Sleep where the baby sleeps

How to get your kid to go to sleep

Around the world parents pace hall ways and squeeze into bunk beds and sing songs and read books in an attempt to get their kids to go to sleep. At The Spinoff Parents we wanted to share all the ways we encourage children to fall asleep – methods that sometimes even work. Here’s a collection of tips and tricks from real New Zealand parents.

Emily Writes, Spinoff Parents editor:

There’s such a focus on babies and sleep but nobody really talks about the unending nightmare that can be trying to get a three, four, five etc. year-old to bed. Often the mums I hear from who are shattered don’t have babies anymore. They have toddlers and school kids who are afraid of monsters, or it’s too hot, or too cold, or can I have some water please, or I’m hungry, or can I sleep with you?

It can feel like it’ll never end – but then you have a breakthrough, and a few months of easy bedtimes, before it all starts over again. The thing to remember is that almost all parents go through this. And if they’re lucky enough to have kids who sleep easily, all night, in their own bed – they might instead have picky eaters, or kids who struggle in social situations, or kids who only wear green. Every kid is different. Luckily every parent is different too.

This is a great list of ideas for getting your wee one to bed. Some will work for you, some won’t. But hopefully it serves as a reality check; learning to go to sleep is a developmental milestone. It takes time. And, most of all, it takes empathy.

My tips around anxiety or fear at bedtime include: picking dreams to avoid nightmares (outlined below by another parent), putting worries into a box – “Let’s let your worries sleep in here and see if they’re still there in the morning” – and reminding them that we are just next door and they can come into bed with us if needed.

My general advice around sleep is pretty simple and boring and unfortunately not really satisfying. I consider that I struggle to go to sleep if my brain is running, or I’m not tired, or I’m hungry, or I’m thirsty, or I’m worried, or it’s too hot, or it’s too cold. When I think about what I need to get to sleep, it makes sense that my kids will need the right environment too sometimes. I try to keep that in mind when I’m putting them to bed. Or I drink wine and watch Married at First Sight while my husband does it. Or I just pretend I can’t hear them. Good night and good luck!

Also every piece of advice contradicts itself. Welcome to parenting!

Spinoff Parents editor Emily Writes

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We have a strict routine. Wees, teeth, two books and lights out. If our daughter mucks about or whatever we ignore it. If she leaves her room we say nothing at all and return her to her bed. She’s learnt now not to muck around and just goes to sleep.

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Honest? Tablet. My god I’m so over it. Go to bed, here is Octonauts, see you in the morning… And he watches 20 minutes, turns it off, goes to sleep by 9.30pm. No tablet, I’m talking past 11pm. Yes, I’m lazy and/or desperate but it’s become survival mode.

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We tried a bit of reverse psychology and made bed time about staying in bed, rather than going to sleep.

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My confession is when my daughter had a phase of wanting me to lie next to her while she fell asleep I’d lie a bit uncomfortably for her, like maybe squishing her arm a little or all pointy elbows or something, so she’d always eventually say “Ok go away now Mama”. She gets all the comfy cuddles she wants the rest of the time!

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Sometimes, if we’re struggling, we let our daughter get into our bed and watch The Crown (she calls it “The Queen”). She loves it but it puts her to sleep in less than ten minutes every time.

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We have a two-storey house and the kids’ bedrooms are downstairs. I just ignore them when I hear them on the stairs. They don’t come past the gate and sometimes just fall asleep there after waiting for attention that they don’t get.

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Our kids have been increasingly shit sleepers. The first slept 12 hours a night, and got herself up and just sort of chilled a lot. The second was very poor for the first year or two, resulting in a lot of bottles and crying it out, but she’s been effectively perfect since she was two, sleeping like a corpse for a solid 11 hours.

The youngest is a true demon right through the night, refusing to go to sleep, getting out of bed incessantly, waking between midnight and 3am howling in non-specific agony and sleeping so lightly that the creak of a floorboard will have her up. Then, from 4.30am onwards, she’s liable to get up and demand Coco Pops (the weekend cereal) and TV (the weekend morning entertainment) every night of the week.

We have tried everything. A partial list: patting her back, multiple bottles, threats of a return to the cot, removal of key toys, putting her outside (this one works, but is definitely not OK so we don’t do it anymore), letting her read until she falls asleep, letting her listen to stories until she falls asleep, strict routines, no routines. going to bed early, staying up late. You get the idea.

Last night we were on day two of doing the Nanny Jo technique, for probably the hundredth time. The Nanny Jo technique is waiting outside their door and returning them to bed wordlessly, over and over, no matter what.

Nanny Jo is cool, and the technique sort of works. It’s just really easy to slip away from, and she basically knows she can break us. Because she’s four (did I mention that?), and she’s a lot smarter than we are, especially at psychological torture etc.

Anyway – these aren’t tips, more like complaints. Our general philosophy of sleep is: if they don’t wanna sleep, you’re screwed. On the bright side, we do have a lot of funny videos of her attacking us while shrieking in her nightie. So it hasn’t been for nothing.

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Emily Writes: How to survive severe sleep deprivation – by someone who is living it

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We lie down in bed with our kids. We give up on ever achieving anything in the evening. Gently rub their precious faces while we tell them the story of the lamb and the farmer (that Dad made up one time to make the bedtime routine even harder). Have a huge fight about the name of the cows. Go ask Dad to confirm the names of the cows. Discuss why two thirds correct was really quite good and seeing as they should be asleep anyway they probably could have just let it slide. Finish the story of the lamb and farmer. Let them watch Wiggles on your phone (cry a little cause I want to be in my own bed with the phone watching RuPaul’s Drag Race). Rub their precious face some more. Eventually extract both yourself and your phone after three to four failed attempts. Fall into bed exhausted. Works a treat at ours!

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I still feed my four-year-old to sleep. If that doesn’t work, she asks me to read to her – usually The Wizard of Oz, which we’ve read so many times that it is reassuringly familiar, and I try to make my rendition as bland and soothing as possible. I’ve also finally learnt to accept that she only needs 10 hours a night and trying to get her to sleep before about 8.30 just isn’t going to work.

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I jump in the top bunk with my daughter and rub her back. She doesn’t go to sleep until 8.45pm to 9pm most nights. I highly recommend not trying to put them to bed earlier than they are tired. I read all that stuff on how great early bed times are. We all went insane trying to do that and she was falling asleep way later as she was so hyped up from reacting from being in bed before she was tired. Learn from my fail!

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We do a meditation exercise which sometimes lasts for an hour. Deep breathing, going into his heart space – I make it up as I go but it really helps calm my son down. I actually enjoy it too.

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What works at our house is predictability. Same bed and time each day (roughly) same lead up to bedtime each day (dinner, little play, shower, story, bed) and a choice about the stuff they genuinely have a say about – first or second shower, choice of PJs, choice of story, choice of who tucks in, choice of walking or being carried to bed. They also have a light and a drink bottle already in there to preempt fake trips out of bed.

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I was putting my kids to bed around 9pm then I read about putting them to bed at 7pm. It sounded ridiculous. But it worked! Turns out they were overtired by 9pm. You have to get into this perfect window. If we miss it by 10 minutes even – we’re fucked.

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Emily Writes: Putting to bed bad advice about infant and toddler sleep

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I don’t have much trouble getting him to sleep; we have a wee chat and then I ignore him. Once my phone comes out, he settles down and if he talks to me I just respond “mhm, goodnight”. Dad makes it too fun and keeps talking back and so he stays up later. Now STAYING asleep and in bed is a whole other story that we have not worked out yet!

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I pinched Emily Writes’ thing of giving my son, who is four, three dreams to choose from. “Charlie and La La go to Toyworld and choose five toys and play with them”, that sort of thing. Then he chooses what dream he wants and I say a magic spell and say “There you go, that dream’s there waiting for you, you just have to close your eyes to get it”. Works for us as a cue for sleep time. Although it’s a double edged sword cause sometimes when you are tired you can’t be buggered doing elaborate dreams. He now asks “Can I have my dreams now?” as his way of saying he is tired.

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Three things help my kids: Lots of physical activity during the day, lots of connection with us, and my husband does a meditation with them where he gets them to focus on their bodies.

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Our wee one likes to chat away to himself for 30 to 60 minutes before sleep! As long as he sounds happy, we don’t feel the need to go in and check on him. Such a chatterbox! We figure he’s practising all the words he’s learnt as he’s in full-on speech development mode at the moment.

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Kind of boring answer but we have a very set structure. Shower > PJs > Three stories > Teeth> into bed > ten minutes or so to look at a book themselves > then lights out. And we don’t go back in after that. Sometimes you can hear them mucking around for a while but mostly they’re pretty shattered. I think the routine helps though – every night we do the exact same order/timing. It’s familiar and safe. If they’re super hyped and being crazy sometimes I’ll put on a kids’ podcast until they conk out, but the routine works most times. Depends on the kids though, ours are usually exhausted at the end of the day so they’re looking forward to sleep.

Six key benefits of extreme sleep deprivation inflicted by a tiny human or tiny humans

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Do you want the one about how I let the twins jump around on the trampoline at 9pm with no nappies on in an attempt to tire them out? It doesn’t work at all! I can confidently confirm that!

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We still give our five-year-old a bottle to go to sleep with. Whatever works.

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I have a three-year-old and a five-year-old and I put them down at the same time. We do bath, teeth, PJs, story, talk about our day, put down three-year-old ( with a song, cuddle, water, on repeat then I roll over and he plays with my hair til I go to sleep I mean he goes to sleep…) Then the five-year-old gets a back scratch, head rub, we sing a song together, then a cuddle and a chat and a kiss then I go to my room across the hall and he stalls and whines and I get a bit sweary and he goes to sleep after a chapter or two of my book.

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Angela Cuming: What being a Twin Mum has taught me about child sleep

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I’ve actually pretended to be dead in the hope they would go to sleep but they just crawled over my carcass to grab a Hot Wheels to shove in their mouths. Over time this starts to work if you are a sufficiently boring dead person (over time you are so tired you can sleep through being a Hot Wheels road).

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Stories on a CD, Rutter’s musical fables, lavender scented oil, bribes, threats, crying, tag teaming with partner or parent, more crying (sorry this is the true story), being stubborn about not getting them things or interacting with them after bedtime, letting them fall asleep in the Lego, modelling (I go to bed early too and therefore I’m unavailable). Some of the stuff worked, nothing worked all the time.

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Nothing works. Our six-year-old only seems to need six hours sleep a night. They play with Lego in their room and then when they wake at 4am or 5am we let them watch TV quietly. We have just accepted they don’t sleep.

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Emily Writes’ top tips for getting your baby to sleep

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Heavy breathing and yawning. Heavy breathing like I’m asleep always works.

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Books in bed work for us. My now five-year-old has been “reading” himself to sleep for about a year. Puzzle and maze books are a winner! Both he and the three-year-old go to sleep with their doors open and lights on and we turn them off and the night lights on before we go to bed. We still have to occasionally check for monsters under beds.

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