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There are some very useful phrases that we can use with our kids when teaching them to be independent sleepers. Many of these I have used with my own kids, as well as suggesting them to many of my clients too. Part of our job as parents is to give our children the opportunity to be the excellent independent sleepers we know they can be, and that sometimes means putting rules and boundaries in place so that they can focus on sleep.
“Sssshhh time to sleep.”
I can’t count the number of times I’ve used this phrase with my children from the time they were babies: if they woke up too early from a nap, in the middle of the night or were spending too much time chatting to themselves and not concentrating on sleeping. A key phrase that you say can act as a great reminder to concentrate on sleep is predictable for your child, and also shows that you are close by.
“Sleep is important to rest our bodies and minds.”
When parenting toddlers who can assert their independence and try to resist sleep, it can be great to talk to them about the importance of sleep for their body and mind. This gives you a better chance of having them willing and able to prioritize sleep well into adolescence. If you ask my children why they need to sleep they will tell you to rest, get more energy, feel healthy and learn better. I think it is great that they understand the need for sleep. It doesn’t mean they don’t try to protest an early bedtime sometimes. That is perfectly normal, but they understand that sleep is a non-negotiable in our household.
“You look so peaceful when you sleep”.
If you have a child who wants you near them when they sleep; but you want to teach them to fall asleep and stay asleep independently, you can tell them that you’ll go away and come back to check on them. You can also let them know that you always check on them before you go to bed yourself. In the morning you can talk about how peaceful they looked when they were sleeping and how much more energy they have from sleeping so well the night before. Kids love knowing that you want to see them when they’re not around and that you always check on them.
“You don’t have to nap but you have to rest in bed”
Do you have a toddler who is going on a nap strike? When toddlers assert their independence; sleep can often be a place they do it. Whether they nap or not is something that they can control in a world full of uncertainty. Letting them know that they don’t have to nap but do need to rest in their bed (or crib) gives the power back to your toddler and takes the pressure off sleep. Oftentimes taking the pressure off can bring back those naps again.
“ Here is your pass card, which you can redeem once tonight for one request.”
Children often like to get their parents back into their room by using a variety of excuses: the toilet, a drink, one more cuddle or kiss. To stop ongoing requests each night you can give your child a special pass card that they can redeem once a night. You can explain that any other requests will be denied and ignored. After testing it a few times your child will quickly learn to use it for a true need.
“If you don’t sleep you’ll be too tired to do X.”
If your child is trying to get out of bedtime or a nap you can talk to them about the lack of energy they’ll have to do the fun thing you have planned post nap or the next day. If this is something they especially look forward to doing, then chances are they will agree to sleep. Of course if they still fight sleep you may have to decide if they actually miss that thing they will lack energy for!
“Stay in bed until your toddler clock turns on”.
From the moment my second son turned 18 months, we started using a toddler clock to help him know when he had to concentrate on napping and when he could get out of his crib post-nap and bedtime. This can be especially useful for children who wake early or have a tendency for nighttime visits. The important thing as parents is to be consistent with the clock. Only get your child when the toddler clock turns on or consistently return your child to bed if the toddler clock is off. This consolidates their learning of how the toddler clock works.
“If you follow your sleep rules tonight you’ll get X reward.”
Many toddlers love rewards. A sticker on their reward chat or a little trinket can be an incentive to follow the rules. When using this phrase pick a reward that works for your toddler. Not every toddler is receptive to the same incentives. When starting to use sleep rules you can potentially start with rewarding them for following one component of the sleep rules, but as they get familiar with the sleep rules only give a reward when all are followed together.
“What do you think will help with X fear?”
It is not uncommon for a child to express night time at some point. It could be monsters, the dark or being alone. As parents, we need to acknowledge them and show them that we are here to support them through it. It can also be a great idea to ask your child what he thinks will help ease that fear or chase away those monsters that he is scared are in his room. This puts the power back on to him and he may come up with a really great simple solution that you can help him put into action.
Next time you put your child to bed try to use whichever one of these phrases suits the sleep challenge you are currently dealing with. It is important to address your child’s behavior with firm boundaries as kids thrive on boundaries (mixed with love and reassurance). If you are consistent your children will know what to expect and will be the great sleeper we know they can be.