Bedtime Secrets – Toddlers

Written by admin on April 15, 2011. Posted in Sleep Challenges

Beating the Bedtime Blues

Our twin girls are now 22 months old and I’m happy to say have a pretty broad vocabulary. I’m happy because they have a greater understanding of what we’re telling them and grasp positive perspectives far more easily, which comes in handy at the nightly emotional separation of bed time.

When you put children in their cots at night they may fret as they feel the routine of the day draw to a close. Here’s what I’ve found helps our girls push past the separation anxiety. After giving them their cuddle blanket and teddies saying “Here’s your teddies. They’ve been waiting for you! Tell them what you did today.” I make up a voice for the bear saying “I heard you went on a slippery slide today. And walked to the mailbox and watched Dora Saves the Crystal Kingdom. Did you have fun today? Tell me more.” And they start yakking away to teddy. I believe that way they don’t feel they’re being left in their cot alone. They have someone to talk with till they nod off. If you just hand them their bear they have to use their own imagination to open a dialogue and at that time of night they’re very tired and it won’t come too easily. They’ll then get frustrated or panicky that you’re about to leave and the waterworks begin.

After teddies and kisses goodnight I walk the room picking up the bath towels and their day clothes and straighten up the curtains, adjust our windows and then pick up their bottles to leave. They know this routine and they enjoy me walking around their room before I go. I think they feel safer because I’ve gone to every corner of the room and our adjoining room before leaving. In the dark I suppose it feels like I’ve checked and secured everything for them. I believe this an important part of a successful (ie. no panic crying) bedtime.

Up until about a month ago I’d sing a little made-up ditty to the tune of the Big Ben chime “sleepy time, sleepy time. Time for a sleepy time” repetitively as I walked the room preparing to leave and they even started singing along to this song. Lately though I noticed they started to dislike it and whined when I started singing, so I made adjustments. They now find great comfort in these words said slowly a couple of times in a soothing voice before I leave “Mummy’s here. Daddy’s here. It’s allllllllright”. I asked my other half to also say it to them when he kisses them goodnight to affirm it.

The most beautiful part of this new method of calming was being downstairs one night and hearing them say to themselves, “Mummy’s here, Daddy’s here. It’s allllllllright. There, there“. Especially Leila who is a little more emotional (read ‘sooky’ between the lines) having this as a self-consoling tool and settling herself down in the knowledge that beyond their dark room mummy & daddy are here, is invaluable. There’s rarely a sooky tantrum these days.

If you can arm your older toddlers with the ability to settle themselves with an “Affirmation Statement” like this one they’ll be far more relaxed because even though you’re not the room, they know you’re here for them. You’ve told them so.

To cement this knowledge as truth I use it during the daytime when the girls get scared of something (say a noisy truck outside). I used to use a logical approach repeating “We’re ‘inside’. The truck is ‘outside’. It’s alllllright” and did so for a long time but found they still ran and cowered somewhere that felt ‘safe’. (Of course, I’d already taught them the difference between outside and inside or this would have been a foolish attempt).

It wasn’t until I thought more about it and said to them soothingly “Mummy’s here. Daddy’s here. It’s allllright” that it sunk in with them there’s nothing to be afraid of. Mummy & Daddy are our protectors and if they’re calm, we’re calm. I learned that day that logical explanations, simple as they are, don’t work on kids. Emotional affirmation works on kids! Now when they hear a noise they look over at me and say ‘bye truck’ (almost as if they’re telling it to leave) although now and then they do squat down where they are and look to me to see what my face is telling them. I ensure it’s always calmly acknowledging the sound, naming it: truck/plane/helicopter/motorbike, and their concerns, with the same verbal response. When they feel you are connected and responsive to their emotional situation they’re much more likely to get past it quickly. Don’t dispense it off-handedly without focus while you’re going about your daily chores or it will very quickly become valueless. We had a helicopter doing very low fly by’s our house this morning and the girls barely flinched. It’s worth investing the time and focus. Night time fretting then falls into place. You’re building a tower of trust.

There’s also a great need for them to feel they’ve had enough time with you before you instruct them it’s time to go to bed. If you try and separate from them before they feel they’ve received the closeness they need to feel calm leaving you then you’ll get a LOT of push back at bedtime. It’s very important to give them 20 minutes of your time either sitting down together reading a book or watching their last program on TV sitting together. There’s no point cleaning the kitchen while they watch it on the couch alone.  I build ‘Story Corner’ with cushions on the loungeroom floor which is inspired by another ABC cartoon. We watch Giggle & Hoot on ABC2 and then a Baby Einstein clip on YouTube which plays through the TV via a Mac Mini (or laptop with connector). I mix it up showing them different clips on different nights and talk them through what they’re seeing.

I find spending this time together before bath time makes the shutdown sequence easier. We do bookreading through the day so there’s not the inevitable “one more?” and at night time it’s Baby Einstein. Our girls do ask for “one more” video but it’s out of their control (unlike books which are within easy reach). When I say bath time and turn off the TV they say very maturely “tomorrow. tomorrow”and run to the gate to climb the stairs to the bathroom. They know the routine so well and are confident they’ll see it again ‘tomorrow’ so let go quite easily. This is the tower of trust.

Visit me again in another year and I’m sure I’ll have needed to change tact again but that’s the challenge of finding the right language for children at different stages and building a strong relationship together. Keep building that tower of trust and you’ll find “negotiations” with your kids flows pretty easily.

Good luck!

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