HOW TO GET A SPIRITED CHILD TO SLEEP

I DON’T normally write ‘how to’ posts for parents.

One, because I am no expert. And two, well because even the experts don’t always have the answers.

Us mums, us dads, we all know that there is no rule book for parenting. No essential guide book that will make this parenting malarkey a breeze.

It’s tricky. It’s testing. It’s pretty much all trial and error.

But goodness me, if there was one thing I wish there was an easy solution for, it would be to get my gorgeous, spirited girl to sleep well.

My daughter is the best thing since sliced bread, to me, but blimey, the sleep thing!

Argh!

I got a good night’s sleep last night. (Don’t hate me.) And thanking all the gods, most nights now, are like this or at least similar.

But let me tell you, for a long time – Elsie is now 3 and a bit – sleep in our house, decent sleep, was a very rare occurrance.

At one point, when she was about 9-18 months old, it was so bad, that I can’t even look back at some photos taken at that time, because just the thought of that god damn awful, sleep deprived period makes me feel miserable.

At the lowest I slept on her bedroom floor for months at a time.

Because – I kid you not – she would wake up every 40 minutes. All night long. And then, would need cuddling or rocking back to sleep.

Things now are better. Much better! (Hurrah!)

Most nights are fine or at the very least bearable. Progress indeed.

But what I’ve learned is this.

If you have a spirited child like Elsie –  (strong willed, emotion led, fiercely  independent, creative, smart and doesn’t adapt well to change )- the chances are that what normally works for other children when it comes to sleep, will not work for you and your child.

In fact, the normal things that work well for others, will actually – and probably – make your child’s sleep a million times worse.

You can’t tire them out. (If I had a pound for every time I heard this!) As this only makes them over-tired and unable to sleep properly.

You can’t let them cry it out. Because it just makes them incredibly upset and unable to sleep properly.

You can’t let them go to bed with a music and light show. Because they’ll just get over stimulated and become unable to sleep properly.

I’ve tried everything.

And I certainly don’t have all the answers (if any!), but I do know what has helped both Elsie and us, to get some precious sleep.

These things may not work for you.

They may sound ridiculously obvious.

You may already be doing them.

But if you’re suffering like we have, well, then they may just be worth a try.

 

How to get a spirited child to sleep

 

We have a set bedroom routine that’s pretty rigid

Elsie needs routine.

It does make life more tricky, some people may think we’re over the top because we won’t let Elsie stay up late or party with the best of them and I often feel ‘strict’ for doing this, but it’s a necessity. For all of us.

We have to keep things the same as much as possible. Especially when it comes to bedtime.

So, I never let Elsie sleep over at Grandparents without us. I don’t let her stay up late (bar a special occasion). I put her to bed at the same time every night. And I try not to do sleepovers too much at friend’s houses.

And this isn’t because I’m a kill joy, but because the slightest change in her bedtime routine throws a huge spanner in the sleep works.

I ignored my own advice on this once and did let her sleep at my Mum’s so we could enjoy an evening at a wedding. She was sleeping really well at the time and stupidly I thought we’d cracked it.

But we hadn’t. That one night put us right back to square one and it took us months, yep months, to get her sleep back on track again.

 

I try to stop Elsie getting over tired

It’s not always possible. Heck, it’s mostly impossible.

But I can guarantee if Elsie gets over tired…if she has too long a day at nursery or if she has had a particularly hectic day, her sleep that night will suffer.

Sure, she’ll crash out easily when it’s bedtime, but she will wake up numerous times during the night and need help getting back to sleep.

Running around all day never means “she’ll sleep well tonight!” as so many people love to tell me!

It should and it might work for other children but it doesn’t for my little lady.

So I look out for signs of tiredness (rubbing eyes, yawning etc) and I try to catch her before ‘melt down’ time.

I put her to bed a lot earlier if she’s tired. (For us, it  always helps her sleep longer and better!) And I always try to keep her days calm-ish.

Boring it may be, but normality and calm, are our magic sleep keys.

 

I try to stop tears at or near bedtime

I’ve learned over the years that tears before bedtime do not make for a happy, sleeping Elsie. So I try, whenever possible, to stop this from happening.

If she gets tearful I’ll hold and calm her down. If she’s naughty before bedtime, I don’t tell her off, because I understand she’s exhausted (and talk to her about it in the morning instead).

Elsie needs to be balanced emotionally to sleep well at bedtime, so I always try to avoid tears and cross words at all costs.

 

I keep her bedroom dark

With blackout curtains. The slightest chink of light wakes Elsie up or stops her getting to sleep.

So although she does have a soft nightlight (that glows a gentle pink) to help her feel safe, when she’s going to sleep at this time of year, often I’ll even cover that up a little too.

In a quiet and dark bedroom, she always sleeps much better.

 

I don’t do battles – in the middle of the night

I’ve tried everything with Elsie when she’s woken up in the middle of the night. I’ve been stern. I’ve soothed her. I’ve ignored her (for a short while). I’ve bribed. I’ve cajoled. And I’ve even on occasion shouted a little too.

And none of it has worked.

After much trial and error, this is now what works (for us) when she awakes:

a) Not saying a word, I will settle her and leave the room

b) If that doesn’t work, I will speak to her (just a little), reassure her and leave the room

c) If neither of these things work and she’s awake and cannot sleep, I will work with her and sleep with her, for a while, in her bed.

Battling with her to go to sleep in the early hours hasn’t worked yet. And has only created more problems.

But this three way method (currently) works for us and means that perhaps eight times out of ten, she feels secure and sleeps brilliantly.

 

I keep stimulation a minimum before bedtime

Which means no TV before bed. No running about. No crazy hour. No bath time. No being silly with Daddy.

This advice did come from a book and when I tried it and realised that calm time before bedtime, works a treat, I now do my best to enforce it!

I hate doing it if I’m honest especially when Jamie gets in from work and wants to be daft and throw Elsie in the air, but keeping stimulation to a minimum and keeping things calm, means we all sleep well.

 

Finally, I just do what seems to work

I keep trying. I keep persevering. And most importantly, I do what I know works. At any given time. For Elsie.

Not everyone will agree with my ‘methods’. Not everyone will understand these lengths I go to.

But she’s not everyone’s daughter, but mine.

And I’m not afraid to say, that when it comes to sleep and her sleep patterns, Mama really does know best in this instance.

 

What do you think? Do these suggestions sound bonkers? Or have you any amazing tips to share?!

 

With love,

Kate

Lips

 

 

 

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16 Discussions on
“HOW TO GET A SPIRITED CHILD TO SLEEP”
  • Some interesting tips that I’ll bear in mind in the future thank you! At 10 weeks old I’m already noticing that if Henry gets overtired I then have a battle to get him to sleep during the day. He can’t stay awake more than an hour and a half at the moment, so I follow his lead. After his night feed he is wide awake so we’ve been doing the same thing with not over stimulating him by keeping talking to a minimum etc. I’m sure we’ve got a lot of fun to come as he gets older though! X

    • Sounds like you’ve got things under control Helen! One thing that definitely saved us (and actually helped Elsie sleep through the night from 6 weeks to 8 months, before it all went horribly wrong!) was a sleep pod. Looks and seems weird to have them zipped up in one, but because Elsie’s reflexes would continually wake her and because she’s such a tough sleeper, it just worked wonders. Not for everyone but worked like a dream for us! She would calm down as soon as she was zipped up! x

  • Interesting post. My 5 year old was exactly the same, easily overstimulated and wound up. We had strict routines to manage sleep and what we did worked for us. Glad you found your own way….the only way in parenting unfortunately a handbook would be easier! On the up side….he is growing up and we can relax the routines a little but not to frequently!

    • Thanks Hannah! It definitely seems to be all about the routines and trying to keep things relatively calm. It does *says tenatively* seem to be getting a little easier as Elsie gets older, thank goodness. Although I was in bed with her again last night at 2am! :-/ x

  • Hell yeah! This is us! Baby is bonkers as you know and all the regular advice didn’t work. I lost track of the amount of people who told me to leave her crying etc, it is just not worth it. We haven’t cracked it, but we don’t reduce stimulation before bed, which we should do. But Baby sounds exactly the same as Elsie xxx

    • It’s so tough isn’t it?! So glad I’m not alone! (Although I know I’m not). All the well meaning advice is wonderful but blimey it doesn’t half drive me nuts sometimes! Def try reducing stimulation before bed if you can. Really helped us xxx

  • Sleep is such an emotive topic, isn’t it? You just have to do what works for you in the end. My littlest is not a good sleeper, he’s nearly 10 months so still young but he’s better when I get him to sleep earlier before he’s overtired otherwise it’s a nightmare. #brilliantblogposts

  • for me the last one is key, just do what works, with 6 I’ve found them all to be different and respond to different things, largely driven by how much sleep they actually need, which in itself varies a lot. #BriliantBlogPosts

    • Six?! Six?!Wow Fiona you must be super woman! :) But yes you’re absolutely right, whatever works for all of us, is the key to sleep. In fact, to do with anything regarding parenting I guess.x

  • I am nodding in agreement to everything you have said about Spirited Children, especially about not ever getting tired regardless of how much you have worn them out during the day. My husband always says, “she’s full throttle til she runs out of gas!” My Spirited Child (my first born) is now 7 & 1/2 years old and I have often said that I feel as though my life has revolved around her sleep schedule! Since birth! Especially in the baby/toddler/preschool years. Total nightmare. I too have written a post on my blog about getting my Spirited Child to sleep! lol!! I’d like to share this one with you though. You might see some similarities in your daughter as well. It’s basically a love letter to my daughter’s Spiritedness. I had to write it to force myself to look at the positives because it can really get you down. The day-to-day struggle. I’m so glad I wrote it. It makes me cry sometimes reading it. http://mytalesfromthecrib.blogspot.com/2013/05/my-spirited-crystal-wonder-girl-part1.html
    In my experience so far, they do grow out of some of their more difficult “Spirited” ways – which I would have never believed until my cousin told me that her son, also Spirited, totally mellowed out when he got older. He’s now an adult and she never had a word for it, but when I was describing my daughter as a 3 year old (one of our more difficult ages actually), she kept saying, “Oh my gosh, that sounds just like my son as a little one!” So I got tips from her. Then I noticed around 5 years old some things mellowed out and I was shocked. It almost blew my husband and I over when she said one evening, “I’m kinda tired. I think I’m going to go to bed now.” And she walked in her room and got into bed!!! It hasn’t happened since, but I’ll take the one time in 7 1/2 years, haha. (It’s probably happened again, but that first time was HUGE!!!) However, then we started school and there was a whole new nightmare. Not to give you shivers. What I ended up doing was homeschool after our first year of kindergarten in public school. I realize that is pretty drastic, but it was just what worked for us and helped keep the peace in our family. She is now a homeschooled 2nd grader who is a swimmer (to “wear her out” and she takes ballet & tap and loves the structure of that) and she’s thriving. We still have our bad days – almost daily *wink* – but some things have gotten easier. Hang in there. Spirited Children make us amazing parents because we are forced to learn, evolve and practice patience and compassion. Great article & great tips! Stopping by from #brilliantblogpost I just had baby #3 and wrote about having postpartum depression. http://mytalesfromthecrib.blogspot.com/2015/10/why-shame-of-postpartum-depression.html
    Cheers!

  • Loved reading this. We’ve had to get a lot stricter with my daughters bed time routine which has worked really well so far. I sometimes feel like its boring but it makes us all happier. She’s 3 1/2 now and does seem to be getting better sleep wise (fingers crossed!). #brilliantblogpost

  • Yes, yes and yes, I have two children just like Elsie and what works for other children, simply doesn’t work for them. They have crazy energy levels and Oliver literally doesn’t tire easily. Alexander sleeps well most of the time but Oliver, at 5 is still restless and likes to come into our bed and my Mum tells me I was exactly the same. She also tells me the smartest of kids tend to not sleep well so you know we’re winning there right?! Heehe. Mwah x

  • we have a child that, at 2, refuses bed and will kick and scream when it’s time for it. If she’s had a busy day and active, but no naps, then she tends to get tired enough that she’ll fall asleep sometime after 8 pm(What used to be bedtime). If she has had a nap, even a short 15-20 power nap, she will be up til nearly midnight and there’s no amount of getting her to stay in her bed that works.

    she usually needs us to stay in her room with her til she falls asleep or is tired enough to not care that we’ve left the room. but when we are in the room she’s bouncing off her bed, climbing on the poopy trash can, flipping the light back on for the 20th time after we’ve turned it off. I hate to say this but at times like this the only thing that has caused her to willingly stay in her bed is when we lose our tempers with her. I don’t mean to, and I don’t want to. I hate how that’s what does it. I don’t want it to be that way. for a time a simple explanation that ‘mommy and daddy are going to bed too and need to. you don’t have to go to sleep, but you need to stay quiet in your room and no turning on the light’ would work. A calm explanation as to why she must do what I am asking her to do. But that was a short lived phase and has been months since it worked.

    I appreciate your advice as to structured bedtime. I only wish it worked on our insanely active child. I feel that if we had a house and a yard to play in she’d do bedtime more readily. not because she’d be worn out but being cooped up in our apartment I think gets to her. I Try to take her to a park as often as i can, but there are days that are too cold or rainy or just don’t have the time. Even then, we’re at the park for maybe an hour, and for her, that’s just not enough. Summertime was great because of the amount of days we could spend outside at the park, but now winter is setting in and, well, it’s going to be a very rough winter.

    I am at my wits end.

  • Oh my! First article I’ve read ever that actually speaks to me…I am sooooooooo sick of the let them run out of puff, she must sleep well at night stuff. We have a full of beans little girl who is intelligent, witty, active and wonderful but sleep is not in any way her priority add in a rotating shift worker and our house is bedlam. We have just had the in laws stay and see the madness to which they only comment she’s just tired, it’s all so much having people here etc, to which I’m like no actually coming out of bed ten times a night and not sleeping through is completely normal for her and yes she still wakes at 6am full of energy! They still don’t believe me that it’s normal, as none of their kids did it. Nice to see an article from someone that gets it..nail on the head

    • Thanks so much Hayley! I’m so glad it made you feel ‘normal’ as that’s one of the reasons why I wrote it! All babies are different, what works for one never works for another, etc. It’s exhausting I know, but reassuring to realise it’s not just you or your child that never sleeps well! :) x

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