who find their nighttime routines spiraling out of control.
Today, she’s helping me address the specific sleep issues I talked about having with Mazzy and Harlow.
As Ilana described several weeks ago, bedtime at her house has turned into a shitshow. Although both Mazzy and Harlow were sleep trained as babies, life has gotten more complicated as they’ve grown up, especially since they share a room. Their bedtime routine has spiraled out of control, resulting in overtired kids and a frustrated mom. When Ilana finally gets her kids in their beds, they struggle to settle down and demand Ilana’s presence until they fall asleep— sometimes as late as 10pm. No one is getting enough sleep and Ilana and Mike are missing out on precious “off duty” time at night.
Ilana and I chatted about the pros and cons of the current situation and decided that the family is in need of a “sleep reset.” Since they will be moving back into their apartment next month, we’re going to use this opportunity to implement some new rules. Our goals are to streamline and restore order to the evening routine, separate Mazzy and Harlow’s bedtimes, and reset expectations about how long Ilana will spend lying with them each night.
Problem #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.”
Solution: A short and consistent routine will give them less wiggle room to stall and will help you to stay consistent. Make a list of what currently happens between dinner and bedtime and then whittle it down to the basics. Anything that provides fodder for stalling or creates drama should be moved earlier in the evening. For example, they could pick out clothes for the next day when they get home from school. Or you could set a timer on your phone for 6:30pm to remind yourself to offer them last snack/vitamins to pre-empt their request at bedtime.
Problem #2: “They don’t know how to settle down on their own.”
Solution: Part of the reason that Harlow is struggling to settle is likely that she’s overtired by the time she gets into bed. I recommend moving her bedtime to 7pm, especially since it takes her a while to fall asleep. Since Mazzy is quite a bit older, you can keep her 8pm bedtime but she would likely benefit from some downtime beforehand doing quiet activities like reading, playing a board game or working on homework. (For both girls, try to avoid screen time after 5pm as that can increase their sleep latency, aka ability to fall asleep easily).
Problem #3: “I’ve always put my kids to bed at the same time and I’m not sure that is working for us anymore.”
Solution: This is a great time to separate their bedtimes, especially since they have different sleep needs. If you can get Harlow into bed by 7pm, then you and Mazzy will have extra time to spend on activities that don’t interest/aren’t age-appropriate for Harlow. Harry Potter it up! Since Harlow will be asleep in their room, you can do Mazzy’s bedtime routine in the living room or your bedroom. Until Harlow learns to fall asleep more quickly (and without your presence), Mike may need to take over Mazzy’s bedtime routine temporarily.
Problem #4: “I usually stay in their room until they are both asleep.”
Solution: It’s time to implement new sleep rules at bedtime. We’ll keep our eye on the prize: spending 5 minutes of quality cuddling with each girl before you say goodnight.
This may be particularly difficult for Harlow since she’s not used to falling asleep on her own and has some separation anxiety. Taking that into account, we’ll use a more gradual method to help her adjust. Once the 5 minutes is up, quietly say goodnight and leave Harlow’s bed. Sit in a chair in her room until she falls asleep, engaging with her as little as possible. Once she’s comfortable falling asleep without you in her bed, decrease the amount of time you sit in the chair. e.g., 20 minutes… then 15… then 10. The goal is that eventually you’ll be able to leave the room once the five minutes are up.
For Mazzy, you’ll be doing the majority of her bedtime routine outside of the room so, once you’re in the room, lie quietly with her for five minutes and then say goodnight. If she has a flashlight, she can use that to quietly read books until she falls asleep.
Both Mazzy and Harlow are used to things the way they are— and likely won’t want to make any of these changes. That’s okay! Convene a family sleep meeting the day before you implement the new schedule to explain why you’re making the changes and what the new rules will be.
Stay positive, remember that Harlow will likely develop a case of FOMO so try to phrase things to pre-empt that, and try to make the situation seem fair to each girls. Keep it light, keep it fun… but let them know that you mean business.