I often hear from clients that reading a book to their baby or toddler as part of the bedtime routine is a struggle. Some parents feel it’s an unspoken rule that they must read their baby a book at bedtime. Side note…I had to laugh when I selected this image…I think the title should be “Bedtime in a Dream World.” I know that bedtime might look this snuggly 2% of the time, but it’s by no means the norm.
Bedtime reading, in the traditional sense of a child sitting in your lap while you read a book, is not age appropriate for young children. As a former kindergarten teacher, I am going to encourage you to read to your child as much as possible ALL the way through school. However, if books are a struggle, there are many great alternatives that all foster the development of language, attachment, and future academic achievement. I have listed a number of them below.
Sit on the floor while you read and allow your baby or toddler to crawl around the room during the bedtime routine instead of trying to hold them in your lap.
Replace a book with the lost art of story telling. Use different voices. Feel free to tell the same story each night. Children LOVE when parents tell stories. (I do not have the gift of storytelling myself, so I am always jealous of those who do.)
Tell nursery rhymes or finger plays instead of reading. The rhyming and and alliteration help young children learn about sounds and language, which later translates into reading. The more children are exposed to rhyming and alliteration the easier it is for them to recognize sounds and sound out words when they enter school.
Sing a favorite song. When my oldest was a tiny infant, I learned a song at a mommy group that I began singing:
Good night sweet Madeleine it’s time to rest… lay your sweet head upon our Savior’s chest. I love you so, but Jesus loves you best. Good night sweet Madeleine, good night.
Here is another sweet simple song. I require simple, especially in the lyric department.
Good night to you. Good night to me. Now close your eyes and go to sleep. Good night. Sleep tight. Sweet dreams tonight. Good night. I love you.
Don’t let bedtime become stressful trying to get your child to sit for a book. Change it up, pick one of these options to see if your child enjoys changing up the routine.
I bet you are wondering how my children slept when they were little. I have a 14-year-old daughter named Madeleine, and boy/girl twins Everett and Ashton who are 10 years old. Just like all of my clients, getting my children on the right sleep schedule so that the entire family was well rested was a process that took work.
First Time Mommy:
When my oldest was born I was teaching kindergarten and nannying. She was one of those babies who took to a schedule easily. The first book I read when I was pregnant (and felt like I was racing full speed ahead into the black hole of motherhood) was The Baby Whisperer by Tracy Hogg. Her approach fit my personality and the ideas I had about how I wanted to parent. Her “Eat, Play, Sleep” plan worked for us. I remember sitting with the page open to the newborn body language descriptions and constantly studying it and making notes every time Madeleine cried or moved. I also followed the calming routine of Dr. Karp (Happiest Baby on the Block author) to the point that I felt like my uterus was going to fall out from swinging and my mouth was dry from shushing. Slowly, Madeleine picked up on the routine, and the swinging, shushing, sucking, and swaddling on your side motion became a 2 minute process instead of 35+.
At around 5 months, I felt our schedule was off. She was going to bed at 9 or 10, but she had started sleeping later and I felt our nursing schedule was thrown off. After one mommy friend reminded me that “babies can sleep 7-7,” and another shared Happy Sleep Habits, Healthy Child by Marc Weissbluth, MD with me, I gradually backed up her bedtime. In three nights she was sleeping 7pm to 7am. She was nursing and eating solids during the day and was gaining weight, so she did not need to eat during the night. She loved the predictability during the day and I felt more in control because I knew when I was going to get a break.
Not all babies have Madeleine’s health or temperament and not all new moms are as relaxed as I was. Remember, I have been around little ones since I was a tween. I have babysat and nannyed countless families, studied child development, observed in lab schools, worked in homes with children with developmental delays, and taught kindergartners in an inner-city school. My background meant that most days, I was comfortable setting boundaries for my little one. Even so, I still had to sometimes step away and take a deep breath, have a cry in the shower, and dart out the door when my husband walked in. But I want to emphasize: we are all different, especially in how we handle parenthood, and that is a good thing.
I know you are wondering… what about the twins? It was a whole new ballgame with Everett and Ashton. To be honest, I can’t remember much of the first 4 months. I felt like all I did was feed babies. Pretty soon I was dealing with a milk intolerance for one and the other screaming because my let down wasn’t fast enough. One baby wanted to live in the swaddle because he was so tense and tightly wound, and the other one screamed and swirled her limbs so much we called her ‘The Tornado.’
I learned with my first that life was just easier for us with a routine. And now with 3 under 3.5, survival was all I could manage. I followed the same routine I did with Madeleine, though I quit nursing at 8 weeks. I ended up feeding my son homemade formula due to his milk intolerance, and my daughter was more content with a faster flow bottle nipple. This change allowed me to have more time for my oldest.
What stands out the most is that I kept my son sleeping longer (a little past 3 months) in a bouncy chair so that he could be upright because of his reflux. (Side note: our bouncy chair was not the fluffy papasan-like one, it was flatter without any stuffed areas and therefore had more room for air circulation). While we had help staying with us the first several weeks, my son slept in the room with us and my daughter was in the nursery/guest room. They were both swaddled very snuggly for sleeping and they took pacifiers instead of sucking their thumbs like my oldest. They were big, healthy babies so they did not eat during the night after about 3-4 months, but I replaced those pacifiers a whole bunch until they learned to replace them themselves. Survival. It helped that they napped well and ate well. But it was death to replace the paci. They began sleeping through the night at around 7 months. By 8 weeks, the twins were in the nursery together at night, which was much better for me.
As a toddler, my son was the play hard, sleep hard type. The transition from two naps to one was really hard for him. He wanted to nap at 11:30am for what seemed like forever (18-24 months). His twin was a more average sleeper, not as sensitive to the routine. Ashton is the kid who sleeps in, whereas Madeleine and Everett were always my early birds. My twins gave up their naps earlier than Madeleine did, but they still went to quiet time in separate rooms until they were over 5.
Where We are Today:
Fast-forward to now, my oldest is still my sleeper. She requires more sleep than the twins and has an earlier bedtime than her peers. Some of this I feel is due to her dyslexia diagnosis. She expends a lot of energy focusing at school. I have always thought that her healthy sleep habits paid off when she started school. She started each day rested with the energy to push through all the challenges that came at her through the day. What would 1st grade have looked like if she were exhausted on top of having a brain that worked differently? Today my twins have a later bedtime at age 10 than my oldest had when she was their age. Different kids, different needs.
Once my husband and I set boundaries for sleep and reinforced them at each new developmental level, nap and bedtime routines have never been a fight in our house. Yes, they ask to stay up late every now and then, but they understand the boundaries and follow the routine.
I thought you would enjoy seeing a glimpse into my time in the trenches with tiny humans. It was messy, it was not perfect, but throughout the years my husband and I worked hard to reinforce a consistent sleep routine that worked for our family.
This month I would like to feature former clients that would like to share their story. Would you be interested?
As always, I work with children across a wide range of ages in any given month.
This past month, I happened to work with two boys that were both 2.5—one locally and one in Connecticut. The two different families were comfortable with different methods, but both had the same goal: to build confidence in their toddlers so that they could self-soothe, go to sleep independently, and stay in their room all night. Discerning which methods work best for different families is an important part of what I do.
I recently worked with a 6 and a 7-month-old, who each needed more time to adjust to new routines. Depending on their individual sleep associations, some infants need you to reinforce new sleep habits longer than you might think. This adjusting process can be a challenge for mom and dad.
Lots of phone consultations were also scheduled this month. I have the pleasure of speaking with many parents who truly love having a conversation focused on the individual needs of their child. Learning and tweaking sleep schedules, adjusting feeding, setting expectations, and staying consistent are all important parts of the process of working with clients. I truly enjoy getting to know each family and creating a plan to help them become a well-rested household.