Although Restful Parenting has spent the last few years focusing on babies and toddlers and their sleep, we have always worked with big kids too! We’re moms of big kids so really, it’s only fitting that we share some extra tips for big kids’ bedtime for those who have older children who may not be getting the best sleep they could be.
When we are working on an older child’s sleep, before we can even focus on sleep, there are many components to consider, just like we would if we were assessing an adult’s sleep issues. It isn’t as easy as put them to bed at this time, close the door and walk away. Remember those days? Closing the door and being able to walk away without the extra few hundred requests for this and that and the other thousands of things that pop into their heads right at bedtime???
Children have stress, emotional needs, anxiety and all sorts of other things that they need support with during the day to ensure they can get a good night’s sleep. They also need a daily schedule, consistency and the right bedtime. It’s a lot! Especially in the times we are living in right now.
Although the main focus when a child is struggling with bedtimes is obviously their sleep, there are many, many things that can be done during the day to work through their bedtime and overnight sleep challenges.
Daily Schedule: Summer is here, COVID doesn’t seem to be going very far and the day to day just hasn’t been consistent. Our children have left the comfort and security of their daily routine with getting ready, jumping on the bus and then the very clear, very strict schedule while in school. Children thrive on knowing what’s coming next and what their day to day is going to look like.
Create a visual day to day schedule with your child and stick with it.
Emotional Needs: If your child is struggling with big emotions or numerous meltdowns during the day and not feeling heard or validated, this can lead to many more outburst and upsets at bedtime. Children are no different than us and their emotional needs are big. If they are constantly told to ‘go cry somewhere else’ or ‘to stop crying’ those emotions are going to be swallowed down but will pop back up. Bedtimes and overnight and sometimes early in the morning are their preferred times to demand to be heard when feeling unsupported.
Staying calm during a child’s emotional outburst and allowing them to offload or ‘vent’ with you can help them release some of those pent up feelings and emotions and can lead to happier bedtimes.
Take Time to Connect
We all need to feel connected. Children more so than adults – they need us to fill their cup, to reassure them, to build them up and to love them unconditionally. The best way for them to feel all of that is by ensuring you are taking the time to connect with them during the day. Some of the best times to connect are first thing in the morning, right after pick up from childcare/school and before bed. Take time to connect and have special one on one time everyday.
This can be 10-15 minutes once or twice a day to snuggle, to play following their lead, to do something fun, one on one. This is especially important if you have more than one child and feeling like although you are doing absolutely everything for them, you aren’t really taking that time to ‘be’ with them.
The Night Time Work:
While working through some of the daytime tweaks you can also start working on the bedtime and making some little changes there. Changing the way an older child falls asleep or sleeps through the night is going to take time and consistency. At this age we are working on building a child’s confidence in being able to happily fall asleep on their own. For them to feel confident they need to know that you know what you are doing, that they are safe and that regardless of what they try, you are going to keep your response the same each and every time.
Bed Time: Knowing what time to put your little one to bed at for the night can be tough. It’s a fine line between too early and not tired enough, and too late and overtired. Our goal when looking at the timing of bed is to start by looking at what time they are waking at. Ideally your child is starting their day within the same 30 minutes everyday. Sure, some sleep-ins here and there are okay but if you are struggling with bedtime battles, a consistent wake time is key!
If your little one is 5/6 yrs old and waking around 7am, they still need around 11 hours of sleep, the aim for bedtime would be around 8pm. Some though still need a full 12 hours so if your little one is getting hyper or having big meltdowns, consider an earlier bedtime instead of later. Another sign of needing an earlier bedtime would be once you finally get them into bed, it’s taking them upwards of an hour or more to fall asleep. This can be a clear sign that we’ve missed that just tired enough window and have crossed over into the overtired stage.
If your little one is between 7 and 9 yrs old they need around 10-11 hours of overnight sleep so if they are waking at 630am, 730-8pm bedtime it is. If they are waking earlier, an earlier bedtime is okay. Consider the hours of sleep they need, not what time they ‘want’ to go to bed at.
Our 10-14 year olds need 9-10 hours of sleep and although bedtimes are a little later now, be mindful of the times they are actually falling asleep and waking up at. We would also strongly encourage keeping their phone and devices turned off after a certain time and out of their rooms when they are sleeping. This can cause some major disruptions to their overall sleep, behaviour and ability to wake in the morning.
Having a clear bedtime can help reduce bedtime battles. If your child knows that bedtime is at 730pm, they may still fight it but it isn’t a surprise when at 730 you say it’s now time for bed. The more information they have about their day to day, the less likely they are to protest transitions.
Bedtime routine: Having a bedtime routine chart allows for a visual aid to take control. Children strive for control and something as little as ‘just one more book’ can give them more control than they can handle, which will lead to even more of the battles we are trying to eliminate. The routine chart once again gives the child a sense of knowing exactly what is coming and what is expected of them. The routine chart is a game changer if used consistently for most children.
Make the routine chart as simple or as dressed up as you would like but the idea is that your child can follow along with a picture and has a space to check off the completed tasks. Be sure to include everything they are using to stall, in their chart. If your child needs 5 hugs, put 5 hugs scattered throughout the routine on the chart. If they need to use the washroom multiple times, add it in.
How You Respond Makes A Big Difference!
You are raising a smart little cookie.. smarter than you know! Our children look to us as their guidance in how to manage various situations and learn very quickly how their care providers react to those situations. Bedtime is a great time to finally get your attention/connection (another important piece as to why you need to connect during the day), and how you engage or not during those battles will dictate how long they last. They are watching every move you make and learning what works and what doesn’t.
Back to how smart your little one is, if they know there is even the slightest chance you are going to falter, they will pounce! Chocolate cake for breakfast once.. just once, and they will ask you for chocolate cake for breakfast every morning for the next 3 months… just in case! Some mornings may be satisfied with a simple no and other may be preceded by a full on meltdown. It’s no different with sleep. If one night they are brought into your bed, one night they are left alone, one night you sleep on their floor, sometimes one parent sleeps with them.. It’s all just too much. They don’t know what to expect from you but they do know what they want and if there’s any chance you will break and give them that, they are going to push for it!
Keep that response the exact same each time and they will quickly learn that regardless if they do this, that or the other thing, you are always going to do x. That could be a boring walk to bed, a shush from the door, or another simple response, as long as it’s the same each time!
Consistency and Confidence:
Being consistent with your response above all is the only thing that is going to help your child learn and adjust to any changes you are making. If you are confident in your plan and consistent with your response, they are going to feed off of that. If you aren’t sure, if you start to panic or get rattled, they will see that and push even harder. Have a plan and write it out so that everyone who is helping with sleep is on the same page and supporting each other as changes are being made.
It may take a few weeks to really get sleep worked out but you should start to see some changes quickly after implementing the above recommendations. Sleep though is a tough one to crack so if you are struggling know that Restful Parenting is here and ready to help. Our sleep and parenting packages are the perfect fit for families who want to get sleep on track and need some guidance on how to support their child through the many upcoming stages and phases.