After reading a wonderful article by Heather Turgeon, a psychotherapist and author of The Happy Sleeper, http://parenting.blogs.nytimes.com/2015/01/09/selling-the-merits-of-sleep/ I realized she was spot on. We teach our kids that sleep is a negative. I’m sure most of us don’t go out of our way to do this, but there is always this undercurrent of negativity when we mention it, and we mention it every day!
So how does this look? “Tommy, hurry up it’s bedtime,” mom says with anxiety in her voice. “Ok one more show and then it’s off to bed.” Sounds like we’re inflicting some sort of punishment. “If you don’t do what I say, you’re going to bed half an hour earlier.” Is it prison we have to go to?
Why do we do this? Well probably one reason is because our parents did the exact same thing. I remember beautiful spring and summer evenings playing capture the flag or whatever game all 20 children on my street decided upon, but knowing soon I would be called in for “bed.” I dreaded that. I was having so much fun. Why couldn’t I be called in for a bowl of ice cream?
Another reason is, it’s just natural that as tired and busy parents we look very forward to our children going to bed. We want it so badly that we worry it’s not going to happen without a delay or a fight; and thus anxiety is apparent in our words and tone.
Funny though how much we ourselves love going to bed. And as any parent of older kids know, they love it too. They love it so much they never want to get out of bed.
So How Do We Change the Conversation?
By putting the positive tone on it that it truly deserves. As parents we know the value of sleep. We know how cranky we and our kids are when we don’t get the proper amount. We also know that our children grow (mentally and physically) when they sleep. And many people are aware that childhood diseases such as diabetes, obesity and Attention Deficit Hyperactive Disorder are related to sleep deprivation. Children also experience a rise in their cortisol levels (stress hormone) when they are overtired which only makes it harder for them to fall asleep and stay asleep.
Heather has some great ideas: Talk about sleep during the day and make it interesting and pertinent. For example, in the morning discuss sleep at breakfast. Talk about how your brain absorbs things you learned yesterday, while you slept last night. Point out that children need a lot more sleep than adults, because how much their brains and bodies are growing, and a good night sleep will make them big, strong and smart! Instead of saying it’s “bed time,” call it “cozy time” or something equally as appealing. Help your child get excited thinking about their pre-sleep routine; getting in their warm and comfortable bed, mom or dad cuddling with them, tucking them in, and kissing them good night!
Discuss how Mommy and Daddy will be well rested when they sleep, which means Mommy and Daddy will have lots of energy to play with them. Why not make a game of it? Who can think of all the activities and responsibilities Mommy and Daddy have each day? Discuss how much they need their sleep in order to accomplish those things. Or how about, who can think of the most words to describe how great everyone feels when they sleep well? Alternatively, what words come to mind to describe how bad you feel when you don’t sleep well? Write the words down on a chart (and corresponding illustrations if you’re artistic) and put it on the refrigerator-a good daily reminder of the value of sleep. Think of rewards you can give your children for going to bed when they should. Going to their favorite restaurant for lunch. A special dessert at dinner the next day. Give sleep the positive association it deserves.
If changing the conversation does not change your child’s attitude towards sleep, and your child is not getting the sleep they need, then you should consider sleep training your child.
I would love your feedback. Please let me know if you found this article helpful.
Angela Walsh is a Family Sleep Institute, Certified Infant and Child Sleep Consultant and the founder of Babes in Sleepland. She helps sleep deprived babies, children and families, get back on track and get the sleep they need and desire. To learn more about Angela and how she can help you, visit her website: babesinsleepland.com Also get sleep tips, the latest research on baby and child products, and be part of her weekly Q and A at her Facebook page: Babes in Sleepland.