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!
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.
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?!