Guest Author - Cynthia Parker
One of the biggest challenges for parents and young children is sleep. Babies require a good deal of sleep; however, that does not mean that it is always easy to convince them of that fact! In their quest to remain awake, parent also find themselves sleep deprived.
I envied the new mothers who walked into the grocery store with a sleeping infant in a carrier or those who stated that their baby needed a nap when they began to cry and simply lay them in their bed and they were quiet. My oldest daughter was nothing like that as a baby. She came into the world a curious creature and remains so to this day. She was afraid that if she went to sleep, she would miss something important.
My precious daughter could be well-played, well-bathed, freshly changed, with a full tummy, and when I placed her on my shoulder to rock her to sleep, she would lift her head and scream, pummeling her tiny fists on my shoulder. It did not matter if I rocked, walked, danced, or drove her around in the car, she was not going to sleep. I tried every hair-brained idea to get her to go to sleep. I placed her carrier on top of the dryer while it was running. I gave her bathes with lavender oil. I used soft blankets; I adjusted my home temperature; I sang; I played whale sounds; I played heartbeats. Every time she needed to sleep, the preceding hour(s) found me in a war zone.
One night, at 1:00 am, I had been rocking for literally hours. It was November and the night air was chilly. I had fallen asleep in the rocking chair twice and jerked myself awake with the fear that I could drop my child. Mostly to shock myself into remaining awake, I grabbed a receiving blanket and threw it over my screaming child and quickly walked outside to my driveway, where I paced up and down for ten minutes before realizing that my daughter was quiet! Not only was she quiet, but she was asleep. I do not know if it was the stillness of the night or the fresh night air, but something lulled her almost immediately to sleep. I continued to walk for about a half hour, afraid that if I took her inside to her crib, she would wake up. She did not; she slept the rest of the night.
Over the next few months, I found that late night walks outside, or pulling the rocking chair to an open doorway and turning out all the lights, were conducive to my child’s sleep and my sanity.
When she got older, it did not work as well and I found myself lying beside her on her bed, telling her stories and singing to her in an effort to get her to sleep. Her pediatrician told me to let her cry it out. That would have been easier when she was in a crib, since she could not get out. But in a “big girl bed”, she would simply lie there until I reached another room of the house and then get up to follow me.
Also, “crying it out” did not settle well with me, as I felt it taught my daughter that she could not depend upon me when in distress. Her pediatrician felt it would teach her that she could depend on me not to give in when she threw a temper tantrum. We were at an impasse.
The longest time I allowed my daughter to scream in one stretch was twenty minutes. Now, let me say that she was in her room, crying, before falling asleep, for much longer. However, she would become tired or pre-occupied with something and the screaming would stop. Sometimes the silence only lasted for a few minutes. Sometimes it would last a half hour. Then she would realize that she was alone and begin screaming again. It was particularly frustrating when I had begun to unwind in the silence, believing her to be asleep, only to have the wails resume. At times, it was obvious that the crying was fake. She would realize she was alone, had become distracted, and that she had stopped crying; the following cry would begin with a manufactured wail and it was obvious that she was working her way up to a full-blown cry. It would have been funny, had it not been so nerve-wracking. It was a true battle of wills – and I have always stated that my oldest daughter is very strong-willed.
I never believed the stories about babies and children who willing took naps and who went easily to bed at night. When my oldest was four, I was still struggling to get her to sleep. Her sister was born that year and it became quickly obvious that this child understood and appreciated sleep. Naps were easy, bedtime was easy, and later in life (todder-age!) she even put herself to bed when tired. I was very grateful!
In the quest for sleep, it may be necessary to try many options. Do not worry if one fails because there are numerous other suggestions to take its place. Just be sure that in the process of finding the method that helps your child fall asleep that you do not lose too much sleep yourself. While not all sleep remedies work for all children, my top ten list of sleep-inducing activities for children includes:
1) a warm bath (not a shower!) with lavender oil;
2) a cup of warm milk with a ½ tsp of sugar;
3) a short walk in the night air;
4) a quiet, peaceful bedtime story;
5) a sound machine on the beach setting;
6) three Nilla wafers and a ½ cup of milk;
7) half of a peanut butter or grilled cheese sandwich;
8) a bedtime routine consisting of 2-3 quiet, calming components;
9) a favorite lullaby; and,
10) a light massage with lavender-scented baby lotion.
Good luck and sweet dreams!