Tired of Being Tired: 5 Tips to Help Kids Sleep Better

I’m not always the most patient parent. I’ve been told otherwise by encouraging family and friends, and deep down I guess I know that I do well with kids, but there’s no getting around those heated, emotional moments when my inability to control a situation turns into frustration and anger. Especially at night.

For example, when, after a long day of tending my children (doing their laundry and making their meals and vacuuming their rooms and coaching them through homework and sitting through a sixty-minute haphazard soccer game), all I want to do is put them to sleep, punch the parental time-clock, and enjoy some quiet.

Cue the footsteps in the hall.

“Dad?”

“What is it?”

“I hear something!”

“It’s just cars outside. Go to sleep.”

“Dad?”

“What now?”

“My foot itches. Can I have a bandaid?”

“You don’t need a bandaid. Just go to sleep.”

“Dad?”

“What?!?”

“Um … I still hear something.”

“Stop it! Just go to bed. Stop coming out here! If you’d just go to sleep you wouldn’t hear things anymore! JUST GO TO SLEEP!”

Anyway, you get the point. Now NOBODY is settled or ready to relax. I imagine that nighttime situations like mine, or some near variant, feel familiar to you. Maybe your child’s sleep difficulties are more anxiety-ridden and severe. Maybe you have a child that goes to sleep like an angel, but wakes in the middle of the night and can’t be soothed. Maybe you have a child you think is a little too old to still be wetting the bed so often. That’s one of the first things I took away from my sneak preview of the Better Sleep for Kids Summit: sleep issues are frustrating, diverse in severity, and very, very common. I am not alone. You are not alone. We are not alone in this.

The Better Sleep for Kids Summit includes nearly twenty expert speakers, over the course of four days, will share their knowledge and insights with you, to help you navigate your child’s sleep difficulties. Registration is free. You can watch right on your computer or mobile device. You may even want to plan ahead by choosing which expert speakers you’d like to hear on each day. To help you decide with whom to spend your time, I’d like to share with you my five biggest takeaways from the summit.

1 – Difficulty sleeping is just the EFFECT, and the CAUSES could be many.

The sheer number of causes is the very reason none of us are alone. No matter the reason, we’re united by the effect. Your child’s sleep issues could be caused by anxiety, or a racing mind, or separation difficulties, or dietary habits, or fear, or sensory challenges, or bedwetting, or over-stimulation. The list is a little overwhelming. However, the more I watched, the more I was encouraged and energized, because no matter what the cause of sleep difficulty, there are answers, and there are people able to help. The experts are able to get so specific, so precise with their advice, you can’t help but find moments where it feels like they’re talking specifically about your child. For example, on the topic of nighttime fear, Natasha Daniels explains that there isn’t a cure-all approach, and that fear can be categorized into four unique brands, each of which should be addressed differently. Our kids’ sleep issues are not generic, and neither are the provided solutions.

2 –  Your kids are not trying to trick you.

Kids are smart. Mine often use their intelligence to try to outsmart me, to trick me into letting them get their way. I see it all the time. It’s part of the reason I lose my patience. They know that if they ask for a glass of water, they’ll need to walk by the television again to get it. They know that if they say they love me and miss me, I’ll let them crawl into bed with me for the night. They can be really manipulative little people–or so I thought. Truth is, it’s rare for kids to miss out on independent sleep on purpose. When they call out in the night, or get out of bed for the third time, they’re not usually making a choice to not sleep. They just don’t know how. Jennifer Waldburger explains that calling it a choice assumes that not sleeping is a behavior, something that can be controlled with incentives or consequences, and that’s not the case. Sleep is a skill, and believe it or not, it’s a skill that kids want. Think about it: what child doesn’t want to master a skill that means greater independence? Most kids want to brush their own teeth, or pour their own milk, or ride a bike without training wheels. They’d also love to sleep on their own, and if they can’t, it’s because they haven’t yet mastered the skills. They need help!

3 – Put on your own oxygen mask first.

We’ve all heard the expression, but what does it have to do with our kids not sleeping? Before I explain, let me say that this topic hit me especially hard. You see, parents are exhausted, too. If we’re tired, stressed, and not able to take care of ourselves, how on earth can we be expected to approach our children with the patience and understanding required to teach them to self-soothe at night? Additionally, nighttime is often set aside as a parent’s time for self-care. When our children come out of bed at 10:00 PM and interrupt the time that we reserved for ourselves, our reactions are typically less than ideal, and that helps nobody. The bottom line: taking care of ourselves during the day and at night will help you take better care of your kids. Sound daunting? It is. But Suzi Lula does a wonderful job of explaining how to start doing it now, and how it’s not selfish, but an act of courage.

4 – Mindfulness is a skill that helps EVERYTHING.

Okay, not literally everything, but a great many things. Mindfulness is very “in” right now. For those of you who don’t know, it is the art of being intentionally aware or conscious of something in the present moment. Mindfulness helps with anxiety, negative self-talk, anger, and yes, even sleep. I loved listening to Dr. Elisha Goldstein walk through a nighttime mindful body scan for kids. It actually calmed me down, right then and there, while I was watching! Furthermore, he describes how we can use stories, and even games, to teach mindfulness, dial back racing thoughts, and foster positive sleep habits.

5 – Screen time is a habit that damages EVERYTHING.

Okay, not literally everything. In fact, according to Anya Kamenetz, the science is rather inconclusive when it comes to the negative effect of screen time in most areas of our kids’ lives, except when it comes to, you guessed it, sleep. Electronic devices emit “blue light,” which, when shined in your eyes, inhibits the body’s production of melatonin, the hormone that helps regulate sleep. If you or your kids expose themselves to blue light too close to bedtime, it will delay the feeling of being sleepy. Furthermore, screens are stimulating: video games and movies are exciting; social media can make us happy, angry, or any other variety of unrelaxed. All of these things lead to less sleep, less sleep leads our kids to be more tired and irritable, and when they are more tired and irritable, they’re more likely to seek out the insulated experience of screen time. Such surprising insight into the habit-forming nature of electronic devices!

It’s worth repeating: we are not alone. There is help, and there is hope. Listening to the conversations in this summit quickly give you that sense. I highly recommend joining hosts Renee Jain, Chief Storyteller at GoZen!, and Kim West, The Sleep Lady, for the free Better Sleep for Kids Summit, October 8th through the 11th.

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