Most babies and toddlers love to be with their parents; after all, we are social beings who thrive on social interaction with others and the security of another when we are babies. This is a pre-programmed function that ensures our survival as a species. So when it comes to bedtime, it is natural for a baby or toddler to not want to separate from the parent and family.
Our Western society, however, is not structured in a way that parents can always be with the sleeping baby or toddler. In today’s Western world we often see our baby or toddler sleep patterns as a indicator of our parenting skill, which logically we know is not as simple as that but the questions we always hear are; Does your baby sleep? Is he a good or bad sleeper? Actually it can be a range of factors that impact on how a baby and toddler settle for and maintain sleep and the simple actions of preparation for sleep can be very influential.
Some preparation sleep tips
Avoid overtiredness. It cannot be overstated how important it is to the brain of a baby and toddler to avoid being overtired. Sleep happens much easier if it occurs when the tried signs are showing, and not ages after. What are your infant or toddlers early tired signs? Not the late yawning ones, the early ones. These are your indicator to start getting ready for a sleep time. Grizzly, irritable behaviour indicates later tired signs and sleep needs to happen pretty soon. There’s not much time to play with when those late tired signs are upon you.
Turn the TV and computer off. No screens are recommended by the American Association of Paediatrics, until the age of 2 years. A quiet book reading or cuddle and song are much more calming on the brain than the stimulating activity of TV and computer screens. How about 20-30 minutes without a screen before sleep time, to allow that little brain to slow down, ready for sleep. TVs are far more stimulating than we often give them credit for.
Anticipation helps the baby and/or toddler know that bedtime is approaching. The gentle cuddle and rock or a song can add to the ‘messages’ that sleep time is near.
Swaddling or wrapping can be very calming in infants, it’s helps them not be woken by those early reflexes that happen when they startle and being swaddled can promote a sense of being cuddled as well as help the baby feel contained and secure. For safety reasons of course, once an baby begins to roll it is no longer appropriate to swaddle because they may not be able to move if they find roll to a position where they cannot breathe comfortably. It is at this point that using a safe, weather weight, age appropriate sleeping bag can be useful. Safe Sleep Space has an “Ultimate Sleep Kit” which includes a swaddle that evolves into a sleeping bag by popping arms out when babe commences rolling, taking much of the stress and distress out of ‘unwrapping’ your baby..
Together during the cuddle, dim the lights and ‘set the scene’ for sleep.
Blankie or teddy can offer comfort to help the baby and toddler make the transition from being with you to without you. A ‘blankie’ with a satin edge is a perfect comforter as it can be safely tucked in under the mattress so it cannot obstruct airflow to the baby and child. Be careful not to use anything that may interfere with the airflow to a baby or may be choked on, just be sensible, if you can tuck it in and the baby can feel it but not pull it over their face or inhale or choke on it. SIDS offers guidelines regarding bedding and baby (www.sidsandkids.org).
Allow the baby and toddler to drift to sleep in their cot. Going to sleep from drowsy and just quiet and alert is the ideal way for sleep to begin. Self-regulation in the form of shuffling around and getting comfortable is part of preparation for sleep, so it can be done if the baby or toddler has the opportunity to do that for himself or herself before sleep. Drifting to sleep helps a baby and toddler know how to get back to sleep when they naturally wake between sleep cycles.
Remember not to offer bed time as an option to a toddler. That leaves the parent in a rather awkward position when the toddler politely declines the invitation to go to bed. Gently and calmly say ‘it is bed time now’. If your want to offer choices at this time, let that be from the two books to read from, rather than choosing to or not to go to bed.
Think about adding a ‘sleep message’ into the bedroom; darken the room, use very low lighting and add some background white noise to help the baby and toddler ‘see’ and feel it is sleep time.
Remember not every baby or toddler can just ‘go to sleep’ they often need support and a lot of patience from a loving and understanding parent. Guidance and a positive approach will help the baby and child make the transition to sleep more readily.