But what if your child insists on resisting? As babies grow into toddlers and toddlers turn into no-napping pre- and primary-schoolers, their lives, bodies, and brains change. Of course, that means their sleep habits change too. Maybe your previously calm child is making bedtime a battleground, maybe you’ve always had a sleep-resister, maybe you just want them to start putting themselves to bed – if any of these scenarios sound familiar, perhaps it’s time to switch up bedtime. And, as the nights draw in and the clock-change approaches, now is as good a time as any.
Rotating the routine
If your child has become used to you putting them to bed, you might find them playing up when you can’t – if you’re late home from work, say, or heading out for the evening.
There’s one simple way to challenge this bedtime dependence, and that is to have someone else put your child to bed regularly. Obviously, this is easier for some than others, but if for whatever reason you are unable to ask a partner, perhaps someone else could help. Grandparents, aunts, uncles, friends, babysitters – anyone your child trusts and who you know well enough to talk through your usual nightly routine with.
The idea, of course, is for that person to take your place at bedtime. You might start alternating regularly with them: perhaps it’s Mum and Dad swapping every night or perhaps it’s one evening a week when a family member visits. The key is to plan so your child can expect it.
How should you start?
If you work shifts, travel, don’t live with a partner, or have more than one child sleeping in separate rooms, you’ve probably already had to deal with this. There are many circumstances where switching up bedtime is unavoidable: most parents are consummate multi-taskers, but nobody can be everywhere at once.
However, if making changes like this is a significant new step, you’ll want to lay some groundwork. Start by telling your child what is going to happen. You could build up to it gradually, so for the first few times, you are present while the other person is putting them to bed. Then when you feel comfortable, make yourself scarce so you’re not tempted to step in.
If your child is particularly resistant to change, it is bound to be hard. It always takes time to adjust, especially for tired children. Let it sink in: this is a good environment for making changes, and it will be worth it when you can happily leave them with someone else.
What if rotating isn’t possible?
It might not be possible to rotate the whole nighttime routine, but there are still things you can try. Could you have someone else help with a specific bedtime task – story-time, for instance? If you have more than one child, can the older sibling help get their brother or sister dressed? Perhaps you can even start involving your child directly – ask them to choose their own bedtime story, or lie quietly before you say goodnight.
Encouraging your child to put themselves to bed
As your child grows, you may naturally find your bedtime role diminishing. That’s parenting, apparently. But if you want to start encouraging independence, here are a few tips:
• Stick to timescales. Clock-changes aside, aim to keep bedtime rituals the same, so your child knows what to expect.
• As they develop, ask them to lead more. For example, you could encourage them to walk up the stairs ahead of you, get undressed, brush their teeth or put their own pyjamas on.
• Give them space to share their fears. Make talking together a part of the bedtime routine, so they can unburden themselves before going to sleep.
• Try to give them as much control as you can. One way is to offer choices. Let them select what to wear, what to read, what to sing, and so on. You could also set timescales for certain tasks and get them to physically set the timer.
• Investigate products that help with boundaries. From teeth-brushing apps to clocks to routine cards and reward charts, anything that helps a child engage visually will aid understanding.
Anyone who has ever had to look after a young baby will know most children are not automatically good sleepers – so the main thing is: don’t worry if it takes a while to change things.