It was a lovely evening and we were having a few drinks with friends at our house. Gabriel was his usual show off self, dancing and singing for our guests. As I get up to check on the meal I was preparing Gabriel comes over and says nigh nigh and then proceeds to wave goodbye to everyone before heading to the stairs. “He wants to go to bed”, I turn and say to my husband. “Ok let’s go”. And with that Lee tucks him in bed and we carry on with our evening peacefully. Gabriel was only 15 months old.
This is a normal night for us, but judging by the reactions from our friends and family. Is isn’t so normal. “I can’t believe he asks you to go to bed” a lot of them were saying. “Whats your secret?”.
It is an age-old question that all parents seem to be desperate to find the answer to. How do I get my baby to sleep at night? I have lost count on how many times this same subject has crept into our many conversations with other parents. Everybody wants a good nights sleep. We have had our fair share of sleepless nights however we have rarely had trouble putting him to bed. As soon as he knows that it is bedtime he complies and a lot of the time he is the one telling us when he wants to go.
1. Bedtime Routine
In every parenting book the first thing they always say is to have a routine and I tend to agree with them. Having a rough routine in place helps your child understand and predict what is going to happen next. If they already know, then they are less likely to fight it. We started Gabriel on a bedtime routine from 2 months old. Every night at 6:30 he would have a bath, followed by milk and then he was put down to sleep at 7pm. To this day, this is still his routine.
2. Sleep train, Sleep train, Sleep Train
I cannot emphasise this enough. You need to put the work in to reap the rewards. I spent hours teaching Gabriel to fall asleep on his own in his cot using gentle sleep training methods. It was tedious, and time-consuming but I knew that it was necessary. The aim is to teach them to fall asleep on their own without your assistance. The work paid off and from 3 months we could put Gabriel down in his cot and he would put himself to sleep. Pick a method and stick to it. Be consistent and patient and you will start to see it working.
3. Never use the bed or bedroom as a punishment
When Gabriel started to throw some of his epic tantrums my first reaction was to put him in his cot as punishment. I did it twice before I quickly became aware that it was affecting his sleep. What was usually a happy and peaceful place had for a brief moment become a place of despair for Gabriel. I realised that by punishing him in his room I was giving him mixed signals. When he was put to bed he wouldn’t understand if it was bedtime or if he was being punished for something. So my husband and I vowed to never use his room as punishment again. I proceeded to try to make his room a place of fun and peace again. And now it is his happy place again. Make their bedroom a happy place so that they feel that going to bed is a good thing and not a punishment.
4. Code word
Since I was a kid my mother used the term nigh nigh for going to sleep. I used it, my brother used it and so it was only natural that Gabriel used it. From the day he was born I referred to going to sleep as nigh nigh. This innocent little word is now his reference for sleep time and has proven very powerful in getting him to bed. He knows the moment we say ‘Its nigh nigh time’, that he needs to wind down. It was one of the first words he learnt to say and helped us to communicate when he was starting to get tired. Instead of him reaching the overtired stage or us having to guess why he is in a bad mood, he now immediately tells us by saying nigh nigh. Using a consistent and easy word for bedtime can help facilitate communication when you child is still too young to properly talk.
For us this is one of the most essential parts of parenting Gabriel. When I started to sleep train, I had decided very early on that I didn’t want to cry it out. At least not until he was a lot older. My view was that I wanted my baby to know that his parents were there and for him to feel safe. I felt that if he felt reassured that mum and dad were there if he needed us, it would give him the confidence to sleep on his own. This went hand in hand with the sleep training I did with him. Though I encouraged him to fall asleep on his own, I always made sure that he knew I wasn’t far away. We continue to use this tactic even now.
You will hit obstacles with sleep regressions, growth spurts and separation anxiety as they get older. However what has always worked for us is consistency and reassurance. I hope this helps