Five kids and 16 years after first becoming parents, my husband and I have a trick or two up our sleeves for getting kids to stay in their beds. Most nights, that is.
We've had every type of sleeper in this house. To get these maniacs to sleep means we had to get creative. We are proud parents of the easy-to-put-to-bed kid, the has-to-be-rocked-to-sleep-in-a-very-specific-position kid, the I-have-bad-dreams-and-don't-want-to-fall-asleep kid, the I-need-101-glasses-of-water-and-tuck-ins kid, and last but not least, the I-only-want-to-sleep-in-your-bed kid.
I present to you our five tried and true bedtime strategies that I'm guessing you've never read about in a parenting book. They might just work on the crazies under your roof. Give them a try tonight.
Please note: These strategies will only work if you draw a clean line in the sand with kids. You are going to do X, Y and Z to help them sleep, but once you are done tucking them in, you are not repeating any of this or adding to it. Lovingly and firmly point them back to bed if they reappear, and tell them they can use the strategy you used to put themselves to sleep.
I sometimes repeat this over and over like a loon, but it works. These strategies are about putting the work in before your butt hits the couch so your butt can stay there. They are about teaching kids that you are there to help them and that they can also help themselves.
The Easy-to-put-to-bed-kid Strategy
While these kids may be easy to put to sleep, they shall not be overlooked in this household. No matter what, they demand their share of attention – even the so-called easy ones. We do the usual book, prayers, and tuck in, but to give bedtime that special touch, we use a little thing we call Whispered Dreams.
Simply ask your sleepy kiddos to tell you what they want to dream about and whisper this in their ears, slowly and sleepily. Your cherubs can close their eyes and imagine the dream they are going to have as they drift off to sleep. This strategy sets kids up for sleeping success by giving them a little attention and something to focus on.
The Has-to-be-rocked-to-sleep-in-a-specific-position-kid Strategy
The goal here is to get these kids off your lap and into their beds. Pay attention to their bodies, and help them get comfy and ready for sleep with a little mindful relaxation disguised as a special bedtime trick. We start at their toes and sprinkle "sleepy dust" over each body part. This is invisible, of course. Do not let them talk you into using glitter no matter how desperate you are.
After sprinkling the dust above each body part, we give a little massage and have our sweet bedtime friend imagine each body part getting very relaxed and sleepy. We finish off with Whispered Dreams and a bedtime blessing. This one worked like a charm for easily two years with one of our tough customers.
The I-have-bad-dreams-and-don't-want-to-fall-asleep-kid Strategy
For the fear filled child, bedtime can be rough. When our son started having bad dreams and bedtime fears, we started a Weapons Journal. He would draw a weapon he would bring into his dream to fight the bad guys. Things like squirt guns filled with something sticky that would trap them. Or a freeze ray to make his enemies stay put. Or a giant feather that would tickle them until they couldn't move. (Keep the focus off the violent and on the funny to keep things light.) Then he would sleep with the journal right by him so he could access the weapons in his dream. He swore the weapons showed up in his dreams, and it kept him in his bed. Win-win.
The I-need-101-glasses-of-water-and-tuck-ins-kid Strategy
Bedtime Spa and Pillow Turn Around
For these kids, you need to play to their sense of drama and love of being cared for. A special bedside table with a book and flashlight in case they can't sleep, a special glass of water or water bottle, a picture of something comforting, and all their pillows and lovies are crucial. Basically, set their sleeping area up like a little spa. They should have everything they need by their bed before you leave the room.
A strange but true trick that works for this type of kid: put a pillow at the foot of the bed and ask them to change their sleeping direction if they are tempted to get up and ask you for another tuck in. For some reason, this resets them and they fall asleep. This was my strategy as a kid when I couldn't sleep, and it worked every time.
The I-only-want-to-sleep-in-your-bed-kid Strategy
The "Everyone Loves You" Song
Every one of our kids loved this at some point, but it works wonderfully for the kid who wants you by her side as she drifts off. My mother-in-law taught us a little song she used, which basically entails us singing the names of everyone who loves our kid on a loop to the tune of "On Top of Spaghetti": "Grandma and Grandpa, love sweet little , and Mommy and Daddy, they love you, too...."
Repeat and add new names until you run out, then loop it all back again. This focuses your kiddo on his or her people and the safety they offer. Most often, kids will drift off before you're all the way through. But if not, they can sing themselves to sleep, or you could even record it for them to listen to.
Use these strategies as a springboard for coming up with your own special family bedtime tricks. The best work we do as parents comes from things we make up in the trenches, in moments of sheer desperation. For every one of these tips, there was a night when my partner and I felt like we were being held hostage by a sleepy tyrant. We had to get creative in order to get ourselves to the couch to binge-watch "Orphan Black" – and in those moments, brilliance was born.
Our kids look back on these as special moments. They also learned they can manage much of this on their own now. Balancing the special with the teaching is what it's all about, even when we just want everyone to GET TO BED.