When it comes to children, it’s almost impossible to overstate the importance of healthy sleep. And that doesn’t just mean keeping a consistent schedule or hitting nap time hard. It means allowing a child to have an evolving relationship with unconsciousness and teaching them to use rest as a form of self care far before they can articulate that idea. There are some other perks too, of course. Taking the right steps to ensure proper sleeping habits helps parents avoid having a cranky toddler and or anxious kid, which ultimately means that that the adults in the house will be getting more sleep as well. In order to create a positive feedback loop, it’s important to think about sleep as more than something that happens at bedtime. In a sense, sleep — not unlike sports — requires a warm up. Calming routines help. Avoiding screen time before bed times helps. Bedtime stories help (if they’re not scary). And here’s the really good news: If good habits are instilled in children early and properly, they can mean a lifetime of better sleep.
Here’s what researchers, scientists, and experts recommend for making sure kids sleep well.
Sleep Rule #1: Follow Routines
- To get a kid back on a school sleep schedule, treat the transition as you would jet lag. This means moving your kid’s sleep back gradually, day-by-day in small increments until they are set with a bed-time routine consistent with their school schedule.
- When a toddler wakes up at night, check on them, tuck them in, give a hug and kiss, say goodnight, and walk out. Offer solace, but make it quick.
- Pat your baby’s butt rhythmically. In Sweden, the practice is known as buffing, and it’s effective because it replicates the motion and security of the womb.
- Practice co-sleeping with your family in one bed. The method is popular in Egypt but the snoozes are generally shorter: six hours at night, with a two-hour afternoon nap.
- Keep a consistent bedtime and a calming routine that includes a warm bath, a massage and a lullaby to soothe your child to sleep.
- If a bedtime routine needs to be shortened, a conversation should take place earlier in the day. During that conversation, it can help to enter into a negotiation. This gives the child agency and a sense that they have a say in the way their world is formed.
Sleep Rule #2: Soothe Babies
- It’s critical that parents start with calm and self-confidence.
- Swaddle then hold the infant on their side or with their stomach down (count side and stomach as one S). Once in that position, they can be shushed to, swung gently, and given something to suck.
- Supplement tried-and-true cradling and swaddling methods with tactical physical contact, essentially helping a restless infant sleep by emulating womb-like sensations.
- Pat their backs in a double-beat, kind of like a heartbeat. Don’t do it forcefully, but a strong pat seems more calming and reassuring to them, almost like a physical distraction that helps them stop crying and fall asleep.
- Any kind of repetitive touch can lead to calmer transitions into slumber. That could include circular rubbing of the head, or caressing the earlobe between the thumb and forefinger.
- Rub across the forehead real gently and slowly. Sometimes down the nose too, kind of that t-zone across the eyebrows and down the nose.
- Sometimes the best intervention is none at all. They might put themselves back to sleep.
Sleep Rule #3: Prevent Nightmares
- Comfort your child when they have nightmares. Coddle them and reassure them everything is okay. Do not stay with the child until they fall back asleep, because you risk screwing up their sleep patterns.
- Avoid inappropriate movies, shows, games and the news, as they can all trigger nightmares for a child.
- Keep a consistent sleep schedule of good sleep for the kid as sleep disturbances make a kid prone to nightmares.
- Create a faux “monster repellent”—a spray bottle full of water—and spray the closest and underneath the bed well before bedtime to calm their nerves.