When you are blessed with a kid who sleeps through the night other
parents will tell you one of two things. My kids never slept, or the
next one is going to be a nightmare. As the parent of two good
sleepers, maybe I hit the jackpot twice, but there are probably a few
reasons why we ended up so lucky.
Our kids are very active. When it is time to take a nap, or go to bed
our kids are tired. Not overtired, but ready. It's easy with busy schedules to keep kids moving and awake for longer than they want or need to be. Do your best to stick to a regular sleep schedule, and your kids will appreciate it. If kids whine that they aren't tired at bedtime they usually fall asleep within ten minutes, and then you know they were lying.
A sleep schedule does not have to be completely rigid and inflexible. And we were certainly more flexible the second time around. But we are usually unwilling to keep our kids up much past their usual bedtime. We also try to keep a pretty regular wake-up time. Both of these allow for our kids to biologically prepare their
bodies for regular sleep/ awake intervals. Our 5-year-old has been known to ask after a busy day, "do I have to go straight to bed when I get home?" It may only be 7 or 7:30, an hour before his usual bedtime, but he is taking cues from his young
body that he is tired and ready to fall asleep.
Co-sleeping didn't work for us. My kids slept in our bedroom for the
first 2-3 months, but not in our bed. I still woke up and nursed one or
more times a night for the first year, but I walked a slow shuffle to their crib, fed them, and placed them back in the crib. They were capable of sleeping independently by 3-4 months, and I slept better when they were not so close. I realize this is not the case for everyone. Sometimes the more distance between parents and their little ones leads to more anxiety, but providing our kids their own place was the safest and healthiest option for our family.
We let our kids cry. This is a controversial one. As a mother it is nearly impossible to listen to your child cry and do NOTHING! But we allowed our kids to cry
in a very educated way and at vertical specific times. It helps to stick with a reference that you believe in. We read, "The Sleep Easy Solution" by Jennifer Waldburger and Jill Spivack and it worked like a charm. Actually it didn't. There were lots of nights when our kids still cried for one reason or another, they were cold or hot, they were teething, or overtired. But the book gave us confidence that our kids were okay, and they could learn to be good sleepers. And the crying never lasted long.
Older babies and kids should nap in a crib, bed, or pack and play whenever possible. Yes, our kids nap in the car, stroller, or back pack too, but as often as
possible we try to kid our kids to a comfortable and familiar place to
take a solid nap. They usually sleep longer and more deeply when they
sleep on a soft and comfortable surface.
Crib sleepers have the added benefit of learning to wake on their own terms. Toddlers use nap time to practice their language skills. Allow them babble for a while if they are up in their cribs. Let them cry for a few minutes when they wake and they might sleep for an extra hour. When they are ready to get up, both verbal and non-verbal children will make it clear to you that they are ready. In the mean time, its okay to keep yourself busy even if you hear that your child is awake. Give yourself the luxury of reading a book to your older child without the younger one interrupting, throw in a load of laundry, or take a shower.
Cranky kids are usually tired or hungry, but sometimes it is very difficult to distinguish once the whining and crying starts. If you create a predictable sleep schedule and mold the eating times around that, you may get lucky enough to have an unusually happy child. Or maybe we just hit the jackpot twice :)
Read more of Caitlin's blog at traditionalfoodsmodernlife.com