Need Help Getting Your Kid to Sleep?

My oldest child is nearly 16, and the next four came relatively close after the first. So once we nailed bedtime with the biggest kid, the others just followed suit. But our baby, who is 19 months old, came five-and-a-half years after our fifth child. By then, bedtime was a mere after thought.

Bed time stories and teeth brushing songs and tubby time were a thing of the past. Even our youngest could take her own bath, put on her PJs, and climb in bed by the time the baby was born. I had gotten used to just going into the room to tuck her in, pray over her and kiss her goodnight.

So when Matty Jay came along, we were back to square one.

Being in a new season of my parenthood, where my older kids are pretty independent, I’ve been able to work more and focus more on things like the radio show, writing a book, and running a school.

Bedtime has been a breeze for years, and with so many capable hands to help with Matty Jay, I have to confess that I didn’t focus on it one bit. The older kids and I tend to stay up late together, and we didn’t mind if Matty hung around for part of it. I got lax, and my momma muscles got flabby when it came to bedtime.

But a few weeks ago I was reminded that bedtime is just a skill, and like any skill, it can be taught.

I dug back into my early years of parenting, when I had an autistic child, who seemed to need significantly less sleep than the other kids his age, and another baby right behind him. When you want to have the most comfortable beds and mattress, avail the black friday mattress deals for maximum comfort. I knew he got less sleep but I knew for sure that he was sleeping way more comfortable at night because I got him a special pad from the My Mattress Pads website.

When Griffyn was about a year old, we had had enough of the Energizer Bunny living in our house. Autism or no autism, we were determined to get this kid to go to bed at a reasonable hour and without any fuss.

I read everything I could get my hands on, talked to every successful parent I could find, picked the brains of all of my son’s therapists, and even took a workshop on it. And I came up with a plan. My husband and I agreed to do it the exact same way every night…even when we went on vacation or stayed at a relative’s house. We vowed to be totally consistent and 100% committed to making it work. And guess what? It worked.

In fact, it worked so well, that I never had to do it again. All of the other kids just seemed to be born into the process, and they all took to it like a fish to water.

Then came Matty Jay, and it was a whole different story.

So a few weeks ago, I sat my oldest daughter down (she does some of the bedtime hours if I’m out or working), and said, “As of tonight, this is the routine. We can never vary or give in. But when we’re consistent and committed, Matty Jay will soon go to bed like a champion. We’ll just say ‘bedtime’, and he’ll climb in and doze off.”

Want to know the keys to success? Okay, here we go.

#1 — Create a routine, and never, ever, ever vary from it, until your little tyke has been a champion sleeper for many months.

Here’s what our routine looks like (it’s the exact same routine we used 15 years ago).
Take a bath
Apply lotion (all my kids love this for some reason) and put on PJs
Read a story (Matty is still nursing so he had some momma milk during story time)
Climb in bed, and sing the same three goodnight songs in the same order (songs make everything difficult seem easier to little people — they’re like the spoonful of sugar to the medicine)
Pray for the baby
Kiss him goodnight
Lights out

#2 — Mommy sits nearby on the floor (or in a chair) and reads. I LOVE being able to read a book on my phone or iPad — so easy in the dark. Fifteen years ago, I had to wrestle with those stupid reading lights. Technology is nice!

#3 — Use the Super Nanny routine for redirection to bed, which goes like this: the first time the kid tries to escape, you pick him up and softly, but firmly say, “Time for bed.” Then put him back in bed. The next time he flees the scene (and every time thereafter), pick him up without a word and without eye contact and gently put him back in bed. Sit nearby, but NOT on the bed. That way he’s comforted to know you’re there, AND you can police the situation.

#4 — Wash, rinse and repeat until the little bugger is snoring.

Here’s how it went down in the Stahlmann house when we began the process a few weeks ago. First, let me say, I was really bracing myself on this one because Matty Jay might just be my most willful child!

8:00pm We started the tub water and brushed his teeth. The boy LOVES a tubby, so this part of the process was a hit. After the tub, we followed the above routine to the letter.

8:30pm Lights out and momma sitting nearby reading the best potty training book I’ve ever laid eyes on (more about that in future post). Matty tried to escape the bed no less than 10 times, and with many tears. Momma stayed calm and stuck to the plan.

9:00pm Snoring!

Now, this is a big deal. Not only is this an UBER-willful child, but he typically drifts off at about 10:30pm, so 9:00pm is big change to make overnight. But he did it.

So where are we now, after a few weeks. Well…the second night was harder because he knew what was coming and fought back, but he was still asleep before 9pm. Every night thereafter got easier, and the fight lessened. Now, about five weeks into it, there are no tears. In fact, he’s excited for the routine. He loves picking his bedtime story, sings the good night songs with me, and then takes about 5 mins to fall asleep.

My guess (from past experience) is that in a few months, I’ll be able to kiss him goodnight after the songs and leave the room.

Any questions?

Jenni Stahlmann

Jenni Stahlmann is the mom of six kids (ages 4 to 18) with #7 due in August and one on the autism spectrum. She and her husband Matthew homeschool the whole brood. Jenni has been a journalist for more than 20 years, having covered government, business and family issues for a wide range of magazines and newspapers. Currently, she and Jody co-host a weekly syndicated radio show, write a weekly newspaper column and freelance articles and speak at churches, political groups and homeschool conventions about parenting on purpose.

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