I have an 18 month old who has always been very resistant to go to sleep, but is pretty good at sleeping through once she has gone to sleep. For quite a while we’ve just been leaving her in her room to go to sleep and she cries a bit but then eventually goes to sleep within 15 minutes. But for the last few weeks she’s been screaming and is only happy if someone is next to her and touching her body. Tonight I sat in the room right by the cot but not touching her and she screamed for two hours! Any thoughts?
Making bedtimes happy for both you and your child can be really hard. I would not look to change too much until he goes back to school as this could be a bit much. But here are a few suggestions in the meantime:
1. Environmental factors. Ensuring that the sleep environment supports sleep is very important. Older children are often afraid of the dark so using a small night light with a red or orange glow can be really reassuring - it’s enough so they can see but it will not impact on melatonin levels, which may disturb sleep. You will want to check that your little one isn’t watching screens too close to bedtime for the same reason. You could also use continual white noise at bedtime, which you can play all night. The brain adjusts to continual white noise very quickly whereas music can disrupt.
2. Bedtime in play. I suggest you use play to make bedtime feel like a safe, happy and normal part of life.
3. Personalised bedtime book. The idea is to involve your child as much as possible in deciding how bedtime will flow and to explain the steps that are involved. Bedtime and going to sleep are quite abstract concepts in many ways, so it can help to break down what will happen. This may sound like a lot, but some children really overthink and worry about this significant time of separation from you.
So you start by sitting down with your child and working out what should be included in the bedtime routine. You can pretend you’ve forgotten and say, 'I’ve forgotten what we do before bed' so that your little one can lead. They will probably forget a few things, such as cleaning your teeth, but you can add things in too.
Once you’ve got your list, ask your child 'what do you think we should do first?' and take their suggestions seriously. Of course, if they suggest teeth before bedtime snack, then you might have to gently shift the order. But the point is to get your child as involved as possible.
The next step is to make a book out of your list. You could take photos of your child at each stage or print photos out from the internet. Your child could decorate the book. Your story might sound something like this:
This is George. George is four.
George lives with his mummy, baby sister and Max the dog.
When the day is over, it is time for George to go to bed.
George sleeps in a bed with dinosaurs in his cosy room right next to Mummy’s room.
George starts by having a bath with his sister and cleaning his teeth.
After his bath, Mummy gives George’s back a rub and then he puts his pyjamas on.
George chooses three stories, and Mummy reads to George while he sits in his bed.
After his stories, George chooses two toys to go to bed with and tucks them in.
Mummy turns off the light and sits with George to sing his special goodnight song.
Mummy draws a heart on George’s hand. If George needs to feel Mummy’s love, he can kiss the heart on his hand.
Mummy sits beside George until he is ready to go to sleep.
While George sleeps, everybody else sleeps safely in their beds.
After a lovely sleep, everyone wakes up to have another good day.
You can use this social story to address any fears that your child has, such as the dark. Most children love reading a story about themselves. You could read this story before the start of the bedtime routine so that your child knows exactly what to expect.